Just when you thought that Sri Lanka Football was poised to turn the corner with Coach Packeer Ali and his charges preparing to play host to the Malaysian Team, comes the news that COPE had summoned FFSL and levelled many charges at them. Viewers on the TV1 Mayima program were intrigued to learn that a [...]


COPE sets an offside trap for Sri Lanka Football!


Just when you thought that Sri Lanka Football was poised to turn the corner with Coach Packeer Ali and his charges preparing to play host to the Malaysian Team, comes the news that COPE had summoned FFSL and levelled many charges at them. Viewers on the TV1 Mayima program were intrigued to learn that a former Sports Minister himself had fired the salvos that took the Football Chief’s off guard and made the COPE members seek further explanations from the football officials. This is clearly not what Sri Lanka Football needed at a juncture when they are striving to turn the corner and step up their campaign to take the game to the next realm, something all football lovers are anxiously looking forward to. It is indeed a pity that the FFSL has not sufficiently endeavored to exorcise the demons of the past in a timely manner and put all these garbage into the incinerator!

The time has come to look forward and charter a course of modern football. There are many examples to guide such a journey with the World Cup itself demonstrating that money alone does not produce the results you want to see. Manchester United with a galaxy of superstars struggle each week to overpower lesser equipped teams. So for Sri Lanka Football to create a surge in its fortunes is not beyond imagination but it will take a honest to goodness effort and the support of extended shareholders. The FFSL is not short of such resources with FIFA & AFC continuing to support them in spite of several shortcomings. In the past, it is the poor utilization of resources and pure larceny on the part of senior officials that has all but brought the federation to its knees. As a result it is the poor footballer who has suffered to the degree that the best talent has gone elsewhere & embraced other sports that offer them greater prospects.

The FFSL should take stock of all the peripheral football activities taking place around it without its writ or involvement or purpose. Not that it must interfere unnecessarily, but it can study how these initiatives can be dovetailed into a cohesive plan that will benefit the sport in a meaningful manner. Otherwise it remains an aberration and merely a soccer carnival that alters standards and bastardizes the quality of the sport. In that context the Under 20 Gateway Tournament is noteworthy because it is a worthy institution that has chosen to work with the FFSL rather than run a program of its own. Such a tournament will also attract the international school circuit that is not short of funds and can be developed to match the schools rugby scene that pours enormous financial resources into that game. What FFSL should ensure is that all such initiatives are channeled into a larger development framework and not let it be mired in a short term limited program that merely satisfies the organizers.

Thus the Malaysian Team encounter on Friday would attract the presence of all soccer lovers. While it will fuel much enthusiasm from fans starved of quality football, it will also once again serve to verify the standard of our National Team and help evaluate if the new much talked about coach is doing his job and doing it well. These matches are somewhat stage managed but it is still of value to decipher the make-up of our squad and provide the seeds of a resurgence for the sport. FFSL must strive to organize as many matches of this nature in its home turfs so that the interest and enthusiasm for the sport is rekindled and sustained. A well thought out regional competition among neighboring national teams will be an obvious extension, if FFSL can put its mind to it and use its good offices to persuade friendly nations to visit Sri Lanka for an annual engagement.

The Indian Football League is a great example that we can emulate. From a humdrum team of the past, tremendous strides have been made by the Indian Federation with big ticket sponsors attracted to the sport fashioned on the lines of the mammoth cricket equivalent. The results are plain to see and though the last SAF tournament did not provide the kudos that India deserved, surprisingly going down to the Maldivians, the sport is booming in the subcontinent. The FFSL should find a way to latch on to this format and see how some of our national players can play in the Indian Leagues. This opportunity will offer much needed exposure to our top players and help them realize the benefit of professional football. It is also an eye-opener for our officials who can study and see how such a competition can be put together in Sri Lanka.

So it is up to the FFSL President and his Ex Co to put the doubts of COPE to rest once and for all. They don’t need such interventions and machinations that ruin the sport and stop well-wishers, especially commercial sponsors from coming on board. The COPE enquiry should be a welcome opportunity for FFSL to lay bare the sins of the past and show that it has no truck with what has happened. The Rs.25 million heist is still dragging it down, so it is best to cooperate with the authorities and keep the Minister of Sports (MOS) fully aware so that the legal implications can be addressed without fear or favor.

It must also pay attention to the reforms that have been discussed over and over again without much progress. FIFA & AFC have been patient and supportive over a long period of uncertainty and under-performance. It is often said in many circles that one must not depend on the government to make improvements. This goes for popular sports like Football. It is the football community that must accept that responsibility. So let’s beat the off-side trap and get on with the game!

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