On Saturday evening the SAFF Champions was known with India were the favourites challenged by the maverick Maldivians. Sri Lanka has been tossed out having lost to India 2-0 and drawing with the Maldives only to lose on the toss of a coin. Claims of poor referring apparently got the better of the Sri Lanka [...]


Looking for Packeer Ali magic to spur Lankan football


Sri Lanka in action at the SAFF against the Maldives

On Saturday evening the SAFF Champions was known with India were the favourites challenged by the maverick Maldivians. Sri Lanka has been tossed out having lost to India 2-0 and drawing with the Maldives only to lose on the toss of a coin. Claims of poor referring apparently got the better of the Sri Lanka team and qualifying for was short-lived when the coin turned the wrong way!

Observers say that the Sri Lanka team has come a long way under the passionate handling of coach Rumy Packeer Ali who has no doubt infused a long-wanted spirit into his charges. The body language is good and the fitness of the local lads which has been long suspect has been vindicated by a display of tremendous pressure against the opponents in the later stages of each game. Earlier Sri Lanka got the better of the home team Bangladesh in a friendly lead up to the tournament which has made Sri Lankan fans feel that we have at long last turned the corner and can only get better from now on.

So, what’s next will be on many lips as we await promised international fixtures that will give Sri Lanka much needed exposure in their quest to come good in regional championships. The South Asian Games is next on the cards we are told. And Packeer Ali it is hoped will whether the usual in-fighting rumored to affect team management, as he assiduously sets about preparations for the future. This squad has worked well together it appears and FFSL President must ensure that unwarranted distractions will not affect team morale.

Team performance is a major boost to the football fortunes of Sri Lanka and this adrenaline rush must now favour the administration who must quickly put their house in order. Football management cannot rest on the plaudits of a few goals even though it helps. This is where the FFSL does not show its colours. A virtually non-existent junior programme, a ragged competition structure that merely conducts never-ending tournaments rolling from one year to another, technical standards that are fast becoming archaic, all burden the sport’s journey. Stuck in the doldrums and a ranking of # 200 only smacks of the sport’s dullards. You cannot remain in limbo forever and now is the time that the mandarins of Football House must build on the energy that its national team seems to be generating. This is the task of an inspired leadership at FFSL because the Sports Administration in the country is not going to give a hoot what happens to Football.

FIFA and AFC have a rather myopic way of looking at nations at the bottom heap. They design programmes that meet their aspirations and dole out funds to keep that mechanism in place. What they will ensure is the vote when it matters most. What they will not address is the basic requirement of its worthy affiliate. Merely catering to jaunts overseas or prescribing funds for various programmes that keep the coterie of officials engaged gainfully, will not transform Sri Lanka’s football agenda. What it demands is a close study of the FFSL structure as it stands now and the imperatives that must drive it forward. A strategic plan backed by a sound budget and a surefire accountability is paramount if such a systematic plan is to unfold. For starters, it must reconcile the loss of funds through a series of frauds that have all but been kicked under the carpet. The next step is to put a moratorium on irrational travel that does not bring any dividends except to make numbers in FIFA or AFC forums. We should never forget that while our top officials hobnobbed all over the world, our standards plummeted to depths from which it is taking a great effort and a long period of time to recover.

This administration has got another three years to go but it has a Vision 2030 plan to fulfill. That is how ambitious one can get! No where is it known as how and what the Vision 2030 Plan has accomplished so far. So, these fancy mantras must cease, and the architects of such illusions held to account. It is also pertinent that such a grandiose scheme has not received significant patronage or commercial sponsorship from anyone. These are the areas that FIFA and AFC must closely examine when it remits its annual cache of funds to FFSL. The Ministry of Sports does not pay attention to such a scenario nor are they prone to do so. If we won the SAFF trophy, they will perhaps rush to the BIA to lead the bandwagon of greeting and praise. And so, we will all wait for Rumy Packeer Ali and his merry men to bring some ‘A’ grade silver before we bring out the trumpets.

Sri Lanka Football must wake up. They must sit with the Ministry of Education and negotiate a well-structured National Youth Programme.They must design the Competition Structure to promote standards. They must review the Technical Program to refine these standards. They must commercialise the sport in order to sustain funding requirements. They must ensure that such funds are properly spent and not pilfered by crafty officials. And they must engage the media to tell their story. It is then that a fan base will emerge to support the sport and bring in the gates, the ultimate test of its popularity. From there, it is a short distance to the professional leagues that is the gateway to major football competitions, such as the Asia Cup! But these must remain dreams for now. Until then, one can only hope that our present football squad will be nourished, nurtured and nudged to keep kicking without just rewards.

Shall we say, don’t flag boys. Coach Rumy has brought you this far. Stay the course, stay focused, stay fit. The results and the rewards will come before long!

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