The cold war between the National Olympic Committee (NOC) and the Ministry of Sports was identified as one of the main reasons for Sri Lanka’s debacle at the 13th South Asian Games (SAG) in Kathmandu by a four-member SAG Review Committee. Despite Sri Lanka returning home with a healthy haul of 251 medals, the exhaustive [...]


NOC chief accuses sports ministry official of starting ‘bloody war’

Subramanium asserts authority while extending olive branch to rivals

The cold war between the National Olympic Committee (NOC) and the Ministry of Sports was identified as one of the main reasons for Sri Lanka’s debacle at the 13th South Asian Games (SAG) in Kathmandu by a four-member SAG Review Committee. Despite Sri Lanka returning home with a healthy haul of 251 medals, the exhaustive report documented among other issues negligence on the part of coaches and team officials, the undue pressure mounted on the athletes, and obstacles the athletes and coaches had to go through in Sri Lanka. Above all, the report highlights the rift between the Ministry of Sports headed by then Director General of Sports Dhammika Muthugala and the NOC, long before the Games got underway.

NOC President Suresh Subramanium

“Sadly, I must tell last time during the South Asian Games, the Director General (Dhammika Muthugala) went to Nepal and told the Nepal Olympic Committee that instead of the NOC to deal with them (ministry) directly. It was written to us by the NOC of Nepal President ‘look somebody had approached us through the High Commission of Nepal’. It’s like telling the IOC (International Olympic Committee) don’t go through the NOC. It is a disgrace. He was starting a bloody war,” said Sri Lanka’s NOC President Suresh Subramanium, slamming the top Sports Ministry official for his act of subterfuge.

“It doesn’t work that way. Our committee (NOC) has been there since 1937 even before the Sports Law came into being. Not only in sports, in any sphere, we must respect the other. We must try and work together,” reiterated Subramanium in a clarion call for unity citing as an example how he unified factions at SLTA (Sri Lanka Tennis Association).

“When I took over SLTA, at the AGM I told them ‘you want to do good for tennis, I also want to do good for tennis. Why should you fight, let’s work together because you have an idea like me and your idea may be better than me.’ After that till today there is not one election at SLTA,” said the former SLTA President.

“Today’s youngsters have even better ideas so we have to use them. It’s very important. I am not prejudiced. I don’t care who is sitting in front of me, whether it is race, religion or caste. I only want results. If you are willing to work with us, let’s join hands,” said Subramanium quoting an African proverb on team work “if you want to go the distance you must go together, if you want to go fast you have to go alone”.

Despite being in a condescending mood, Subramanium wanted to assert NOC’s authority as the apex body for sport in the country especially when it comes to multidiscipline events like the Olympics.

“All the Games be it Olympics or SAG belongs to the NOC. They (athletes) have to be authorised by the National Olympic Committee for anybody to participate,” he declared.

Asked whether he was happy with what he has achieved so far since taking over as NOC President in 2018, he said: “I came into the NOC for the first time and as President. I never attended meetings though I could have as President of SLTA. Even SLTA was in a very low level when I got involved. My main ambition was to make tennis strong. When I took over tennis (SLTA) in 2002, we were in Davis Cup group IV. We had been demoted from Group II to Group IV. My main goal was to bring back at least to Group II which I was able to do in five years. When I left we came back to Group II.”

He brought the same management philosophy to NOC.

“When I came in 2018, I wanted the same thing. We have to win medals. Winning medals is not easy in two years. My target is 2024. In fact, I had requested the Minister of Sports to appoint a Task Force for 2024 so that we pick up kids and start training. Six years down the line, the current guys may be aged. They may participate. Participating and winning are two different things. You got to get the young blood to win. Older guys have to push the young ones,” said the former Sri Lanka tennis star.

Subramanium has zero tolerance for corruption and favouritism in sports, having transformed the NOC into a transparent body, with an internal auditor sitting in his office reporting to him on whatever is going on.

“I have told them I have one standard principle. I am not there to interpret the rules. I only implement the rules. That’s how I operate. Same way I did in tennis. What is there, everybody knows. If you try to implement, to suit people, then there is nothing happening. I don’t mince words. Wrong is wrong, right is right. There are no grey areas. That’s how I ran the tennis association. Till today they respect because there was no favouritism. If you try to favour somebody it doesn’t work. But as an authority you must give all the backing. It varies from person to person,” he explained.

Subramanium reiterated that the NOC will not function as a post box but opts for dynamic solutions following the models of Hong Kong and Singapore.

“I am not one of the guys who is going to sit and wait till somebody on their own achieve. We must support. After I took over, I had visited some of the top NOCs in the world. I had seen how they functioned. I have taken the model from Hong Kong and Singapore where the government gave them money to invest and support. That is how they produced the world beating swimmer from Singapore and the table tennis player. When the government gave them 100 million dollars, they invested,” said the NOC chief, plans to implement it here were shot down because of bureaucratic hurdles.

“Unfortunately, when the Rs. 100 million was agreed there was a government conditions that it must be spent the same year. If I spend it the same year, then next year also I have to go to them. I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to burden anybody. We can easily increase it to one million. That was my modus operandi to get the Rs. 100 million. That is exactly what I did for the tennis. Not one cent was given by the government or Ministry of Sports,” said Subramanium, who used his business acumen to invest funds in the market.

“Bottom line is if you don’t have the finances, it is very difficult. So you have to find a way to get the finance. Every day you can’t go to the same guy and say ‘give me money, give me money’. Once you have funds, you must know how to invest all over the world,” said Subramanium for whom sports is not a mean of livelihood but a way to give back something which is dear to his heart.

“At the end of the day you are a sports authority. Some people think you have a different agenda. But sports gave me lot of opportunities. So I have to give it back. The amount of money personally I spent for tennis even here they know. What do I get back? Nothing. I only want to walk with my head held high so they will say this man did something for sport. That is the satisfaction you get. On top of that if somebody brings medals, it’s like you had won the medal,” said the NOC chief.

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