After much deliberations the Athletic elections were held and Retd. Major General Palitha Fernando was elected as the new president of the AASL.   Now the incoming office bearers say that they intend turning a new leaf in athletics in Sri Lanka while other scream about a Mafia controlling the sport.   The following are the views [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

We have a task at hand says Palitha Fernando

Thilakaratne screams of an Athletic Mafia

Will they have a better future?

After much deliberations the Athletic elections were held and Retd. Major General Palitha Fernando was elected as the new president of the AASL.  

Now the incoming office bearers say that they intend turning a new leaf in athletics in Sri Lanka while other scream about a Mafia controlling the sport.  

The following are the views of both Palitha Fernando and ousted president Sugath Thilakaratne.  

The main reason for the decline of athletics during the last two years in the island is not due to the performances of the athletes but due to the lacklustre efforts of the administrators,” said the president elect  Rtd. Major General Palitha Fernando.

His main effort now is to uplift the standard of athletics. He hopes, before long, to make athletics the number one sport in the island.

“Now that the elections are over, we must forget our grievances, and we must continue our struggle to keep on winning medals and I request all to join me,” said Fernando.

Fernando is a school level athlete in 1970. He represented Panadura Sri Sumangala College and he represented the school at the Indo-Sri Lanka Schools 800metres. He is currently the president of the Lanka Lions SC and has been a member of the Lions SC since its inception.

When he was in the Army, he was chairman of the Army Sports Council. He held posts in the Athletics Association of Sri Lanka for the past twenty years. From 2006 to 2013 and 2014 he was president of the Athletics Association of Sri Lanka. After a silence of two years he is back again. He is still a council member of the Asian Athletics Association (AAA). He took over the present post by defeating former Sri Lanka’s number one athlete Sugath Thilakaratne.

The outgoing president Sugath Thilakaratne shake hands with president elect Maj. Gen. Palitha Fernando soon after the election of office bearers held last week

“Sugath is a clever athlete who has won several medals for Sri Lanka. We cannot forget his achievements. We still admire his achievemnets. Regarding his performances as president of athletics, one cannot be satisfied with his performance.

“His main set back is the lack of experience. During his tenure, athletics took a back seat. I have invited him to join us to  lift the standard of the sport.

“The main target this year is to win medals at the Asian Athletics Championships to be held in India in July.  In the history of the Asian Athletics Championships, we have so far won 18 Gold, 13 Silver and 19 Bronze. Unfortunately we were able to win a solitary Bronze at the last edition held in China in 2015.

“The next target is to focus our attention on the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia. The same year the Commonwealth Games will take place in Gold Coast, Australia. Since several top countries are taking part in these games, the chances of Sri Lanka winning any medals are rather slim.

“Then we must plan ahead for the 2020 Olympic Games in Japan. Then again there is the challenge of qualifying for the event. We need the help of coaches for all these efforts. We must discuss this and make a solid plan.

“I am an independent person, especially where athletics is concerned. I came forward for the election in the past as an independent candidate and obtained over 90 votes and was number one in the Athletics Council over 20 years ago. That popularity I still hold. That is due to the fact that I work tirelessly towards the upliftment of athletics. Whether I hold positions or not, due to my sincerity, I have been appointed to this exalted position, and I am ready to protect it,’  concluded Fernando.

Athletics Mafia

“Due to a Mafia Group in the athletics field, genuine sportsmen cannot indulge in athletics administration for a long period,” lamented Thilakaratne who was defeated at the election by a overwhelming majority.

“I know the ins and outs of national and international athletes. In 2015, I came as the athletics president to serve athletes and coaches, not to dole out benefits for athletics officials.

“Those who expected benefits are the Mafia Group who made sure that I will not be the athletics president any longer.”

Thilakaratne began his athletics career during the 1985 All Island School Games in Anuradhapura. His event was the 400m. He went on to win the Asian Games, Asian Championships and South Asian Games gold medals. Then he went on to represent Sri Lanka at the Commonwealth Games,World Athletics Championships and the Olympics. He has a good sports background.

In 2015, Thilakaratne became the youngest president of the Athletics Association of Sri Lanka, beating former DIG Upali Kumarasir. He obtained 83 votes to 24 against.

Last week Thilakaratne lost the post of president by 32 to 79 to Rtd. Maj.General Palitha Fernando.

The Sunday Times asked Thilakaratne as to how the defeat came about.

“This is not the first time that one has lost at an election.This time a Mafia Group intervened. Before this Asian and Commonwealth level medalist Sriyani Kulawansa was beaten receiving only 12 votes at a former athletics election.

“Olympic medalist Susanthika Jayasinghe once served as a vice-president but she was not allowed to do anything for the sport. This is exactly the same thing that happened to me.

“I think even if Sebastian Coe, the IAAF president, come to Sri Lanka and contest elections, he too would face the same predicament by this group. This is my personal belief.

“These is no place for genuine sportsmen in the administrative field.Those who hold positions are those who have very little sports experience. Their aim is not to improve sports development, but to benefit from athletics.

“Because genuine athletes are a hindrance, this group prevent such athletes from holding important portfolios. I am a poor village level athlete. I have no big family background. I am holding the present position purely on my athletics achievements.

“Those who elevated me to be president in 2015, are the same who ousted me today. They did it not for the love of me or athletics, but to temporarily, to protect the posts that they are interested in.

“There are allegations that I did not work for athletics during the last two years. Yes. I did not work according to their plans. I worked for athletes and coaches only. But some officers expected benefits such as foreign tours. I did not help them via sponsors and government funds.

“ I admit that there may have been set backs as I had no previous experience of being a president. Knowing my weakness, they brought me in as president.

“But then they started pulling from my legs. I did not get a chance to execute my plans.

“People say athletics suffered considerably during my tenure. I would like to ask what the newly elected president Palitha Fernando did during the past six or seven years when he was president? I would like to ask what he did towards athletics? Palitha Fernando should be the first to be blamed for the present debacle that Sri Lankan athletics has fallen into. So how can you expect him to develop the sport now.

“Secretary Prema Pinnawela thinks that only he can manage international affairs. But he has been the athletics secretary for nearly 20 years. What has he done with all his experience?

“The IAAF had suspended the donations that were due to Sri Lanka. But as an international level athlete I went to the IAAF and regained the lost grants which amounted to USD 5,000. Even we can develop international affairs.

“Present president Palitha Fernando obtained 79 votes, but I think the 32 votes that I obtained is far superior to that. Those who voted for me are genuine sportsmen” concluded Thilakaratne.

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