Sri Lanka football has hit rock bottom especially in the past decade or so being ranked 206th in the FIFA rankings. There have been many promises of a new dawn with the latest mantra being making the sport professional. Development is another key word which is bandied about by officials when in the seat of [...]


Football no longer a poor man’s game

FFSL president Anura de Silva blames socio- economic conditions for drop in standards

Anura de Silva (2nd right) welcoming foreign players with Sri Lankan roots

Sri Lanka football has hit rock bottom especially in the past decade or so being ranked 206th in the FIFA rankings. There have been many promises of a new dawn with the latest mantra being making the sport professional. Development is another key word which is bandied about by officials when in the seat of power. Former Sri Lanka midfielder Anura de Silva announced a Vision 2030 programme when he took over as president of the Football Federation of Sri Lanka (FFSL) four years ago. As he comes to the end of his four-year term and with hustings around the corner, the football chief reviewed the state of the game in the country in a wide-ranging interview with the Sunday Times.

“We had a general development plan for football because we know where we stand at the moment. We are badly placed in the world arena. We do all our domestic activities in a very smooth and comprehensive manner but still we are not so competitive at international level,” he said.

“Our idea was to play football at the highest level. That was our mission. We wanted to say we play very competitive football. Winning and losing is a part of the game. But if we maintain a good rhythm, good technical standard, then no opponent will take us easy. That is our target,” said the former Sri Lanka skipper.

The decline did not happen overnight but the standards have eroded over many years.

“In fact, we should say it is the other way round. Rather than dropping in standards, the other countries were doing better in their development plans. So that was the effect we have suffered for so many years,” he said.

“When I was playing in the national team, we were a better opponent for any other team. That is because the gap between us and other teams was marginal. But now the gap has widened because we have stayed while others have moved up,” he said.

He attributed the gulf in standards to the socio-economic conditions in the country.

“If you go back in history 50 years ago, people were happy, the economy was good. It was not money oriented for any sport. It is for the love of the game. Now it has changed,” he said.

It is a reality which has to be adapted in the modern era, he feels.

“We give more facilities but from the players’ point of view they are not 100 percent dedicated for the game. That is where we have the clash with other countries. In the 60s and 70s, none of the Asian countries had their pro league. So we were on the same level,” he said.

“You can’t blame the players also because unlike in the past no one can waste their time. There must be a value for their time. Life has become challenging, very competitive whether you do employment or play. It’s a very competitive market. You cannot contribute anything freely,” he pointed out.

“This is one hurdle we have here. The mindset of people has changed dramatically. We have lost a number of good coaches. In the past we had very good coaches even at school level,” he said.

It is a problem not just related to football but all sports in general.

“In a country like us all the sports depend on schools at the grassroot level. That is the breeding base. If they don’t implement proper development strategy at that time, then you don’t get a very good sportsman at the age of 18 or 19 by the time they leave school,” he said.

“We need a complete player when the player leaves school. Then only he goes to club level, then to national or international level. There is a vacuum there. That is what we really need to address. That is why we are concentrating on these academies,” he said.

When he became FFSL president in 2017, he laid the foundation for development by starting academies.

“We had a very good strategic plan to start a development programme from grassroot level onwards. With that aim we started academies in the country. Now we have more than 100. Then we started activities for the academies. All the academies wanted to play football or develop football,” he said.

“They have a keenness to play football that is why they started academies. That is why we want to support them. We also want to have a very good rapport with the education ministry at school level and to see that a proper pathway is happening in our football development strategies,” he said.

The bottom line is football is no longer a poor man’s sport.

“In the past you just needed a ball and a ground to play, even on a paddy field. Now you can’t do that. You need to have a proper ground with proper equipment. Players can’t play like they did 50 years ago. Things have changed rapidly where players must be full time professional players. Then only they can give 100 percent for the game. They cannot concentrate on anything else. That is where we must go. We must make professional players. We must make professional coaches,” he stressed.

“We don’t have a coach with Pro Licence in Sri Lanka. We only have 25 ‘A’ Licence coaches. Then we have ‘B’ and ‘C’ Licence coaches but they are not professional coaches. They do some employment and do part time coaching. When you do part time, concentration is different. You don’t give 100 percent because this is not your main job. But we want to make football their main business and contribute to the development of the game. That is what we want to make changes,” he said.

The FFSL is looking for an achievement from the national team to turn around the football fortunes of the country just like what happened to cricket after the 1996 World Cup triumph.

“We need something to happen somewhere. Then the support will double up. The younger generation will have passion to play sports. Parents will be interested in sending their children for sport. That is what we want. That is the challenge we face,” he said.

The FFSL started coach education and referee development programmes before it was scuttled by the Easter attacks and torrential rain in 2019.

“This badly affected our activities. Until August (2019) we could not do any activity. During the latter part we got paralysed because the grounds were flooded,” he said.

They started afresh in 2020 restarting inter-academy tournaments before COVID-19 stalled their plans.

“Still we could not complete it because the pandemic came in March. Even we had to withdraw our national team who were in residential training. Even we recruited a highly qualified professional coach from Europe. But from March 16 we couldn’t do anything,” he said.

However, the FFSL were the first association to conduct a tournament when the health situation eased in August.

“After the first wave when covid became diluted and not visible in the country, what we did was to give a boost to football and to get the clubs on track. To attract the clubs to attract the players, we introduced a special tournament called FFSL President’s Cup for the first time. We made a heavy investment on players and coaches also. We gave a grant to all the clubs to get back on their feet,” said Anura de Silva who thanked Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa for his support.

They had plans to continue the momentum by conducting tournaments in the outstations by the second wave of COVID-19 put a lid on these plans.


Share This Post


Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.