It’s very alarming that, Lankan Athletics, which was not 2nd to any in the Asian circuit or, even in the peripheries, has degenerated to such extent that, we have no hope of a medal outside of the South Asian region. What is the reason for this decline? This is what those who have been at [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

National Sports: Administrators’ plaything for personal gain


It’s very alarming that, Lankan Athletics, which was not 2nd to any in the Asian circuit or, even in the peripheries, has degenerated to such extent that, we have no hope of a medal outside of the South Asian region.

What is the reason for this decline? This is what those who have been at the top, have to say.

Sriyani Kulawansa
(International Athletics medallist and Olympian)

There is a huge decline in Sports overall in Sri Lanka. At one stage, we were on top in Sports such as Billiards, Athletics, Cricket, Carrom and Rugby, which have taken a back seat in the recent past. I think the main reason for this setback is because there is no discipline among sportsmen and sportswomen competing today. I see no objective or purpose in their participation in Sports. The Athletes have no sense of commitment in their training sessions. It is very difficult to get them to the grounds at the proper time. They are also disobedient. I think, this is because they have not set a goal or have a dream to achieve in their careers.

We made huge sacrifices and commitments during training to reach our targets. Of course, we received plenty of encouragement from our parents and support from the government. Today, most parents are keen to see their children play Cricket for their school. This is because the parents believe their children will be well off after playing Cricket for the school. Some parents are determined to see their children get the best education, instead of participating in Sports. In addition, some parents are only keen to see their children reach the highest level at school and obtain school colours for University admission.

Today’s Athletes do not have a role model. For example, myself, Sugath Thilakaratne, Damayanthi Darsha, Susanthika Jayasinghe and yours truly were top Athletes some time back, but now, we are all in the same boat. All of us gave priority to Athletics, while even neglecting our Education. We won medals from at the South Asian Games, right up to the Olympic Games. But now, we are totally disappointed, considering the situation we are now faced with. I remember, former Minister of Sports S.B. Dissanayake provided us with all the facilities for our training, and initiated Olympic Pools for the National Athletes. As a result, the sport also developed to a great extent. But, considering the current situation, can we identify Athletes such as Darsha, Thillakaratne, Susanthika and myself as role models? This is common in every Sport in Sri Lanka. For example, Weightlifters Chinthana Vidanage and Sudesh Peiris are no more in the limelight, despite their heroics for the country. In this background, parents think their children will not have a good future participating in Sports. This is the main reason for the decline in Sports in Sri Lanka.

I won medals from National School Games up to International events, but today, my basic salary is Rs 16,000. This is the situation in every other Sport in this country, except for Cricket. The only consolation we have today is that, we are invited to school inter-house meets as the chief guest. We attend these events at our own cost, to distribute certificates to the students. What is the example these students can gain from us? I will never ask a student to win a medal at an Olympic Game. I’m sure they will also fall end up in the same boat like us. This situation is created only in Sri Lanka. So, I will not encourage my daughter to take up Sports at school. I do not want to see my daughter going through the same fate that I am now faced with. I always give priority to her education. It is with deep regret and sadness that I am compelled to do this as a former international medal winner.

Sabaragamuwa and Sri Jayawardenapura Universities have commenced a Sports Degree. But sadly, those who have graduated with this Degree are presently employed at completely different duties. Those without the education qualifications to obtain this Sports Degree, could follow it by attending a 2-year course at the Open University, which I followed to obtain this Sports Degree. I requested ‘Duty Leave’ from the Education Ministry to follow this Sports Degree. The ministry refused and submitted the matter to the Cabinet which, in turn, rejected it. I was asked to apply for ‘No-Pay Leave’. This is how the government treats me, after having sacrificed my entire youth for Athletics, and done so much to bring honour and fame to the country. I was forced to give up any hope of obtaining the Sports Degree. My question is, Will any young sportsman or sportswoman take up a career having considered my sad situation?” The authorities should be held responsible for the decline of Sports in this country.

