Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, has scrapped plans to develop the country’s largest cricket stadium following a backlash against the proposal.

Earlier this week, Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) and the government revealed the plans for the town of Homagama, Colombo District. The first phase was set to see the development of a 40,000-capacity ground as Colombo’s second floodlit facility after R. Premadasa Stadium. The second phase would have expanded the ground to a capacity of 60,000.

The stadium was expected to be completed within three years, with SLC president Shammi Silva stating that it would cost between $30m (£24.7m/€27.7m) and $40m. At the time, SLC said the International Cricket Council (ICC) has called for governing bodies interested in bidding for its major events from 2023 to 2031 to have at least five “international level cricket stadiums” with a seating capacity of around 25,000 to 40,000.

SLC had also stressed that Homagama International Cricket Stadium would be an “absolute and private investment” of Sri Lanka Cricket, with no government funds utilised or sought at any stage of the construction.

However, the plans provoked criticism in Sri Lanka with many questioning the wisdom of a major stadium development given the country’s financial situation and having to cope with COVID-19. Several legends of Sri Lankan cricket had also voiced their disapproval, with the likes of Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, Lasith Malinga and Sanath Jayasuriya all said to have been present at a high-level government meeting yesterday (Thursday).

Following this meeting, the office of Rajapaksa (pictured) said in a statement reported by the AFP news agency: “It was decided at a meeting with former top players today that instead of the proposed Homagama stadium it was better to spend money on building school cricket.”

Rajapaksa’s decade as President, from 2005 to 2015, saw him lead the development of Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium in his home constituency of Hambantota. The 35,000-capacity stadium was built for Sri Lanka’s co-hosting of the 2011 World Cup, but has been little used since then.

Indeed, SLC’s commitment to Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium and redeveloping R. Premadasa Stadium for the World Cup created financial difficulties for the organisation that led to it seeking government aid.

Image: @PresRajapaksa