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Amalka, Ananda guiding lights of country’s netball stronghold



Amalka Gunathilaka and Ananda Wannithilaka have been providing a yeoman service to country’s netball propelling Holy Family Convent Kurunegala to become the schools netball stronghold.(File Pix by Nishan S. Priyantha)

When satisfaction is the only reward for commitment

by Reemus Fernando

No school in the country has dominated schools netball like the way teams of Holy Family Convent, Kurunegala have done during the last one and half decades. The name of Holy Family Convent, Kurunegala has been so synonymous with the All Island Schools Netball Championships and the Milo Schools Championship titles to such an extent that one cannot remember a single year when they had settled for a trophy lower than the runner up title during the last decade.

Schools like Kalutara Balika, Musaeus, Girls High School, Kandy have challenged them to win age category titles but when it comes to overall championships, there had hardly been another contender. Like the trophies to the souvenir cupboard of the girls’ school of Kurunegala, there had also been a steady supply of talent to the youth national and national teams from this school during the last decade.

However the netball dominance HFC is experiencing today is a far cry from the early 2000s. HFC were not even a formidable force at Provincial level when Amalka Gunathilaka commenced training the youngsters.

Maliyadeva Balika and Kalutara Balika were the only schools to have won championship titles until HFC emerged as a force to be reckoned in the field of netball under her stewardship.

HFC became the Under-12 Milo Schools Netball champions in 2005, a year after she joined the school as a PTI. From then on the school went from strength to strength.

Few years after Gunathilaka took coaching reigns, HFC became unbeatable at almost all age category competitions at national level.

Certainly it was not the regular working hours of a PTI that propelled the school to be crowned as Sri Lanka’s netball queens.

“I would come early in the morning to commence training. Then I attend to regular teaching. When I leave the school after training it is very late in the afternoon. When competitions are around the corner I leave the school very late,” says Amalka whose commitment and contribution to netball in the country is yet to receive due recognition.

Beside Amalka her husband Ananda Wannithilaka, the former national volleyball player and coach provides much needed guidance in strength and conditioning to the team. The commitment of this husband and wife duo has gone a long way in HFC becoming the netball stronghold of the country.

However despite helping the team produce remarkable feats, Amalka is yet to be given a proper national job which she craved for years.

“First when I applied for the coaching job in 2011 I was told that I could not get it since my daughter was in the squad. Then I applied in 2013, 2015 and 2018. They would cite different reasons. And would select someone who has only paper qualifications but has never had performances to produce. I always had performances. I am a qualified coach. I did the advance course as well. I was informed that I had passed it. But I am yet to receive the certificate from the federation,” says Amalka.

While Dulangi Wannithilaka (her daughter), Rathna Victoria and Methma Jayaratne are some of her products who excelled at senior level, there are numerous others from Sajini Ratnayake, Sethmi Danoshi, Suseema Kumari, Nelumi Hapuarachchi to Nirmani Perera, who had donned the junior national jersey for Sri Lanka.

She got a couple of rare breaks when she was selected to accompany the team to World Youth Cup in Gaborone, Botswana in 2017 as assistant coach to Janaki Gunasekara and was named coach of the Under-16 team last year for the inaugural Under-16 South Asian Netball Championship in Nepal where she spent her own funds to function as the coach. Sri Lanka won the championship comfortably.

Amalka believes that the entire selection process not only of coaches but also of players needs to be overhauled with provincial level selectors making available the outstation talent for national consideration.

With the sport suffering a huge setback due to the Covid-19 pandemic and training at junior level in disarray, Amalka is interested in the junior national coaching job which she once cherished so much.

“At the moment I very much cherish what I do. I am content that I and my husband were able to make our contribution to netball. Each year the players we produce are ranked among the best at junior level. Netball has become an added advantage for those who join private sector firms after leaving school and those who seek higher education. We gain immense satisfaction when we see them succeed in different walks of life.”


