The inaugural Carlton Super Sevens Tournament which ended in Colombo last weekend saw Sri Lanka rugby in a different dimension. Though Sri Lanka failed to go through with the intended cricket tournament depicting the local version of the Indian Premier League, which in itself is a reproduction of the famous English Premier League in football. The islanders managed to come out with their own edition, in rugby, a sport that is a definite crowd-puller at domestic level.
| Action was galore at the Colombo leg of the tournament. (Pix by Amila Prabodha)
The Carlton Super Sevens had all the requirements to be considered as a top grade rugby tournament which covered many aspects of the ailing standards of national rugby in Sri Lanka. “We chose to change the format from an international tournament to a competition that could convert our players into global contenders. In the earlier two years it was just seven players from Sri Lanka who were able to participate. But with this format, local players are given more opportunities to display their skills along with professional foreign players,” explained Ronnie Ibrahim, the Director of Sports at Carlton Sports Club. Ibrahim was a key figure in the organizing committee this year as in the previous two occasions.He evaluated the plan of having ten different franchises which had their respective ownerships. In the team formation the organizers, Carlton Sports Club (CSC), had given clear guidelines which said the inclusion of three foreign professionals, Under-21 players and the rest from national and club pools in a squad.
“Our focus was to include an Under-21 player on the ground with two foreign players. The remaining four was a make up of national and club players. They were given the room to be substituted at any given time but the final was having the said set up,” he added.
The 35 players and 10 coaches from overseas had their revere as the best from the international circuit of professionals in rugby. Many were reputed players while all ten coaches were well known for heading coaching staffs of different national teams. According to Ibrahim they were bought over inside the International Rugby Board’s set professional ratings.
“We got the services of George Simpkin who is a competent character in the profession of coordinating with international rugby unions and its players. It was a massive operation from our part. In the coming years the workload will lessen down. Overall the tournament was a success as a first-timer, locally and internationally in this format,” Ibrahim went on to say.
However many in the rugby circle were of the view that the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union (SLRFU) played a diminutive role in a tournament which was innovative from Sri Lanka’s point of view. But Ibrahim was quite frank in his reply to stand firm that all had their places in the tournament except for a few individuals who were caught up overacting with the given positions.
“This is not our first time. We have conducted many sports events of this magnitude and at all occasions we have worked closely with the sports governing bodies. Our concern in this part is not to worry on the strengths or weaknesses of a governing body. We always cooperate with them,. Our main concern is the development of the sport. This was the pure motive behind this tournament as well,” he emphasized.
With regard to the franchisers, Ibrahim pointed out that many of them were not affluent with rugby but after the completion of two legs, in Kandy and Colombo, each a week apart, the organizers found more interested parties for new franchises. At the beginning the investors who bought each franchise had been broadminded to come out with a long term vision. Apparently this has been the target of the organizers too.
“We gave the franchise holders some guidelines with regards to the comfort of the players and the facilities. It’s really pleased to note that all ten teams fulfilled the requirements and the players had all the comforts to play good rugby”.In time to come the tournament is set to face many but gradual changes targeting the development of Sri Lanka sevens rugby and the sport in whole to reach the outstations. The CSC intends to make Carlton Super Sevens a signature tournament of the country by opening up many avenues, locally and internationally. According to the blue print this tournament gives SLRFU the opportunity of picking the correct players to the national sevens pools of different categories which is beyond the responsibilities of the tournament organizers.
One of the other aspects of the tournament that failed to catch up at the kick-off was generating a fan base for each team. But as the second leg approached each team had its followers but according to the format the idea should be something else. The teams which are based on a provincial format could be used to popularize the game in the regions. Ibrahim revealed that it was also part of their long term plan.
“There were many doubts before this tournament but end of the day it’s a success. Our plan was to conduct the tournament in three-folds but due to the Rugby World Cup 2011, many players withdrew and we had to change plans. Next year we hope to select the teams by May so that each franchise will get ample time to do their promotions and preparations. At the same time each team will be given the responsibility to hold coaching camps in their relevant regions.”
“We hope to add features to the setup and develop the tournament each year and create a global. We even have plans to hold this tournament in the Asia Pacific region somewhere near. Next year we hope to conduct the tournament in June, depending on the local and international calendar. Our ultimate objective through this is to see the skills of our players to improve so Sri Lanka could develop further in sevens rugby and reach the World Sevens Tour within the next ten years,” concluded Ibrahim.