Minister of Sports, Faiszer Mustapha chaired a forum on Friday morning with Sri Lanka Rugby Referees’ Society (SLRRS) chief Nizam Jamaldeen, Sri Lanka Schools Rugby Football Association (SLSRFA) President, Ranjith Chandrasekara, Sri Lanka Rugby (SLR) top official Lasitha Gunaratne and two top officials from the Ministry of Education — Asoka Senani Hewage and Colonel Manjula [...]


Schools Rugby jigsaw patched up


A small step by an agitated supporter became a giant leap to the troubles of school Rugby - Pic by Priyantha Wickramaarachchi

Minister of Sports, Faiszer Mustapha chaired a forum on Friday morning with Sri Lanka Rugby Referees’ Society (SLRRS) chief Nizam Jamaldeen, Sri Lanka Schools Rugby Football Association (SLSRFA) President, Ranjith Chandrasekara, Sri Lanka Rugby (SLR) top official Lasitha Gunaratne and two top officials from the Ministry of Education — Asoka Senani Hewage and Colonel Manjula Kariyawasam at the Duncan White Auditorium in Torrington.

The intention was to seek a solution on how to conduct the remainder two weeks of the Singer Schools League Rugby Championship, that was stalled on a ministerial decree and the cause being hooliganism during school rugby matches.

“We are lifting the ban from Monday and schools can continue with their matches. The principals of schools have given their assurance that they will look into the safety of the players, officials and spectators and the host schools must ensure of the security measures for the remaining matches,” Minister Mustapha stated after the crucial meeting.

In addition a collective decision was taken to appoint retired SSP M.H. Marso as the Main Assessor for Security at school matches.

The igniting causes took place — first — at Longdon Place between hosts Wesley College and Royal College. With merely 10 minutes left before the long whistle, a disturbed individual, who could be easily identified from the host side, was seen relating something to the referee which was clearly evident to be an unfriendly gesture with his finger pointing posture. The referee, Dinka Peiris, stopped the match for over 10 minutes and by the Royal was holding on to a thin lead of 18-17 over the swiftly fired up Wesley side.

“Sports is known to unite people, but with what took place last Saturday, it clearly shows that sports, school rugby in particular has reached another dimension. It is a serious matter, because these are games played by schoolboys, as an extracurricular activity. We need to identify that,” Minister Mustapha elaborated.

At the same time, SLR’s vice president Lasitha Gunaratne says “SLR is here to develop and popularise the game. Not to own properties  of others’. The best example is the Mercantile 7s, which is the most  sought after and popular 7s Rugby Tournament in Sri Lanka, conducted by  the Mercantile Rugby Football Association. There was an incident and  decisions were made promptly resulting in the ban of a few players on  disciplinary grounds. SLR has even banned spectators from coming into  matches. In the case of school rugby SLSRFA should make up their mind as to who the big brother is, they are just an affiliation of the SLR. They should understand that. SLR is here to oversee, develop and govern rugby and whatever related to the sport in Sri Lanka, like it or not.”

In addition to what occurred at the Wesley vs Royal game, similar or close incidents were reported at matches between Zahira College and St. Joseph’s College at Maradana and Maliyadeva College vs S. Thomas’ College match played at Kurunegala. Besides these three games a brawl marred at the end of the match between Science College and D.S. Senanayake College, where no harm – verbal or physical – was done to any of the match officials. On Monday SLRRS stated that it would not assign referees for matches played by Wesley, Zahira and Maliyadeva until further notice, prompting the intervention of the Minister of Sports.

However SLSRFA officials had an emergency meeting on Tuesday to assess the incidents and its disciplinary committee had come to a decision on the incidents reported from three matches, where referees were targeted.

The Schools Section took away hosting rights of Maliyadeva College until further notice and had urged Shamly Nawaz, the coach of Zahira College, to make an apology to the SLRRS, on his behaviour which resulted in the referee to issue him a yellow card on the two respective games.

As for the incident that took place at Longdon Place, it was decided that the identified old boys (past players) of Wesley College, should apologize to Royal College officials and the schools last year captain Ovin Askey, who was mobbed after the game. Royal had agreed to entertain the Wesley old boys, who are apparently former players of the school, but due to other commitments the ‘peacemaking effort’ will now take place coming Wednesday at Reid Avenue in the presence of some parents from Wesley as well.

“The school has identified four former players and a pitch official who were directly involved to the disrepute caused to Wesley College. They have been banned from entering any of the matches hosted by the school in the future,” an official of Wesley told the Sunday Times, however sans proper explanation on the duration of the ban.

Though the week that began from Saturday has been an eventful one with what took place in Schools Rugby, it has failed to provide a fitting and permanent remedy to uncontrollable events, that has been taking place on and off over the past decade. After seven long days beginning from agitations, then allegations and heated arguments, followed by passing the bucks, shielding their own camps or backyards, a ban on the game for a week and eventually with a forum of discussion that lasted for almost three hours, what sums up at the end is with the question, ‘will they (whoever it may be) ever grow up’?

Eventually the Minister of Sports had to make the final and firm call

One of the other key areas to the continuous setbacks in school rugby is the ‘missing link’ between SLSRFA and SLR. SLR is the ultimate controlling body of Rugby in Sri Lanka with direct links to Asian Rugby Football Union (ARFU) and World Rugby (WR).

Immense popularity, spectator following and the interest of sponsors where school rugby teams are monetarily strengthened. These reasons have undoubtly made SLSRFA probably a strong entity. In the process that may be the reason why SLSRFA chose to bypass seeking SLR sanction for its all-important tournament.

With the tide easing, the Schools Section too has identified that its topmost competition has brought unnecessary complications as much as the success the Singer Schools League Championship has brought them. SLSRFA President, Ranjith Chandrasekara is of the view that the time has come to make swift and permanent changes to its tournament structure, which is far beyond to any professional competition played at top level.

“I think it’s time to move back to the basics, We are seriously considering in changing the current format and the points system. With the current setup no one wants to lose. What we intend is to bring back the old form of rugby, where players could enjoy the game and remain as kids, rather than being highly worn out machines at the end of the season, where they could build camaraderie and enjoy a light time after a game, so in return all can enjoy with a genuine smile,” said Chandrasekara, who has had a mixture of experience as the longest serving President of SLSRFA.

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