With the attempt made by Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union (SLRFU), to draft in two foreign players into the Sri Lanka 15s Rugby team, the topic of the importance of fielding foreigners, have once again become the talk of the town. According to official SLRFU sources a total of 10 foreign players, through the national [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Asanga speaks on the missing Fijian


With the attempt made by Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union (SLRFU), to draft in two foreign players into the Sri Lanka 15s Rugby team, the topic of the importance of fielding foreigners, have once again become the talk of the town. According to official SLRFU sources a total of 10 foreign players, through the national sports development programme, have submitted their applications to represent Sri Lanka at rugby.

Almost there: One of the two Fijians at practices with the Sri Lanka team for the Asian5Nations - Pic courtesy SLRFU

But as Asanga Seneviratne, the President of SLRFU points out, confusions have reigned for nearly three decades on the subject of the importance or need of foreign players representing Sri Lanka at sports, in particular at Rugby. Sadly the SLRFU got older by 30 years, making it an establishment with a rich history of almost 140 years, with the most important subject on implementing a common criterion, as recommended by the IRB (International Rugby Board), being overlooked for ages.

“This is a case that has been in existence for nearly 30 years but sadly due to various reasons it became a secondary matter. Someone should initiate and we are trying to do that. It’s nothing to be ashamed of as even most top ranked countries have foreign players in their squads, so why not us, for the sole purpose of taking rugby into a whole new dimension,” pointed out Seneviratne.

The entire Sri Lankan rugby fraternity was hit with curiosity after news broke out that four Fijians were in line to play for the Tuskers at the ongoing Asian5Nations. Sri Lanka lost to Korea badly by 59-3 a fortnight ago and for the next game against Hong Kong it was speculated that at least two Fijians were in the squad for the Islanders. But Sri Lanka opted to go ahead with the local breed as they lost the game by 10-41.

It was reported that Sri Lanka had fast-tracked in issuing the two Fijians with local passports but when the Hong Kong team officials decided to check if the SLRFU officials have met the IRB recommendations on fielding foreign players, the idea did not materialise. However as Seneviratne stressed, the SLRFU is taking necessary steps to make the initiative a reality, probably at Sri Lankas home Asian5Nations game against the Philippines.

“We could have played the two Fijians in the Hong Kong game and then opted to face whatever happens afterwards. But if you look at things, there are formal ways of getting things done. There’s no need to leave confusions or room for further quandary. We believe if take the correct channel, there will be a true meaning to our effort,” revealed Seneviratne while asserting that the SLRFU is working seriously on fielding the two Fijians, namely Joseph Dunn and Waqavulagi Emori, in their game against the Philippines next Saturday. The efforts of fielding a third Fijian, Apisai Naqaliva, could be a possibility if SLRFU officials could obtain documentation clearance.
Fielding foreigner players was a long overdue according to rugby experts but some have opposed the move during the past fearing it will close doors on the talented local youngsters. But after nearly three decades of debating, local experts have finally settled that having players from rugby-rich countries from the Pacific Islands, namely Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, is a definite added advantage.
“If you take the All Blacks, they have about eight foreigners in the squad and Japan has around five. Even England, Australia, France, Italy and other countries in the IRB Top 20 ranking field foreigners. If you take cricket, there are big names that have played for two countries and maybe a country other than the country they are born in. IRB has given clear-cut guidelines and other countries made use of it, while we stagnated fearing of matters that were not relevant to the case,” Seneviratne added.

Beginning from the 1980s, Sri Lankans have tasted the foreign flavor of rugby from Pacific Island nations with Fiji leading the list at the main domestic tournaments played in the country. Names of Apisi Nagata, Jalasi Radro, Meli Nakuta, Manasanga Quoro, Kiti Ratudradra, Nabuka Gonalailai, Mope Rawuwu, Laisene Kotanwala, Ilatia Rowuwu, Jale Salu Salu, Bati Ponia, Filitoge Lameta, Thuruwa Opethi and Jimi Bolocoro were far more famous than the local rugby stars among the Sri Lankans.

From the lot Apisi Nagata and Jimi Bolocoro were so close in donning the Sri Lanka jersey but due to various reasons and interference from the higher echelons the move never took place. Seneviratne went on to say that Sri Lanka missed a few good chances in breaking the barrier ever since.

“Nagata was in the national squad when myself and the present SLRFU Secretary, Nalin de Silva represented Sri Lanka. But for unknown reasons he was never given a change. It was a pity because he was more a Sri Lankan than us. He worked here, brought down his family and even his children were born here and he knew the culture. He deserved the opportunity more than others and it was a great opportunity that Sri Lanka missed,” Seneviratne lamented.

Even the living legend of Sri Lanka rugby, Hisham Abdeen pointed out that Sri Lanka could have gained more headway than what it has achieved today in the game, had the SLRFU given the green light to foreign players years back. But he was steadfast on the point that as a nation, Sri Lanka should always abide by the rules and regulations set and followed by the IRB.

“It’s not a new subject to discuss suddenly. You can’t ignore that fact that there are absolute advantages in fielding foreign players for a country. There were so many foreign players I remember who were in line to represent Sri Lanka but were never given the chance. If we could take this step, it will be a definite boost for rugby at international level,” Abdeen stressed.

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