Saman Kumara Gunawardena
(Athletic Statistics Recorder and Director Sports University of Kelaniya)

Idon’t think the all the Sports in the country has been affected, as there are a few Sports which have moved forward on the international stage. However, I agree we have taken a back seat in the number of medals and championships we have won in the recent past. I think the main reason for this is because countries such as India, Japan, South Korea and China have made giant strides in their respective Sports programmes. In addition, the rise of the Middle East countries in Sports, has also pushed Sri Lanka down. These countries, of course, have reached the top through the import of players from other top sporting nations. This was clearl during the 2014 Asian Games in South Korea, where Sri Lanka were robbed of a Bronze medal when Chandrika Subashini was pushed into 4th place by a Bahraini Athlete who was an import from Nigeria.

Furthermore, we do not have efficient training programmes. Although we won Athletic medals at international events in the past, today, we do not see any rural Athletes coming into the limelight. It is the PTI and the Sports Officer who, initially, should be able to identify talented athletes at school level. Athletes of the calibre of Damayanthi Darsha, Sugath Thilakaratne, Sriyani Kulawansa and Susanthika Jayasinghe all came into recognition after they were identified by their respective PTIs and Sports Officers of their village. Today, we do not see this taking place and instead, PTIs and Sports Officers conduct their own coaching and over-train the Athletes to gain quick results. As a result, even before the Athletes are given the opportunity to perform at National level, they have become injury prone. Today, these PTIs and the provincial coaches have decided to retain these Athletes, for personal gains and credit from the authorities.

Sometime back, we had only a few Athletic coaches in the country. Sri Lanka fielded a 31-member contingent for the 1986 Asian Games in South Korea with only 5 Coaches in the squad. In 2006, Sri Lanka fielded 48 Athletes for the Asian Games in Doha, Qatar, with as many as 41 Coaches in the squad, of which 26 were unqualified.

Another reason for the decline of Sports in the country was the introduction of Provincial units in 1987, which further widened the gap between the Education Ministry, Sports Ministry and the Provincial Council, while cutting all contacts within their organisations. As a result, the entire Sports network broke down and we never had an outstanding Athlete coming forward since then. We also do not have any monitoring system within these organisations. The Sports Ministry does not have a National plan to take Sports forward and to the next level.

Though Sri Lanka fielded 104 Athletes for 24 events at the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games, at a cost of nearly Rs 10 billion, we did not win a single medal. After the Games, the authorities appointed a committee to look into Sri Lanka’s debacle at this event. There were constructive recommendations revealed to the authorities from this Report but, this report too, with time, became a mere document. This is an ‘occupational hazard’ among the authorities which perpetuates the repetition of mistakes.

K.L.F. Wijedasa
(Former Sri Lanka 100m
Record holder in 1955 and former National Athletic Coach)

I always believed that Sri Lanka has the potential to win medals and team championships at international level. There are talented individuals in this country for every Sport. It is that, we do not have a National plan to identify these talented Athletes. The Sports Ministry and the respective National Associations should take up the responsibility of establishing a National Sports Plan.

I remember, in 2001, we got down an Australian Professor, John Bloomfield, who did a research on Sports titled, ‘Sports as a vehicle for Nation-building’, and presented the report to then Sports Minister Lakshman Kiriella. The report disappeared once the Ministers changed. Recently, I reminded Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera of this report. However, the Minister was not too keen on this report, as he believed in a 5-year plan. There was a Sports Congress at the BMICH, when S.B. Dissanayake was the Sports Minister. It was conducted by the Canadian Government and the Sports Ministry. This Congress Report too, has gone missing like the Research Report, as the officials are not aware of it.

There is no official in the Sports Ministry with a good knowledge of Sports Administration. How can these officials operate without the proper knowledge. In the past, the Sports Ministry played a major role in the development of Sports events in the country. Today, the Sports Ministry is just another government institution.

Talking about talented Athletes, I remember the Sri Lanka team which won Gold medals at the 1974 Asian Games in Tehran, Iran. These Athletes did not have spikes to run on a synthetic track. They bought their spikes from Tehran and then ran on the track for the first time. Not only did they win a Gold medal, but they also set up a new Asian Games record as well. However, they were not appreciated for their efforts at that time. After many years, they were felicitated by former Sports Minister S.B. Dissanayake.

