Yes, we keep talking about Sri Lanka’s achievements in Sports and especially in athletics, but, ironically in this entire island there is not a single international class track for athletics. What has brought forth this parlous situation.  It is a fact in spite of this being a small island nation, we have reached many feats [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Athletics in disarray


Yes, we keep talking about Sri Lanka’s achievements in Sports and especially in athletics, but, ironically in this entire island there is not a single international class track for athletics.

What has brought forth this parlous situation.  It is a fact in spite of this being a small island nation, we have reached many feats that we could even unselfishly boast about and most of them have come long before many another Asian nation even come close to. For instance the sprint silver of Susanthika Jayasinghe. But, today the state of affairs is despicable.

Nimali Liyanarachchi
(SAG 800m Gold Medallist, Asian Championship 800m
Bronze Medallist and Sri Lanka Record Holder)

Now I am in Nuwara Eliya preparing for the forthcoming international events. All the other National Athletes have also decided to conduct their own training sessions in their hometowns. Our preparations are not really affected, despite the non-availability of a synthetic track. The need for a synthetic track will actually arise in two months time. We are looking forward to run on a synthetic track at the first trial to be held in the first week of April, to select the squad for the Asian Championships. We hope the synthetic track and the electronic timing will be ready by that time. It is not a big issue repairing the electronic timing system at the Mahinda Rajapaksa Sports Complex in Diyagama. But, so far, no one has made an attempt to solve this problem. The synthetic track and the electronic timing is mandatory for the selection trial. I faced a huge crisis at the National Sports Festival held at the Duraiapppa Stadium last year, without the electronic timing. I shattered the 800m Sri Lanka record on that occasion, but the record holder Dhammika Manike made a huge issue, as the electronic timing was not available that time. That was not a issue connected to me, but the relevant authorities should take up the responsibility. I was badly hurt because of this issue, which the authorities have still failed to negotiate. I am surprised that Dhammika Manike has gone to the extent of reporting the matter to the Human Rights Council. This was the most unfortunate incident that I have faced in my Athletic career. The authorities should be held responsible for the malfunctioning of the electronic timing at Diyagama. It is we who have to face the ultimate challenge without the electronic timing system. I usually train at the Sooriyawewa National School Ground, when I return home on vacation. We do our own renovations and also maintain the ground for our training. We take a huge risk, running on this grass surface. The Asian Championships is not a big challenge for me. I managed to win a Bronze medal at the 2015 Asian Championships. This time I am hoping to produce an improved performance. What we need is the facilities to perform our task.

Sunil Gunawardena
(National Athletic Coach and
Asian Games Gold Medallist)

