With the recent turbulence in rugby, The Sunday Times spoke to people in the know and asked them their views on the current situation.
First to respond was the Sports Minister Gamini Lokuge who said “What crisis are you talking about. There is no crisis. The bottom line is that players cannot dictate how the game is run. And yes we will be appointing a new selection committee shortly to pick the team for the upcoming Dubai Sevens tournament.”
Minister was mislead -- Lewke
President of the SLRFU and Senior DIG Nimal Lewke took his turn to say; “If by a crisis you mean the pullout of the Kandy players then there is absolutely no crisis because what happened is nothing new. Back in 1998 when I was the National Coach the same thing happened and the same thing has happened on more than four occasions. Whenever any players who are favourites of the Kandy’s boss of rugby are excluded, the rest pull out. This time around we were ready for it and that is the reason we had a pool of 60 players. The replacements with training given by the two South African coaches were more than adequate replacements. Every sports body faces challenges and that is how we looked at it and I think we faced this so called crisis very well.
“We were desperately unlucky against Singapore in the first game of the Asian Division One rugby tournament held in Taiwan. Singapore had ten expats and the conversion of the last try hit the cross bar and went in. The Advisory Committee to the Sports Minister gave him wrong advice. I honestly feel sorry for the Sports Minister. Had it not been for the combination changes that were ordered for the second game we would have won and been playing in the Asian Five Nations next year. The fact is Dr Maiya Gunasekera who is a part of the Committee called the manager and wanted Bilal Hassan to replace Achala Perera as hooker in the second game. This the Manager did not do, but the other changes were enforced.”
Secondly, it clearly stated in a circular issued by the Secretary to the Sports Minister S. Liyanagama that a captain shall be selected prior to naming the squad which is what was done. There was a lot of talk about my issuing a letter to the selectors with a criteria for selection. That is completely incorrect. In the first place what we sent the selectors was set of guidelines, which incidentally was unanimously approved by the SLRFU Council. Like the Cabinet Spokesman issues a statement made by the cabinet as whole that is what I did. In addition the word ‘criteria’ means that it is compulsory for the set of rules to be followed. We did not send criteria, but a set of guidelines which former Chairman of selectors Jupana Jayawardena clearly stated at the subsequent inquiry that his team did not follow. Jayawardena also stated that there were other candidates in contention for the captaincy, but that Dushantha Lewke was the best and the decision was unanimous. As I stated earlier the Minister was misled by information given by his committee and chose to ignore the statement issued by the selection committee he himself appointed. So you decide if there is a crisis and who is to blame.”
Rugby is doing well – Maiya
Another man who featured prominently in the news namely Malik Samarawickrema said he did not want to comment while Dr. Maiya Gunasekera said “I do not see anything wrong in the sport on the contrary I think it is quite good. As for what happened in Taiwan and before the tour enough has been written about the issues. All I can say is that if the best players had gone we would have won both matches by at least a two try margin.” Ironically several players when contacted declined to comment.
It’s the fault of Lewke -- Lasitha
Former national rugby selector, player and a present National Sports Council Member Lasitha Gunaratne pointed his finger at the present president Nimal Lewke.
He began by saying attitudes of different individuals over the years has led the game to the present impasse, but, the president Nimal Lewke is responsible for the current debacle.
He said as a selector when the selection committee that he served under Anton Benedict’s chairmanship they wanted to take disciplinary action against the players who went to watch the rugby World Cup in France. It was just before the rugby Asiad which was held in Sri Lanka and Lewke’s son Dushantha was among the five players who made the trip to France. Gunaratne explains that at that time the rugby union under the presidency of Nimal Lewke came up with the argument that for these it was not discipline that was the criteria, but, it was the best talent available and added to it all five players including Dushantha Lewke were members of the Kandy Sports Club. “At that time Dushantha Lewke’s father was the president of the union and they did not take ay action. At that time when the question arose they explained to the minister that they wanted the best available players. However when the same question arose this time when some Kandy players protested and withdrew from the team then the minister posed the same question to the union. The minister explained to them and reminded that during the last year the union needed the best players and the union did not want him to take action and now the union wanted him to take disciplinary action against the players who have protested”.
Gunaratne then added “Even before when I was serving under Dr. Maiya Gunasekera in he sent us a letter urging us to consider his son for selection for the Hong Kong sevens. At the same time another former Police player Sudath Sampath along with Nishantha Chanaka recommending it. As members of the selection committee at that time we did not take much notice about this move, but, the fact is that the Union cannot give the selectors the guidelines for selections.”
When asked if Nimal Lewke had any connections with Kandy Sports Club at any juncture Gunaratne said “If you go back I think that he has coached Kandy Sports Club more than Police Sports Club. Then his son has played for Kandy SC for about two or three seasons – may be his longest association with one single club. However all this is because Nimal Lewke wants his son to captain Sri Lanka.”
Then the former selector accused the present president of trying to drag the problems of the past and connect them to the present context. He said in the past the notable errors committed were things like the changing of the voting system, then Kandy SC buying over players from the Colombo Clubs once the contracts were signed and added however that he felt that those problems the union should look into and bring counter regulations.
“Now the Union is getting involved in the selection procedures. Now they are giving guidelines as to who should captain and who should be included. That is where things have gone wrong”.
(HJ and SRP)