The grand design under the guise of the high flaunting 2030 vision is gathering dust it looks with hardly any national youth football programme in place. The National Youth Football League – NYFL which was supposed to take off at district level to pick the best of the best. But it has only got worse [...]


National Junior Football – Anybody’s baby!


An academy organized by a former football captain

The grand design under the guise of the high flaunting 2030 vision is gathering dust it looks with hardly any national youth football programme in place. The National Youth Football League – NYFL which was supposed to take off at district level to pick the best of the best. But it has only got worse it appears and the popular grassroots programme that was supposed to be unfurled on the requests of individual schools has not seen the light of day, except for disconnected one-off sultry show pieces merely done to appease disgruntled youth football exponents clamoring for action. Aspiring Youth Football Squads designed to groom future stars is a pipe dream. The modernisation programme with the Sri Lanka Schools Football Association (SLSFA) under the aegis of the Ministry of Education (MoE), also remains elusive. Specialised coach education drawing in physical education teachers remains static in the classic rhetorical mould while the drama of school big matches all conjured by a whiz-kid in football house seems a panacea for the latent passion that abounds youth but remains unfulfilled so far!

As if to take the slack, MILO has stepped into the breach as it did in the 80’s and conducted a under 12 boys and girls provincial tournament under the banner, ‘Road to Barcelona’, in great style. 64 teams and nearly 12,000 young footballers would have warmed the cockles of any football enthusiast as the tournament organised by the SLSFA with the blessings of the MoE was brought to a fitting end with the finals slated to be played at the Vincent Dias stadium on 8 and 9 August. An expert panel will apparently pick six players who will have the unique opportunity of participating in a training programme in Barcelona. This may well be a commercial activity of Nestle Lanka but there is no gainsaying that it will boost the moribund band of young footballers, bereft of any worthwhile activity for a long period.

Another such kick in the wilderness, is the annual Allianz junior football camp (AJFC) which picked two Sri Lankan schoolboys to join 55 other youth between the ages of 14 – 16 years who were trained in Bangkok to represent Asia at the AJFC in Munich, held at the iconic Allianz Arena, home to FC Bayern. Again, an example of a commercial justification keeping alive the fortunes of football at a time when the FFSL is in glorious slumber, when not hobnobbing with their Asian or International grandmasters at the never ending plethora of events that mark the AFC and FIFA calendars. It is also up to the FFSL to engage MNC’s like Allianz and seek their support for local youth programmes, rather than confining these giants to drum-beating about international programmes crafted by their headquarters under CSR schemes and are not necessarily consonant with our national aspirations.

All we read and see in social media are the granddads of yesteryear globe-trotting in the name of football. One group just returned from a training programme for the National Team in Japan and Korea while another made lone ranger made his way to an international relations forum. Many others are more out of the island than in our pathetic paradise; little wonder they have no time to worry about small matters like youth programmes. Renowned football player and administrator from Kandy, Junaid Ayub who represented St. Sylvester’s stated in a recent interview, that the administrative structure must change if football is to improve! Many stalwarts have said that in the past and seasoned football observers feel that the current FFSL team lacks basic management skills other than making visa applications and buying air tickets paid for by FIFA or AFC.

Meanwhile, the youth programme languishes. National trainers like Sumith Walpola who runs one of the oldest youth training Programmes under the Saunders banner, is appealing for footballs. The FFSL is unable to give him any indication when they could be sourced as done in the past, even if one is willing to pay for them. Robert Peiris has launched a youth academy with hardly any encouragement from FFSL. Some others also conduct youth programmes at district level with the FFSL out of the frame.

It is indeed very fortunate that the vacuum is being filled by die-hard football enthusiasts who simply love this sport. The FFSL and its principal patrons, the Ministry of Sports (MoS) and the MoE have in typical Sri Lankan fashion, failed to come together to create a nexus from which can emerge a national youth football plan. Past administrations too have failed to bring about this renaissance model which is fundamental to any serious national football programme, let alone a 12 year daydream called vision 2030. That aberration only implies the notion that this administration hopes to occupy office to sustain one’s own personal ambitions and livelihood. Football is the ideal vehicle for such predilections because FIFA and AFC models cater to such greed. Past FIFA giants like Blatter and Valcke who ran the apex body with an iron fist and ruled the organisation like despots are prime examples of this tendency to choose the long haul and carry convenient friends on all continents.

Even as we write, an U15 girls team is leaving to Bhutan to participate in a SAF women’s championship. That is well and good for this children and the contingent who have an opportunity to enjoy a sample of gross national happiness, but how this fits into a strategic youth development programme beats the imagination. Much as we had, a so called Lithuanian national team recently, with the usual gallery antics that caters to politicians than genuine football lovers who are starved of top level competition. That the media pays scant attention to the sport is not surprising! Cannot the FFSL at least organise an invitation of SAF nations to participate in an International Youth Competition for perhaps an under 15 boys and girls championship? That will tell us where we stand in terms of standards and become an annual benchmark for football development. This is where the international ethos of Milo Energy and Allianz Assurance can be best utilised and displayed for the benefit of Sri Lanka football.

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