ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday May 4, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 49

To carry a clean flag

Why! Why! Why! It’s a very shameful situation. One week it’s a report about a world forum castigating a Lankan women athlete as a doping cheat and in the next the law of the country pronounces that a gold winning male athlete as a ‘plastic cash’ fraud. However when the news travels beyond our shores the vibes will drop the names – Jani Chathurangi and Rohan Pradeep Kumara. Now wherever the story goes from that point onwards it will only talk about two Lankan athletes who have been sentenced for dope taking and credit card fraud. Poor Lanka! What has our motherland merited to get such a bad reputation in sports?

Taking upon this surface, one hears that the Sports Minister of the Land is contemplating appealing against the ban of Chathurangi and then adjusts it to say that he only meant it to be effective from September 14 2006 – the day that the cheating took place and be free to represent Sri Lanka once again from September 2008. What would be the message that would run into the next generation of athletes in a scenario of this nature? Cheat – if you get through you are a champion. If you get caught there would be people to bail you out.

What a sad situation?

However there was one encouraging note in the air. Both the AAA boss Maj. Gen. Palitha Fernando and its secretary Prema Pinnawela came out in one voice and pronounced that there was no place for cheats in Lankan athletics and they would be taking the case of Jani Chathurangi as catalyst for educating the younger generation of athletes on the repercussions of taking banned substances.

Especially the AAA boss sounded very bold when he spoke to The Sunday Times last week “Let me first say that even if an athlete takes a banned substance and wins, in that person’s heart of hearts, the victory is bitter sweet. As far as athletics in Sri Lanka goes there is no room for cheaters. No I do not believe Chathurangi’s absence has affected our preparations for the Olympic Games in any way. Before the verdict from the Court of Arbitration we had invited her to train with 4X100 metres relay team. However, Asian Championship silver medallist Sujani Buddhika has recovered from an injury and is more than an adequate replacement for Chathurangi. Athletics is all about training and preparation. And winning one’s event fairly is the ultimate reward”.

However the AAA should have taken action first when athlete Asoka Jayasundera was proven positive for banned substances at the 1999 SAF games and banned for two years when he won the 400 metre hurdles. Ironically, the truth is Jayasundera is back and is one of the leading players in the 4 x 100 event along with Prasanna Amerasekera, Rohitha Pushpakumara and the man-in-question Rohan Pradeep Kumara in the national squad.

The crooked athlete saga runs deep in to history. First we heard of such a thing was way back in 1970 after the Bangkok Asian Games. The then Ceylon athletes had done extremely well winning two ‘gold’ and two ‘silver’ medals. Upon their arrival the ‘golden’ team was to be felicitated in real grand fashion. Lo and behold!!! Upon the arrival of the contingent a medal winning long distance runner and short distance runner were clocked for contravening the existing customs regulations of the land. The AAA in turn booked them for six months and three months respectively and the first bad message in sport was thus pronounced. Then as far as we know the status-quo has never changed.

The bad egg stories go into other sports too. Once some swimmers got into mischief and were booked and in another episode a champion netball player was nearly lugged for such an incident, but, timely intervention of Lankan authorities saved face for Sri Lanka, but people in the know must be still talking about the crooked Sri Lankan woman. So was another incident that involved a junior ruggerite which occurred in Bhutan. However the most interesting incident took place in Singapore, involving the sport of Hockey.

Once a player was nabbed after getting into mischief and was jailed. The main contingent came back to the country and some officials stayed back in Singapore to get the man out. This finally happened when an influential Buddhist monk intervened and paid the fine and helped the team to leave the Port City.

Nevertheless cricket by far the most professional sport in the country may be the only sport that is in a position to call the kettle black. In a few incidents that I could recollect, the authorities have been firm enough to be strong and keep the bad eggs out. In one incident a very promising allrounder from a leading Colombo School who definitely would have gone on to represent the country saw his promising future coming to a screeching halt when he was nabbed for shop lifting. Then a left arm spinner with a senior squad was nabbed for a similar offence and that was the last time we saw his name with the national squad again. At the same time even the players’ out of the boundary line conduct is closely monitored and the flouters are first given the message and then dealt in a fitting manner. That is what is expected from a professional outfit and that is exactly why cricket keeps competing with the rest of the best in the world.

Our humble plea for all sports authorities in the country is to take a cue from a sport that is run professionally and is largely transparent, where miscreants have no place especially on the inside of the boundary lines. So far at least the public interest and media scrutiny kept the playing section of cricket much cleaner than any other sport in the country.

Athletics is another sport that has put Sri Lanka in the World map like the game of cricket and just imagine if we can get our act right and produce clean and efficient performers. Then athletics could make amends in a broader way, because when Susanthika won the Olympic bronze at the turn of the century, the whole world was talking about her and not only a few countries that indulge in the game of cricket.

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