Rugby quagmire deepens Disgruntled players protest to the minister
By Harry Jayachandra

Following the dramatic turn of events with Sports Minister Gamini Lokuge sacking the rugby selectors and the appointment of a new panel, new facts have come to light.

Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union (SLRFU) officials pointed out that they were not given a copy of the complaint before being summoned for the hearing held by the panel appointed by the minister and comprising of Maiya Gunasekera, Kiran Attapattu and B. L. S. Perera.

Even some of the sacked selectors are up in arms. They point out that even a man on the death row is allowed to make a final statement. However, the minister after appointing them, had fired the selectors without stating any reason or giving them the opportunity to make a final statement.

The Lankan ruggerites in their last outing against the Asian Dragons.
(pic. by Ranjith Perera).

Meanwhile 25 players from the Forces, Havelocks, CH and FC and CR and FC have sent a strong letter to the new Chairman of Selectors Rohan Abeykoon with copies to the Sports Minister, Chief Executive Officer of the SLRFU Dilroy Fernando and the two national coaches in Norman Laker and Dawie Snyman. The letter dated October 23 states; “It is with great disappointment that we write this, but are compelled to do so for lack of any other option. Today, when we attended training, we were told by you in no uncertain terms that discipline and punctuality were of primary importance. We agree. That is exactly why we have been training rigorously for the last 6 weeks morning and evening. We are sure you are aware that all of us are not professional players and do not have the luxury of only playing rugby. We have compromised our jobs and our studies in order to be eligible to represent our country which is any sportsman’s highest achievement. We have toiled through rain, injury and personal problems to make sure we give our best and improve ourselves to a level where we deserve to represent Sri Lanka.

It also added; “However, we are saddened to note that over ten players who stayed away from practices for the last six weeks for reasons best known to them are now admitted to training and not penalized for their absence. We are disheartened by the fact that our six weeks of training have been to no avail. This was confirmed by you when you stated that the ‘past is the past’ and those events will count for nothing.”
As you are aware, rugby is a team game and no comprehensive training can be done in one week. It is juvenile to expect a team that has been together for a week to perform at the level that one that has been together for six weeks. We have been practicing together and played two trial games on a representative basis, for which we all gave 100%. However, it seems that all that hard work is of no consequence and the so called trial games were not really trials at all. We understand your predicament that you are the newly appointed chairman of selectors. However, we are not a newly selected squad and we should not be made to suffer for the sins of others. Rugby is a game of honour, and we have not been treated honourably. Your own words were that there should be no dissension and no ‘hostility’ or ‘animosity’ between the players.

Even so, when our hard work all comes to naught we find it difficult not to be emotional about a game that is important to us and a country that is important to us. We wish to continue to represent the country. However, we are disgusted at the double standards that has been going on for some time and climaxed at today’s practice session.

Attendance and discipline should be important to everybody. Not only some. As far as we are concerned players who do not practice do not respect their team mates. We will attend practice because we respect the game and not because of any compulsion on your part. However, we wish to formally protest the stand taken by your selection committee and more particularly your words that the ‘past is the past’.
In the past there have been several incidents where players have been admitted to training at the last moment at the whims and fancies of others, in total disregard to the players who have never missed a day’s training. It was wrong then and it is wrong now.

We urge you, as a past national player to understand our plight and respect the game and the team ethic which is of fundamental importance. We do not wish our hard work and dedication to be completely disregarded. We hope you will take the foregoing in the correct spirit.”

Meanwhile former SLRFU Chairman, Head of selectors and rugby legend Anton Benedict speaking to The Sunday Times said; “It is not fair for me to sit in judgment and say one side is right and the other is wrong. First SLRFU should contract at least 20 to 30 players then a crisis like this can be avoided. However, no club can say they are not responsible for the actions of their players. Tournaments are held to select prospective candidates for the national team. If any player is participating just for the fun of it he should state it at the beginning and no player, official and or club is bigger than the game. In addition players should not run to the media. If a particular player has a grievance he should first go to the selection committee, the rugby council and if all else fails to the Sports Minister. Right now the game is suffering and that must be avoided at all costs.”

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