2017 and 2018 will be challenging periods for Sri Lanka’s Athletes. We have 7 international meets lined up during this period. The biggest challenge is the Asian Championships in June. In addition, we have the Asian Grand Prix Series, Asian Youth Athletic Championships, Under-18 IAAF World Athletic Championships, Commonwealth Youth Games, IAAF World Athletic Championships and the Asian Indoor Games. Next year, we have 3 targets to meet. They are the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and the SAG. But unfortunately, the National Athletes do not have a synthetic track to train on. We do not have a proper ground to conduct our meets and selection trials. At the moment, we have only two synthetic tracks in the country. The track at the Sugathadasa Stadium is out of bounds for Athletes as it is in a bad state. The newly laid track did not last long, as it was made using poor quality material. Now the Sports Ministry is facing another crisis due to the cancellation of the original tender. The National Athletes are now suffering without the proper training facilities due to the Sports Ministry’s bungling. The Sports Minister is hoping Sri Lanka will be be able to win medals at the 2020 and 2024 Olympic Games. But, how can the minister think of medals without providing the basic facilities for the National Athletes. Today, the National Athletes are thrown into the wilderness, as they do not have a proper venue for training. Even outstation Athletes do not have a proper venue for training. Grounds earlier used by the Athletes have now been turned into exclusive venues for Cricket and Rugby. We do not have a ground exclusively for Track and Field. We won nine Gold Medals at the previous SAG. But we cannot expect the same results at the Asian Championships. In the past, we were able to make steady progress at the SAG, Asian Championships, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games, World Championships and Olympic Games. But some of the other sports will not be able to maintain this kind of success for such a long period. For example, a Weightlifter will be able to win a medal at the Commonwealth Games but, he will not be able to win a medal at the Asian Games. Actually, there is a decline in the standard of Athletics in Sri Lanka. Although we have quite a number of talented Athletes in rural areas, the Athletic Association does not have a proper plan to identify them and include them in the National pools. Another reason is that coaches in rural areas are happy to keep their Athletes with them, rather than send them to Colombo for better prospects. This is a tragic situation for Track and Field in this country. The Athletic Association boasts they have 3 National Pools. However, Indrajith Cooray is the only Athlete in the Olympic Pool, and is currently training in England. We are uncertain of the Athletes included in the Super Pool and National Pool. We should provide the necessary facilities for our Athletes before thinking of winning a medal. We have to initiate a long term plan like in 1994, when we ended up winning an Olympic Medal in 2000. We also must have well trained coaches to guide the new Athletes. Earlier, we had some top coaches in the calibre of Laxman de Alwis, Derwin Perera, Yogananda Wijesundera, S.M.G. Bandara and self. We got all the international coaching experience and provided the knowledge to the Athletes who, in turn, went on to win international medals. Today, we do not have any coaches with international experience. Our local coaches should be provided with the opportunity of following an international coaching course.

Damayanthi Darsha
(Former 100m, 200m and 400m
Olympic athlete and South Asian Medallist)

Proper training is vital, as it is an essential part of the development and success of an Athlete. The major issue confronting National Athletes is the lack of a proper track for their training. This is because the synthetic tracks at the Sugathadasa Stadium and at the Mahinda Rajapaksa Stadium in Diyagama, are in a bad condition. In fact, the Sugathadasa Stadium track is unavailable for Athletes and the facility has been closed. Consequently, the National Athletes are forced to train on grass tracks, which is a huge risk, as training on grass tracks could lead to serious injuries. We of course trained on the synthetic track as well as on the grass track. Those days we trained at the Torrington Avenue Grounds, as it was in perfect condition. As the number of international events increase, our Athletes should always try to train on a synthetic track. The officials tend to blame the Athletes for their poor performances in the recent past. However, they should first look into the facilities and well-being of the Athletes, and then consider their performances. As an international medal winner, I am very disappointed with the current status of Track and Field in the country. The authorities are dreaming of an Olympic medal in 2020 and 2024, without even providing the National Athletes with their basic needs. There is no National plan for Athletics and other sports in Sri Lanka. I think, Sri Lanka was privileged to have top athletes in the calibre of Susanthika Jayasinghe, Sriyani Kulawansa, Sugath Tillekeratne and self, in the late 1990’s. In addition, the Men’s and the Women’s 4×100 metres and the 4×400 metres relay teams also had a good run during that time. We received a lot of support and backing from former President, the late Ranasinghe Premadasa and former Sports Minister S.B. Dissanayake. We started our journey from the South Asian Federation Games in 1991 in Colombo, and ended up by winning an Olympic Medal in Sydney in 2000. We were able to win Athletic medals at the South Asian Games (SAG), Asian Athletic Championships, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games, World Athletic Championships and Olympic Games. We were able to dominate, purely because of the encouragement provided by the Sports Ministry and the Athletic Association of Sri Lanka. We were all in the same age group and in 2000 we had to quit Athletics. Thereafter, we could not produce a single medal winner at international events. There was a period when coaches went head-hunting for talented athletes in rural areas, who were immediately brought down to Colombo for selection. In fact, my hometown is Ampara, while Tillekeratne came from Nuwara Eliya, Susanthika is from Kegalle and Sriyani is from Ibbagamuwa. It was because the coaches recognised our talent at that time, that we were able to make an impact on the international arena. But today, we don’t see Athletes from rural areas. This is because, most outstation coaches are not willing to send their Athletes to Colombo. Consequently, these talented Athletes are restricted to a few local meets in their hometown. But, if these rural Athletes are given an opportunity to perform in Colombo, our performances in the international scene would have been much better. The decline in standards of Athletics in Sri Lanka is because rural Athletes are not given the opportunity to perform in a top event in Colombo. Today, most rural Athletes are coached by School Physical Training Instructors (PTI). But a PTI cannot be an Athletic coach. We should categorise local coaches and provide them with a good training course. An international medal winner cannot become a successful administrator. Likewise, every top Athlete cannot become a coach. We should provide more encouragement to the local coaches like in other countries. This will encourage local coaches to unearth more talented Athletes in their areas. But today, only medal winners receive Sports Ministry backing. In my opinion, all coaches should be supported to fulfill their task.

