The Misery of Sports — do we really need it?
The National Sports Festival in Polannaruwa has fulfilled its traditional purpose. Fine, if nothing else. But when a sports wag posed the question, is a Ministry of Sports (MoS) needed, the answer was a tough one to deal with. Consider that an ICC (International Cricket Council) Deputy Chairman was in town to verify what the fuss was all about our cricketing stakes 2023. So, one is compelled to take a closer and harder look at what ails our sport and who is responsible for this poor harvest, following the drought most of our sports crops are subject to.
Athletics, cricket, rugby, football, badminton and netball, major sports in our paradise isle, all have their woes. The ministry mantra of commissions of enquiry, interim and stabilization committees and never ending gazettes, emanating from the ivory towers of Reid Avenue, all run their course but takes us nowhere. The inclination is to take over management and claim the MoS know better, so our wag has a point to make on how sports in our despondent island runs.
Let’s start with Athletics. Recent international meets have given us a glimpse of the talent that abounds, the products of dedicated rural coaches who are dedicated to the task. What contribution does the MoS play in this scenario? Or for that matter the National Olympic Committee (NOC)? Just a few months ago, we witnessed backroom antics in the corridors of power, aimed at replacing the long serving President of Sri Lanka Athletics (SLA) with a more amenable persona. Saner counsel prevailed and that jingoistic interlude did not create another marathon effort. Meanwhile, some of our best athletes pay their own passage, while one lone warrior makes his dash count from a base in Italy with no affiliation to his country of birth; unfair some say, but certainly the relationship is in shambles.
Cricket is an even more attractive proposition for the MoS. Encouraged by the National Sports Council (NSC) panjandrums, efforts to displace the Sri Lanka Cricket’s (SLC) role is constantly challenged, with the MoS threatening to amend the SLC constitution. No doubt there are misdemeanors at SLC, but one must acknowledge that it runs a profitable workmanlike organisation that even supports other National Sports Associations (NSA) from time to time. Its CSR programme alone and its national Pathway Programme are examples that the MoS will find hard to emulate. The appointment of a technical committee therefore, is another slap in the face and one cannot imagine what past cricketers in that committee intend to achieve other than belittle the incumbent executives. Envy and greed appears to be the operating principle, so that once a take-over is complete, the new landlords can run the gauntlet and acquire the honeypot for their own pleasure. Unlikely that the ICC will accede to such a forlorn conspiracy.
The next scrum down is rugby. The Minister himself made a visit to Dubai to confer and present a line out that had no merit. Here is a duly elected leader being harassed no end in order to please the machinations of people who want to get hold of the oval ball. World Rugby (WR) said enough is enough and clamped a suspension to which the MoS is scrambling to explain. For heaven’s sake, whatever for? The NOC to their credit came out strongly defending SLR and in so many words, asking the MoS to mind its own business. The sport itself thrives in the schools due primarily to the intense rivalries that prevail, though obviously some regulatory framework is needed to work the line and develop the club system, creating a more competitive edge at the international level.
Football is down on its knees, courtesy the MoS. Having agreed to the introduction of new statutes, it appears that the MoS renegaded on its agreement with FIFA and virtually manacled an incumbent President in a lead up to a poll that was both arbitrary and meaningless. Instead, it foisted a President of its choice. FIFA immediately flashed the Red Card and has all but driven football to the ground. The parachuted President languishes in remand. No international engagements are possible on all fronts. Fortuitously, local clubs and schools are continuing the sport, with the hope that sanity will prevail. But the MoS is dragging its feet. Even appeals to HE the President, seems to have fallen on deaf ears. Who suffers but the poor football player of course. Sooner than later, we will see the ignominy of footballers demonstrating in the streets rather than training in the playing fields.
Interestingly, badminton is one sport that is growing with more pomp and pageantry. Its impressive development programme is awash in the media with officials in garlands attending various events, while criticism is building about the emphasis given to the Masters over the Open category. Many feel that it is the later that must be given its pride of place. Now the MoS is considering how to approve nominations that countermand its own Sports Law. Accommodating a bevy of administrators well past the used before date, is likely to face a barrage of deft shots in the coming days.
Netball has drawn the wrath of mamas who paraded outside the MoS premises to protest what they believe are poor selections to the international tournaments that will take place later this year. The MoS will of course conduct an enquiry and whichever way it goes, unhappiness is bound to prevail; goal shoots and goal defences are sure to make several trips to the MoS chambers to overturn selection decisions and get their offspring into the planes.
It is time indeed for a Commission of Enquiry to examine the role and necessity of the MoS itself. Right now, it is the Misery of Sports that the public sees. The Hon. Minister may be better off overseeing our ancient tanks and paddy fields, than undertaking to foster the sporting talent of a nation. We all know that it is only via the National Sports Associations affiliated to their international masters that sports generally function. It has been suggested many times before that the MoS and NOC join hands, so that they share the responsibility of developing and managing our national sports portfolio.
But it is not evident that they talk to each other; perhaps that would be demeaning for both sides. This miserable state of affairs cannot go on. The accountability that is being demanded of government must come to play. Or may we ask most humbly, that they perform or depart honourably.