“One person is responsible for the mire the sport of rugby is in. I will let you figure who that man is,” said Lasitha Guneratne former national selector speaking to The Sunday Times about what has befallen to this very popular sport in Sri Lanka
The Sri Lankan National team has a crucial international tournament coming up in just three days when they compete in the Asian Division One Championship starting in Taiwan on Wednesday. But the team’s preparation has been hampered severely by numerous squad changes, players not attending practice, eleventh hour changes and Selection Committee mishaps.
|Lasitha Guneratne - Pic by Athula Devapriya
Former captain of Royal, CR and FC, nation cap, selector and presently serving with the Sports Council, Guneratne elaborated on what led to the present state rugby is in and only viable solution.
“In my opinion, what led to the present situation was when tradition was broken and SLRFU (Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union) election was contested nearly two years ago. Whether the right candidate was elected is up to you to decide! I agree the voting system is filled with flaws. This happened when the SLRFU under the presidency of Harsha Mayadunne decided to change the system by allowing clubs that play in ‘B’ division provincial tournaments to have a vote. Since then it has been all downhill. This is the reason why we are trying to change the system not only in rugby, but in all the sports. We at the Sports Council have already sent a circular and a discussion will be held on November 18 at the Sports Ministry,” said Guneratne.
He added; “Getting back to the selections, I read that the previous Selection Committee said they had followed the Sports Council law number 8 by appointing the captain before naming the squad for 15 a side tournament. That is the law I do not disagree but what I would like to know is why the Committee did not follow the same rule when appointing the captain for the Youth team? Also why didn’t they follow law number 8 which states and I quote – In all the selections the criteria for selection should be made known to the competitors and the Association (in this case the SLRFU) beforehand and it should be followed strictly to avoid complaints after the selection.’ Why was not this done?”
“In addition the union cannot give the selection criteria to the committee. As a former member of the Selection Committee let me say that what we first do when we sit down is to decide on the criteria for the selection of both the captain and the team. Do not get the wrong idea I believe both the captains selected are good. But both of them are young and have time. And why was Jeewa Galgamuwa overlooked? He led Sri Lanka to the finals at the last Asiad which to us is equivalent to the World Cup. His record as captain was even better than Priyantha Ekanayake who led Sri Lanka on numerous occasions,’ said Guneratne.
“Let us get back to the Asiad. Just prior to the Asiad I was a member of the Selection Committee chaired by Anton Benedict. If you recall what happened last year you would know that we excluded five players who were Kandy rugby benefactor’s favourites left training and went to see the World Cup. The SLRFU Council petitioned Gamini Lokuge stating that they wanted the best team. The Minister acceded to their request and this time around when the controversy arose he asked the officials the same question they posed. Also last year when five players had to be dropped the minister wanted them to be given national colours. To my knowledge that has not been done yet. The Minister is doing a good job. The only mistake he may have made is not dissolving the Council of the SLRFU when the present crisis began as there are unconstitutional appointments in additions to everything else,” he added.
Said Guneratne; “Contrary to what some might think, I believe players still consider it an honour to represent Sri Lanka. The problem I believe is discipline or the lack of it. When former national George Simpkin was threatened and forced to quit, no action was taken. In this case my opinion the SLRFU has to take the blame. Simpkin was an outstanding coach and strict disciplinarian. The situation you have now is the SLRFU Council is divided and more importantly so is the team. Had Simpkin been around he would have at the very least held the team together.”
So what is the solution; “Former Sri Lankan players must be both involved and influence the administration of the game for starters. At present most of the top players from yesteryear want nothing to do with this administration and it is obvious how detrimental that is to the sport. The present status quo has to change from top to bottom. And in conclusion let me say that administrators, players and clubs must remember that no one is above the game.”