The tug-o-war of passing the blame on the other between Dhammika Muthugala, the Director General (DG) of the Department of Sports Development of the Ministry of Sports, and the National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka (NOC) has taken a new twist after the calamities faced by the local athletes here in Kathmandu and Pokhara in [...]


Battle for gold in blame game at SAG takes new turn


Gypsies: The men's athletics team had to carry their baggages through the narrow, dusty, cold and busy roads of Thamel, Kathmandu looking for accommodation.

The tug-o-war of passing the blame on the other between Dhammika Muthugala, the Director General (DG) of the Department of Sports Development of the Ministry of Sports, and the National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka (NOC) has taken a new twist after the calamities faced by the local athletes here in Kathmandu and Pokhara in Nepal.

Even as the 13th South Asian Games (SAG) has reached its eighth day, top authorities representing Sri Lanka, mainly from the institutions representing the government, have created bewilderment and still continues indulging in the unofficial sport of the SAG, the blame-game.

The concealed rift between the DG-led Sports Ministry team and the NOC has been taking place for many moons. Yet whenever there had been an issue pertaining to the SAG, linking to the athletes, officials and logistics, the ones who are most important, have been kept in the dark.

The DG of the Sports Ministry, in particular, has been vociferous on important matters that of technical and logistics, areas that should have been actually handled by the NOC. The unprofessional manner of handling issues back home in Sri Lanka prior to the teams arrival in Kathmandu and Pokhara, were clearly evident, as most sports associations, athletes and team officials, were unaware when they will reach Nepal and under what conditions they will compete.

There were occasions when the DG-led team and the NOC worked in cohesion, such as making prior visits to Nepal to oversee the facilities and arrangements the host country has made for the Sri Lanka contingent. Yet, despite such prior supervision the national athletic contingent had to make a gypsy act, after the booking for a squad of 68 was placed inaccurately. Upon arrival in Kathmandu only, did the squad find out that the facility had accommodation for 34 individuals, not 68. The booking has been made for 34 rooms, in which 68 could stay.

Eventually the athletic team officials decided to place the women’s team at the place of booking and the men’s team had to wait for almost three hours before they were housed elsewhere. Until they were reunited with the women’s squad at the original place of booking, the men’s team had to relocate at different hotels at least thrice, carrying their own baggage and equipment, through the narrow, dusty, cold and busy roads of Thamel, Kathmandu.

After the news reached Sri Lanka through social and mainstream media, the DG and NOC held a joint press conference, accusing the athletes for no reason, and the Nepal Olympic Committee for their unprofessionalism. Yet, as higher officials in-charge and responsible of the sports teams representing Sri Lanka, none of the two sides at least had the courtesy to express regret to those who went through the trouble.

The authorities virtually challenged the Sri Lanka athletic team to show their capabilities by winning medals, ridiculing what the athletes had to go through, by simply calling it as “just an act to gain sympathy” and that they always become “headaches” at any multi-sport event. But the undeterred athletes gave the perfect response by winning medals, mostly golds, on a daily basis, while the high officials gradually changed their stance and leaned on the medal winning athletes, calling them “our pride”.

But the story took a new twist after a video interview given to a local television channel by the DG, who again placed the blame on the organisers, which included the South Asian Olympic Committee, the Nepal Olympic Committee and the NOC Sri Lanka. He was quoted as saying that the appalling conditions in Nepal, in particular in Kathmandu, have prompted him to withdraw the Sri Lanka team from the ongoing SAG. That statement comes out from the DG after Sri Lanka is placed third in the SAG medals tally with over 110 medals, including 20 golds.

“Sri Lanka has a contingent of nearly 600 and our teams are placed at 37 different locations, here in Kathmandu. The weather conditions and accessibility to the venue from where the teams are based, is a nightmare. Most of our teams travel by hired taxis and drivers here cannot communicate with us due to the language barrier. When the teams want to get back to the hotels, they cannot explain it to the driver and the driver cannot understand us because none of them understand at least English. With the unbearable cold weather and the disastrous, unprofessional arrangements that has been made by the organisers, I’m contemplating on advising the teams to stay in their hotel rooms and not take part in events further,” the DG was quoted as saying during the video interview.

He further blamed the three parties involved – the South Asian Olympic Committee, Nepal Olympic Committee and the NOC Sri Lanka, for placing the Sri Lankan contingent in a helpless situation. The DG went further, charging that the NOC Sri Lanka has failed to properly provide the information and guidance as to how the Lankan authorities could liaise with the organisers in Nepal on the arrangements, on which they could have planned the entire trip.

But it was not a secret that the officials from the Ministry of Sports and the NOC travelled together two weeks before the SAG to inspect the arrangements and discuss further matters with the organisers.

“I will prepare an official report to the Minister of Sports, and even forward the report through the minister to the President of the country, to intervene on this matter. We have been totally misled by the organisers and the NOC, who failed to coordinate with the Ministry of Sport, to make the arrangements back home before the SAG. We must make sure in the future not to let these ‘NGOs’ to act on their own will and bring disrepute to the country. The Ministry of Sports has invested heavily on all these athletes representing the country at the SAG, so we have all the rights to claim the responsibility of the sportsmen and sportswomen,” he added.

With what took place from back in Sri Lanka and up until now, it looks as if the DG has spoilt his own soup by convincingly taking the sole authority of the SAG arrangements. Generally in the past, the Ministry of Sports and the NOC have worked in cohesion when sending a large contingent to a multi-sport event, beginning from the SAG, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and the Olympics.

It was a known fact that the NOC officials too were kept in the dark by the Ministry of Sport, as accreditations, visas and accommodation were coordinated by them with the hosting country. The DG even insisted on intervention at diplomatic level to oversee arrangements, which has never been a norm in the past.

However, in response to the video interview of the DG, the Secretary General of the NOC, Maxwell de Silva, told the Sunday Times that this is not a time to make such statements.

“The NOC will definitely forward an official report on the SAG from Sri Lanka’s perspective, and we will deal with the shortcomings whatever in a professional manner. But we must all admit that coordination between the Ministry of Sport and NOC was minimal. That’s the crux of this entire episode. If there’s someone to be blamed for all these, it should not only be the NOC, beginning from the former Secretary to the Minister of Sports, to all who were involved in this entire exercise are responsible,” de Silva said.

The ongoing SAG is Muthugala’s first assignment at a mega sports event, and prior to that he has not gained experience in being part of such a mechanism. His first local event of grand scale was the National Sports Festival 2019, which was held in Badulla recently. On Friday morning the DG took a domestic flight from Kathmandu to Pokhara to join the second venue of the SAG.

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