Sugath Tillekeratne
(President- Athletic Association
of Sri Lanka)

Actually, we have a problem, without proper training facilities for the National Athletes. By September 2016, we were ready to face the challenges in 2017 and 2018, by establishing three Athletic pools, namely the Olympic Pool, Super Pool and the National Pool, with 115 Athletes. But the biggest problem we are now facing is the none availability of a synthetic track for training. We will not be able to meet our first target in 2017- Asian Championships in India- if we do not have the Sugathadasa Stadium track ready by April this year. The Ministry of Sports last year promised that the Sugathadasa track will be ready by April. However, still there is a crisis in the tender with regards to the re-laying of the Sugathadasa track. So, it is difficult to depend on the Sugathadasa track. Our National Athletes are presently in the wilderness, as their training has been restricted to small playgrounds in their respective hometowns. In four months time we face our first hurdle- the Asian Championships. But sadly, we do not have a proper playground even, to conduct our regular selection trials. The synthetic track at the Mahinda Rajapaksa Stadium in Diyagama is also in a bad state, and some of our National Athletes our reluctant to run on this track for fear of serious injury. The Sports Ministry has promised to temporarily repair this track before April but, the electronic timing here has been malfunctioning for over six months, which is another concern. We have informed the relevant authorities of this issue which remains unresolved to date. Unlike the SAG, the Asian Championship is an important event. It is difficult to win medals at this event. We should reach peak one month ahead of the championship. If we are unable to solve this crisis by April, our plan is to send the Athletes to India for training and thereafter, straightaway go for the Asian Championships. There will be an additional cost only for accommodation. The other issue we are faced with is the non availability of a venue for our residential training. This is because there are other sportsmen/women already staying at the Torrington Hostel. Our National Athletes are very disappointed with the prevailing situation about their training facilities. We are unable to respond to their queries. The position of National Coach is still vacant, after Dervin Perera resigned soon after the SAG. We are still searching for a National Coach, and are also faced with difficulties in trying to appoint a National Coach. We are now hoping to appoint a Coaching Director to be in charge of the National Athletes. We have called for applications for this position from suitable individuals. We will be forced to appoint from the present set of National coaches. We cannot entertain much hopes at the Asian Championships, because most of the Asian countries are well ahead in performing at the highest level. Though we have participated at the Asian Championship since 1975, it is since 1995 that we have won 18 Gold medals in the last 21 years of competition at this meet. Our best efforts were in 1995 in Jakarta, Indonesia, 1998 in Fukoka, Japan and in 2000 in Jakarta. We are currently in a bad situation without proper preparations for this meet. In the 2015 Asian Championships in China, we managed only a solitary Bronze medal through Nimali Liyanarachchi in the Women’s 800 metres. Our main target is the next Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, and the Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia. We are also planning to get down a foreign coach, targeting these two events. We have already received three applications for this post from Jamaica, Romania and Poland.

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.