Wow, what a show it created as it must, the first nation worldwide, to receive a World Cup visit on its global tour. As one young enthusiast excitedly asked, Sir did we win the World Cup? One could only turn up one’s eyes and say, as good as we won son! Yes, it is now [...]


Football World Cup Exhibition; another Illusion or clear Intent?


When the arrival of the FIFA World Cup was announced - File pic

Wow, what a show it created as it must, the first nation worldwide, to receive a World Cup visit on its global tour. As one young enthusiast excitedly asked, Sir did we win the World Cup? One could only turn up one’s eyes and say, as good as we won son! Yes, it is now our job to go on and see when it will happen! Coca Cola did what it does well when in all its sweetness; it helped the coveted trophy be providentially brought to our paradise nation. Anchored by the World Cup 1998 French International winning star, Christian Karembeu, the gala programme had the Sri Lanka President, Prime Minister and Minister of Sports (MOS) in attendance flanked by the Minister of Tourism to give much needed credence to this public sporting event. The PM articulated the political overtone of the event by stating in his address that he hoped Sri Lanka would dominate the sport before long and pledged governmental support in that endeavour. Sri Lanka Football could not have asked for more at a time when its fortunes have plummeted to all but un-redeemable depths and thus it is now left for the powers that be to deliver on their promises.

This is of course not the first time that such illusions have been performed on national stages by previous football administrations. Home grown histrionics have all but attempted to put authentic World Cup events to shame. We have seen baby elephants garlanding FIFA bosses in five star Colombo eateries and digital backdrops creating larger than life images of the FIFA boss backslapping his local counterpart in an outward show of camaraderie and confidence.

No sooner this glitter and glamour died down, the sport went back to where it came from hardly able to carry the weight of what these extravagances cost the FFSL. This time around there is greater hope that the utterances made in public can be transformed into serious intent both from the Football chief’s and government leaders.

Fortuitously, the FFSL chose the passage of the World Cup to pass via its shores, an occasion chosen to propel its Vision 2030 National Football Plan on to the national stage. While there are detractors who claim that such a Vision and Plan was never endorsed by its own Executive Committee and Council, the underlying objective to make Sri Lanka the most popular Football nation in South Asia is praiseworthy.

Wishful thought or desperate wish list it may read, but the tenfold aspirations listed though not necessarily new is valid for the reason that it has been a repetitive clamour by football enthusiasts; a mantra that this column has highlighted many times before. One little reflection that a diehard football exponent pungently exclaimed was, let us make Football the most popular sport in Sri Lanka before we try to straddle the South Asian region. Fair comment one would say, when the nation is stuck at the bottom of FIFA rankings at # 200, competing with Pakistan (interestingly, another World Cup destination) for that dubious record of nonentity.

And so let us revisit the Vision 2030 – National Football Plan where our energies should converge. Is this a realistic goal? Has it got the financial and human resources to achieve the ambitious goals set? For a start, let FFSL quickly clear the messy debris of the past; the investigation and recovery of funds that have been spirited away even after strident declarations have been made by the AG in its audit reports. Surely the MOS and now the PM can take another hard look at this prolonged indifference by state agencies or must the President intervene as he is prone to do these days! The FFSL might want to also take a peep into the FIFA sponsored Restructuring Report that was published but went underground fast as well as the Horst Kriete Technical Report that never saw the light of day. One is at a loss to understand why these valuable initiatives have been wasted as the incumbent President is well aware of all these efforts.

Which is why this column has repeatedly asked for MOS interventions? It is all well and good to wax eloquent about grandiose plans of utopian proportion and is just as easily forgotten. Vision 2030 National Football Plan (NFP) requires forthright implementation and careful monitoring which is perhaps too much to expect from the highflying practitioners at Football House. At one point FIFA had a dedicated development officer who maintained a close overview of the goings on in FFSL. Perhaps this process needs to be resuscitated together with the participation of the MOS as well as the Ministry of Education (MOE). The long term development program rests clearly with the youth segments and thus the meaningful involvement of the MOE cannot be avoided. Otherwise the generous funding of FIFA/AFC and the magnanimous support of the MOS in cash and kind will only be callously misused if FFSL history is anything to go by! The Football Centers that are now a burden on FFSL is also completely overlooked in the NFP. These are football nerve centers on which colossal funds have been expended. It is another area in which the MOS can truly make an impactful contribution by vesting it under FFSL and building football stadia that can serve the game long term.

The FFSL NFP adroitly makes reference to corporate sponsors. Without a commercial mindset, a sport such as Football with its large local and international universe cannot be sustained. This is where Coca Cola can truly sweeten the NFP. It can help spearhead a coterie of likeminded sponsors under the aegis of FIFA/AFC + MOS/MOE to ensure that a broad-based formula from the grassroots to the elite groups can be promulgated over the 10 year period mandated by FFSL. It is only then that the World Cup illusion of last week will translate into a noble intent of the future. Anything less will only be another wishy-washy walk in the park!

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