Hemasiri Fernando, the incumbent President of the National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka (NOC) reiterated and warned the authorities to fall in line with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) charter or face the consequences. In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Times Fernando made it clear that his era in sports administration has definitely come [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

‘Shortsightedness, false accusations are of no use’ – NOC chief


Hemasiri Fernando, the incumbent President of the National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka (NOC) reiterated and warned the authorities to fall in line with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) charter or face the consequences.

In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Times Fernando made it clear that his era in sports administration has definitely come to an end. He expressed his concern on how political interference could ruin sports, as Sri Lankans, spearheaded by cricket’s popularity, treat sports as part of their day-to-day activity. In this era of technology and fast communication, this development is already news but Fernando revealed that the problem has been in existence for some time.

“Since 1973 when the Sports Law was introduced and gazetted, there were problems, between the clauses in the Sports Law and the IOC charter. It is mandatory for all NOCs to follow the IOC charter, which is the bible of Olympics. So we have had problems since the beginning, we have certain areas that are not compatible with the IOC constitution. We have been warned for the past so many years, but during the last ten years the IOC seriously and clearly instructed us to change the constitution and fall in line. We could not do it because there are so many contradictory regulations gazetted under the Sports Law, which itself at so many places that are going against the IOC charter,” Fernando explained.

Interestingly Sri Lanka was not alone when IOC seriously turned its radar on its affiliates that contradicted its charter. Four years ago Sri Lanka was among 17 countries that were warned by the IOC of a possible suspension. The heat wave intensified especially on Sri Lanka when India was banned by the IOC on December 2012 for corruption, government interference and not following guidelines of the IOC.

The Indian Olympic Committee was formally banned for not following the Olympic charter in their elections, instead following the Indian government’s Sports Code. However after an agreement reached by the representatives of the Indian government and sports bodies and the IOC the ban was lifted in May this year.

“Four years ago we were warned by the IOC, that they are going to suspend us along with 16 other NOCs in the world. They were going to suspend us unless we do our part. Every time we had a problem we made sure to inform the Ministry of Sports but nothing tangible happened until last February. Then the IOC gave us a final warning and 11 other NOCs, as five of them from the 16 were cleared off this list during this period. We kept trying to talk to the Ministry of Sports but their response was very lukewarm. In the meantime we were getting instructions one after the other from the IOC and it came to a point that we had to do something,” said Fernando.

Interestingly the IOC warning has gone through many Ministers of Sports none of them took serious note of it despite the pleas of NOC officials. “I have worked under seven or eight Ministers of Sports but we never had problems, although the differences existed. The former Ministers were always willing to assist us. Amidst all these problems, the Ministry of Sports, adding insult to injury, gazetted so many intrusive and offensive regulations in January and in August. These regulations completely destroyed the independence and the sovereignty of national associations and federations who are directly involved with the NOC. We realised that the situation is going to be precarious, as it opened the doors to all associations and federations to go before the Minister and kneel down and beg for mercy. So it prompted us to write to the IOC”.

The situation escalated further when the intended NOC elections, set for December 27 was called off after a round table discussion among officials of Ministry of Sports, NOC and the IOC at its headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland held on November 27. The IOC issued recommendations for the NOC and Ministry of Sports officials to adopt. “The IOC instructions are very clear. It says the present 11 officials of the NOC will remain until the next election; it could be done in six to nine months, but not by the executive committee. It further says that, acts must be amended, regulations must be revised, constitutions of the respective national associations and federations must be redrafted and obtained approval from their respective world bodies according to IOC guidelines then hold free and fair elections without the interference of the Director General or the Minister, and then out of those representatives who will be nominated will be eligible for the NOC elections. But political interference should go. There are about 25 sports governing bodies involved in this process,” Fernando explained while revealing these developments has already pushed him to the limits.

“I’m 62, but I’m so disgusted, disappointed and dejected by what has taken place over the years. It has come to a point I have developed an allergy on the word ‘sport’. I expect the Ministry of Sports to extend their support to finalise all matters soon so that things can reach a settlement, before I leave. I know the duration is not enough. Yet we are seriously interested in finalising things in a very short time and if the Ministry of Sports is genuinely interested in sorting out this problem we can even get thing over before six months,” he added, while detailing on the core setback whom he identified as the Minister of Sports.

“The Minister promised something in Lausanne, Switzerland. But upon his return he started attacking me in parliament, elsewhere and at separately arranged meetings, putting lot of pressure on some associations and federations, using and abusing the existing set of regulations. One classic example is, I’m a three-time national champion in shooting and I’ve obtained the Asian Diploma. Another individual, Elmo Rodrigo has won the nationals four times and he also has the Asian Diploma. Both our nominations for the election of Sri Lanka Rifle Shooting Association were rejected. I sent my nomination to test how they will react and not to compete and I got the required answer. This shows his quality.”

“In addition the Minister goes on to make contradicting statements, to discredit and accuse me and the NOC, creating a completely wrong picture on the whole issue. He has stated at an instance, that we went to the IOC because the Ministry got the Auditor General to check the NOC accounts. This statement is completely false, because NOC accounts have been audited by the Auditor General since 2009. There was no need to reappoint an already appointed establishment, and it was the Auditor General and not a company appointed by the Auditor General as previously done. So there is no need to instruct to refer these accounts to the COPE. If the Auditor General finds a fault he will refer it to COPE.”

Fernando is of the view that Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage is ill-advised by certain individuals around him or above him. Fernando’s continuous tenure as the President of NOC, for the past 16 years has been sighted as a drawback by some individuals including the Minister. Fernando says he even earned nick-names such as ‘one-man-show’.

“There was nobody to help me when I raised the NOC from a Rs. 16000 to a Rs. 250 million asset base. I was the only active member of NOC to devote six hours a day, personally inspecting the progress of the building site. There was a committee but only for the name, which prompted me to do a one-man-show to build the NOC. So I’m proud about it,” he recalled, focusing on the direction way out of the pending problem.

“Now that we have started to work together as instructed by the IOC, it will take a few months but I’m optimistic that we will be able to solve this problem. This is not about an individual, it’s about a nation. I’m not going to remain here. I’m still here because the IOC has advised me to remain here until all matters are solved. After that I’ll just quit. I don’t want to remain at the NOC or generally in sports, a moment further. My sports administration era is over. When I look back there are so many reasons for me to be happy and proud. I have that satisfaction. What I want is to let a person, like me, not politically biased, to take the NOC baton and run,” Fernando concluded.

Fernando is looking forward to turn a new leaf in life as an author and a wildlife photographer.
- Pic by Amila Gamage

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