Even as the year closes down and a new year is about to dawn, a new Minister of Sports (MOS) has been appointed and in his typical ebullient way, has hit the ground running. There is no doubt that he has blue blood in his gene, been brought up in a school with an undeniable [...]


The new Minister of Sports must not leave Football in limbo!


Much is expected from the new Sports Minister Harin Fernando

Even as the year closes down and a new year is about to dawn, a new Minister of Sports (MOS) has been appointed and in his typical ebullient way, has hit the ground running. There is no doubt that he has blue blood in his gene, been brought up in a school with an undeniable sports record; and with a distinct prowess in Rugby that has propelled his college to the forefront in recent years! As with all previous ministers, his first task was to have a go at Cricket, suspending the elections that were announced and making a trek to Dubai to confer with ICC officials, focusing on the charges of corruption that has tainted our cricketing fortunes. He has made cursory remarks about the need to look at other sports but has obviously had insufficient time to get a grasp of what ails most of them. What is of common knowledge is that there has been a general decline in all sports including athletics and no concerted efforts has been made to address the development phase of youth, a matter that also involves the Ministry of Education (MOE). In that context, Football too has been left in the doldrums with hardly anything to show for all the might of FIFA & AFC and the perennial pilgrimages of the FFSL globetrotters to the Football carnivals of the world. Have ball, will travel, is their refrain!

So, at a time when New Year Resolutions are bandied about, it is opportune that the new MOS Harin  Fernando takes a good hard look at Football & not leave it in the limbo to which it has been consigned. Most of his successors religiously came to Cup Finals and big tamashas, rather than come to grips with the vagaries of the sport. Minister Harin is not a wimp by any standards. He comes from the footballing electorate of Badulla that has produced many a national football star. So, it will not be difficult for him to take stock quickly enough, if only he has the inclination & energy among his many other responsibilities, to take a dribble at a game that has been languishing in spite of the largesse of its godfathers in KL & Zurich.

So where should he start? A knowledgeable school of thought is that it must start at the MOS itself. There should be an authority within the MOS to give the Minister expert advice and not merely play the game of make believe that has gone on for too long. In fact, he should check if there is at all, periodic reports of the activities of FFSL & National Football in general. The chances are slim! If so, he should appoint a commission of Top Footballers (a la Sanga & Mahela in cricket) to make a thorough study of Football and brief him about what is taking place and what needs to be done! Secondly, he must seek a quick rapport with his MOE counterpart & colleague,  Akila Viraj, to dovetail school & youth efforts into national aspirations. Thirdly, he must ask FFSL to give an account of the progress of its latest strategic plan which has the grandiose title of Vision 2020! With this key background, he can conclude without much effort, whether the FFSL must remain in its present state of inertia or if he should work with FIFA & AFC to fast track the progress of Football through a Reorganization Committee with delegates from both institutions. He should not go it alone because the World Bodies will not welcome that nor has he got sufficient resources and knowledge to effect a transformation of such magnitude.

This column on a previous occasion named an individual who can give leadership to such a venture. The Minister can give it a thought. There are many others who can support such an initiative and draw on FIFA/AFC benevolence to take Football to great heights. One only has to refer to the WA social media platform to decipher what ardent football practitioners & lovers of the sport say. Tilak Peiris, a stalwart national footballer and current President of the Soccer Masters Association is one such vociferous critic. The Colombo Football League has taken him to task for that and he is in the throes of fighting a suspension. The FFSL turns a blind eye to many of these desperate pleas by a broad cross section of the football community. Some important drawbacks has been their inability to enact the FIFA model constitution, adopt the Krieter Technical Report, develop the Football Centers under the Regional Development plan (Badulla is an example!), integrate the Youth Programme into the national network and lay the groundwork for a Commercial Structure, without which modern football systems cannot be sustained.

Instead, it has let its Finance Manager walk away with over Rs.25M. It has left an expenditure of over Rs.10M on litigation go unrewarded without any return for the effort and pain, it has ignored Auditor General Reports to rectify its moribund organisation and improve its fiscal policies. It has merely relied on stooges to do its bidding and camouflage its misdemeanors. Honorary official positions have given way to paid officialdoms that look for ways & means to extend one’s term. The Footballer is the victim. No parents in their right minds would encourage their offspring to take to a sport in which there is no future. A former football captain moaned to the media that he had to resort to grave-digging to seek a living. The FFSL President is also a former football captain but it is unlikely that he can empathize with that lament. And so the favourite sport in the world remains in limbo in our land. Can the MOS who gave his party a new life at a critical stage, give Football a kick it sorely needs or will he only talk cricket or play rugby, till the next parliamentary elections come!

KornerKick is in its 36 feature over the last two years. It has chronicled the state of the sport in this country and made a fervent plea for an enlightened leadership. It shall continue to make that endeavour in the year ahead. It invites comments & observations from its readers to: kornerkick@gmail.com

KornerKick wishes all its Readers & Football Fans A Happy New Year in 2019.

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