There is a perceptible upswing in Football fortunes in the air. Samaposha continues to put its faith in Football and supports the annual Under (U)-14 Schools tournament which it claims will benefit 12,000 boys and girls. The Youth U-19 National Team held Maldives to a 2-2 draw in the ongoing AFC Championship in Tajikistan, reversing [...]


Football Regional Development – for whose benefit?


Anura de Silva in Middle East - A camel ride for starters

There is a perceptible upswing in Football fortunes in the air. Samaposha continues to put its faith in Football and supports the annual Under (U)-14 Schools tournament which it claims will benefit 12,000 boys and girls. The Youth U-19 National Team held Maldives to a 2-2 draw in the ongoing AFC Championship in Tajikistan, reversing the continuous international losses of the past, while the Football Federation of Sri Lanka (FFSL) President took wing to the Middle East, to sign an agreement with Qatar FA, the benefit of it is not clear as yet, other than of course a camel ride for starters!

Reminds us of an old story, that you can teach even camels to play Football by sending 20 of them to Brazil for intensive training! This alludes to a canard of the past when Middle East teams spent enormous sums of petrodollars to promote their Football fortunes. Today, Football in that part of the world is a religion in itself, and not a day goes by without a spate of Football activity, the culmination of which will be when Qatar hosts the World Cup at the turn of this century.

What has all this got to do with the much touted Regional Development (RD) programme of the FFSL, which is normally, a subject assigned to one of its Vice Presidents (VP)? Those who clamour for this position, no doubt, have an agenda to fulfill, aimed mainly at elections and longevity in the corridors of power. For them, development is a by-product, not a strategic intent, though grand designs and suspicious intents have spreadeagled regional aspirations over many decades, and kept the Leagues in clover, with false promises. One major abstraction was the Regional Football Centres that came into being under the tutelage of former Football Chief, Manilal Fernando. While at the helm, he alone spearheaded and accomplished several projects that saw a spate of Football infrastructure, notably City League and Kalutara, and entrusted them to the Regional Leagues. His fall from grace and a poorly structured administrative network have all but made these valuable Centres white elephants. Today, instead of being revenue drivers, they remain a liability and a strain on FFSL resources.

But really, what is the big picture that we can conjure for RD and what should its ultimate objective be? League Football requires that the game is developed in the many regions that comprise its territory. In that respect, it is not confined to the camel analogy! The FIFA Member Association Constitution model that remains in the FFSL back-burner, visualises a somewhat different stratagem. It appears to favour the main stakeholders of the game, and attempts to bring to the fore, the Premier Clubs of the country, which essentially indicates at least the 10 top clubs in the Champions League. Such a move has, however, not surfaced as yet and, when and if it does, all hell will break loose, with the existing Leagues opting for the offside trap! A mute point is that, there is no authentic Club system in Sri Lanka; what we have are glorified teams and hence, the uncertainties and conflicts can escalate without a sustainable framework.

To the purist, a RD programme must ultimately improve the growth and quality of Football in the Provinces and produce a Football fraternity; most importantly, competent players who will go on to represent the National Squads. Cities outside Colombo, especially Badulla, had such a reputation but, that appears to be a thing of the past. Now, a few enthusiasts keep the glow of Football alive, driven by passion and occasional access to money. Kalutara, Beruwela, Negombo, Anuradhapura, are some examples, with of course, the Colombo hubs from the bedrocks of City League! None of this, however, dovetails into a national road map for Football, hence the theory that most of the resources are ill-spent and used merely to canvass support and the next vote buy! Ad-hoc offers of Footballs to the Leagues and appointing so called Development Officers without a rationale of accountability, which only leads to misuse and moonlighting.

What is required is a concerted plan with a dedicated administrative team at FFSL, if RD is recognized as a means to support the Leagues and thereby, the Clubs and its Players. If the largesse of FIFA, AFC and MA’s, like Qatar, are to trickle down to the player finally, a robust transparent process must be put in place, with ExCo responsibility placed with a senior VP. Such a challenging process must be based on merit and, for that to happen, the Leagues would need to be graded and paper Leagues removed once and for all. Even consolidation of Leagues may be considered to simplify administrative processes. Fragmentation for election gimmicks is not the answer. Once that is done, a RD Committee comprising of Football Leaders from the Leagues themselves must take charge and work to a set plan, with its minds-eye on precise objectives. The Senior and Junior League Tournaments can mesh seamlessly with the FFSL League and Knockout Championships, to draw active Leagues into a cohesive national structure. Each individual performance can then be minutely analysed and evaluated, based on benchmarks that must be achieved within a specific time frame.

Such an ambitious scheme will need money and that is where the FFSL must canvass and draw on the acumen and resources of FIFA and AFC. That should be the prime national agenda, not what is relentlessly imposed on the FFSL, with little relevance to our trajectory and goals. It is sad to note in this context, that funds of Rs 25 million surreptitiously spirited away could have gone to benefit a well crafted Regional Programme. The Leagues thus need to call into question what transpired to this cache of funds and what is being done to recover it. Riding camels is fine; it comes with the job. But the Football electorate demands responsibility and a fair share of the bounty the FFSL receives. It cannot be wasted.

The next feature will focus on the Junior Program. Readers are welcome to subscribe their views to this discussion on Football.
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