In the past, Sports in Sri Lanka was dominated by true sportsmen/sportswomen. Their motive was not financial gain. I was a member of the National Sports Council (NSC), of which, Lawyer Sidath Nandalochana was the Chairman. There was a proposal from the Sports Ministry to pay a stipend to all committee members. I remember the Chairman rejecting the offer and requesting the funds be deposited in the Sports Fund.

Another reason for Sri Lanka’s decline in Sports is because we do not have qualified coaches for training. Today, we have coaches who act as if they are experts, despite their limited knowledge in international coaching knowledge. They also keep demanding for various facilities. The Athletes do not have proper training facilities. We cannot get the desired results with so much shortcomings in Sports Administration.

Those days, Athletes were well disciplined. Today, we don’t see proper discipline in any Sports events in Sri Lanka. The current Athletes perform little on the field and expect much from the authorities. We can win the Cricket World Cup and Olympic medals, if we really work honestly with wholehearted commitment. The National Associations and the Sports Ministry should take the blame for the decline in Sports in Sri Lanka.

Lawyer Neil Wijeratne
(Sports Historian and former member of the National Sports Council)

I remember, our past sportsmen and sportswomen performed to their best on the field. The Sports Administrators also had a close eye on these Athletes. They were able to plan out and set up a 2nd stage for these Athletes. They established several successful plans and had discussions at the highest level to promote the Sport in the country. But sadly, I cannot see the same taking place today, as Sports Administrators have decided to take the field instead of the Athletes, and taken the game into their hands. Today, I see Sports Administrators have taken the front seat, instead of the sportsmen and sportswomen of this country, and are presently in the limelight for the wrong reasons. It is the Athlete and his/her achievements that popularises the related Sport.

Officials of National Associations are more keen to see their pictures in the newspapers and on TV, rather then performing their duties. Some officials have set up their own groups within their Sports administration. They don’t realise that the Sports association is in existence because of the sportsmen and sportswomen. Another setback is these officials’ determination to remain in office and indefinitely hold onto their positions. It has been a difficult situation even for the authorities to get rid off them. Even if they are removed from their positions, some officials make sure they are appointed to a different position in the same Sports Administration. The Sports Ministry has brought in several rules and regulations to curtail these culprits from remaining in office forever. However, their efforts are in vain.

Another issue I see is that, whoever is appointed to head a Sports Administration, he/she is compelled to join hands with the politicians, while those who do not fall in line, are shown the exit. Hence, these officials are compelled to obey the politicians, just to survive in their post. Some Sports Administrations have turned out to be their own property, because of their close contacts with politicians, and run the Sports Administration according to a personal agenda. They do not have a proper plan to develop the related Sport. Some Sports administrators hang on to office simply for their relationship with international associations.

The main reason for the decline in Sports in the country is because we have a set of administrators who have no real connection to the Sport, not having played the game at all. We have some top administrators in the country, but they are reluctant to come forward and serve the country, as they do not receive due recognition for their efforts.

Their was a huge improvement in Sports from 1990 to 2000. We won medals and many championships during this period. But later, Sports began to decline gradually, because we do not have an efficient Sports administration in this country. We have set up temporary solutions for most of the setbacks. Another reason for this crisis is because the medals won by our Athletes are being converted into financial incentives. It is good to encourage medal winners, but it should be done as a policy. As a result, we are finding it difficult to control the situation. We have to initiate a long term and short term plan and implement it, if we are to make progress in the international stage.

When we talk about the role of National Sports Bodies, it reminds me of India’s Lodha Committee Report, its recommendations and its implementation. The Lodha Committee Report was hailed as an attempt to restore the glory of Sports in India. Among the areas touched are the role of the games’ stakeholders, administrative structure, player welfare, transparency and conflict of interest etc. This Report is something our Sports administrators should take note of, as it addresses a number of key areas which are also found in our Sports arena.

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