The Mumbai fans had a soft spot for Fazil Marija and his men as they cheered Sri Lanka to a third-place finish at the India Sevens at the Bombay Gymkhana Club last Sunday. It was the second successive ‘bronze’ finish for Sri Lanka – they did the same at the previous leg of the HSBC [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Bombay hooray for buoyant Sri Lanka sevens


The Mumbai fans had a soft spot for Fazil Marija and his men as they cheered Sri Lanka to a third-place finish at the India Sevens at the Bombay Gymkhana Club last Sunday.

It was the second successive ‘bronze’ finish for Sri Lanka – they did the same at the previous leg of the HSBC Asian Sevens Series in Thailand last month – and together with a fourth-place finish at the opening leg in Malaysia, it left Sri Lanka on third place in the overall standings with 29 points, five adrift of Hong Kong (34) and leaders Japan (35).

Once again a creditable performance and one which proves as far as sevens rugby is concerned, we are on the right track. Sri Lanka is now most likely to finish as the third best team in Asia unless they press the self-destruct button at the final leg in Singapore next month and implode by failing to reach the Cup competition.

Action in the Sri Lanka Vs Hong Kong match at the Indian 7s played in Bombay.

That is unlikely to happen. The good thing about finishing in the top tier means for the next tournament, you are seeded and thus unlikely to meet the top teams until the knockout phase, and Sri Lanka have had favourable draws with their biggest challenge in the preliminary rounds so far being Thailand who we seem to have got the measure of.

In all three tournaments so far, we have emerged from day one unscathed which meant we missed out on playing the big guns from the other pools in the Cup quarter-finals. Yet, these games have been tricky. In Mumbai, Sri Lanka came up against the Philippines for the first time this season and won narrowly, 12-5.

Following the game on Asian5nationsTV’s live streaming on You Tube, it was disgusting to note the comments being made on the live chat platform by a group of Sri Lankan supporters. This group was in a verbal duel with one Harry Wolff and a couple of other fans supporting the Philippines taking umbrage at the fact that the Volcanoes – as the Philippines national team is nicknamed – were fielding ‘Aussies’.

In the global village we live in today, it is quite common to live a nomadic life which means work and other business opportunities could see you uprooted from your country of birth and living elsewhere. But these Filipino rugby players were not in that category. They were of mixed blood – dad an Australian or British and mum a Filipina – and as such had every right to be playing for the Philippines.

The International Rugby Board has a rule which is fondly called the grand-parents’ law which states that if one of your grand-parents or parents are from the country you wish to represent, you can do so.

The Philippines Rugby Union has taken advantage of that ruling and through social media contacted all rugby players of mixed parentage in the diaspora who are willing to return ‘home’ and represent the motherland. They haven’t done anything illegal.
But those nuts on the internet, hiding behind the anonymity of the web, were casting insults at Wolff (an Australian married to a Filipina and whose son was playing for the Philippines on the field) and others.

Racism has no part to play in sport. And these misinformed goons were taking it to the extreme as they poured vituperative scorn. They also pointed the finger at Japan and Hong Kong for fielding teams with non-locals.

The IRB allows countries to field players who have been resident for three years, so why shouldn’t Japan and Hong Kong do so? Japan’s two key players, skipper Lote Tuqiri and Lomano Lemeki are both Pacific Islanders who have lived in Japan for years and are thus eligible. They have made the choice to live and work in Japan and play rugby. Should they be denied the chance to play?In Hong Kong’s case, there are a few players fielded under the three-year eligibility rule but the majority, are either born in Hong Kong, which gives them the right to represent the city, or are of local Chinese ethnicity.

There is no use pointing an accusing finger at Japan, Hong Kong or the Philippines at using ‘foreign’ players. All these teams are playing by the rules as set out by the world governing body and the sooner everyone accepts it, the better.This is something not singular to rugby only. You get people born in other countries representing another nation across the spectrum of sports. In cricket it is commonplace. Just look at Kevin Pietersen as an example. Or what about Ashton Agar, born from a Sri Lankan-mum and Australian-dad, would he have played in the Ashes if there was a rule which barred children of mixed marriages from playing for either country?
In athletics and football, we have seen how money has resulted in the desert sheikdoms suddenly fielding a number of Kenyans and Brazilians sporting the name of Mohammed.

At least in the case of the Philippines, it is not money which was the motivating factor but the chance to represent their ‘motherland’ in every sense of the word.

As far as rugby goes, we Sri Lankans must accept the cards which have been dealt out by the IRB and instead of voicing racist and foul slogans at others, try to adapt and do our best. It is such attitudes which have led to bigger social problems which this country has faced in the past.

A few years ago, the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union dabbled with the idea of fielding a couple of naturalized Fijians in the squad but it drew criticism from all corners, and even in parliament. That idea was quickly shelved. We have chosen which path to take and we must persevere, unless there is a sea change in policy.

You can be a true nationalist, but you must also respect other countries their right to do as they please as they are doing it within the international laws of the game.

Marija and his men have done us proud. We should celebrate our competitiveness. To insult Japan and Hong Kong and say ‘only if they didn’t field foreigners’ is in fact discrediting what Sri Lanka has achieved so far.

We must look at our third place standing in Asia as a feather in our cap, and strive for more something which I believe can be achieved with time and more exposure to world-class opposition which we get these days from the Carlton Sevens.

Share This Post

comments powered by Disqus

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.