Successful staging of LPL would pave the way for other sports to resume – Dr. Lal Ekanayake



by Reemus Fernando

Dr. Lal Ekanayake, the Director General of the Institute of Sports Medicine expressed hope that Lanka Premier League (LPL) cricket tourney which was scheduled to start in the evening yesterday would be the first step towards resumption of sports in the country despite a rise in the number of Covid 19 positive cases.

“Successful staging of the LPL tournament will pave the way for other sports to resume under new normal conditions. The sports minister too is looking at the possibilities of starting other sports events after the successful conclusion of the LPL,” said Ekanayake in an interview with The Island.

“The Covid 19 is unlikely to leave us soon. Experts say that this will stay for a couple of years. In such a scenario responsibility is on us to prepare ways to resume sports,” said Ekanayake.

“Even some countries which are worst affected by the pandemic have resumed sports under new normal. Sometimes there is confusion regarding health guidelines. But if we plan properly sports can resume,” opined Ekanayake.

“Many international sports events scheduled for next year will happen as scheduled. We cannot hold back. We are going to take part in these championships. The postponed Olympics is happening later next year. So are other international events,” said Ekanayake.

Ekanayake said that his institution was looking forward to support sports associations conduct their competitions. Sri Lanka Athletics is one of the hardest hit sports and the track and field governing body has scheduled the National Championship to December after the cancellations of many top level competitions throughout the year.

Ekanayake has expressed his views on resuming track and field sports on previous occasions as well. He has cited track and field sports as a low risk sports and has the ability to resume despite the pandemic.

Sri Lanka’s sportsmen and women are scheduled to take part in a number of international events in 2021 and 2022. Resumption of local competitions including national championships is going to benefit them.

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Diego Maradona – Argentina’s flawed football icon



Dazzling, infamous, extraordinary, genius, outrageous. Diego Maradona. A flawed football icon.

One of the game’s most gifted players, the Argentine boasted a rare combination of flair, flamboyance, vision and speed which mesmerised fans.

He also outraged supporters with his controversial ‘Hand of God’ goal and plunged into a mire of drug abuse and personal crises off the pitch.

Born 60 years ago in a Buenos Aires shanty town, Diego Armando Maradona escaped the poverty of his youth to become a football superstar considered by some to be even greater than Brazil’s Pele.

The Argentine, who scored 259 goals in 491 matches, pipped his South American rival in a poll to determine the greatest player of the 20th Century, before Fifa changed the voting rules so both players were honoured.

Maradona showed prodigious ability from a young age, leading Los Cebollitas youth team to a 136-game unbeaten streak and going on to make his international debut aged just 16 years and 120 days.

Short and stocky, at just 5ft 5in, he was not your typical athlete.

But his silky skills, agility, vision, ball control, dribbling and passing more than compensated for lack of pace and occasional weight problems.

He may have been a whizz at running rings round hostile defenders but he found it harder to dodge trouble.

Maradona’s 34 goals in 91 appearances for Argentina tell only part of the story of his rollercoaster international career.

He led his country to victory at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico and a place in the final four years later.

In the quarter-final of the earlier tournament, there was a foretaste of the controversy that would later engulf his life.

The match against England already had an extra friction, with the Falklands War between the two countries having taken place only four years beforehand. That on-field edge was to become even more intense.

With 51 minutes gone and the game goalless, Maradona jumped with opposing goalkeeper Peter Shilton and scored by punching the ball into the net.

He later said the goal came thanks to “a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God”.

Four minutes later, he scored what has been described as the ‘goal of the century’ – collecting the ball in his own half before embarking on a bewitching, mazy run that left several players trailing before he rounded Shilton to score.

“You have to say that is magnificent. There is no doubt about that goal. That was just pure football genius,” said BBC commentator Barry Davies.

England pulled one back but Argentina went through, with Maradona saying it was “much more than winning a match, it was about knocking out the English”.

Maradona broke the world transfer record twice – leaving Boca Juniors in his home country for Spanish side Barcelona for £3m in 1982 and joining Italian club Napoli two years later for £5m.

There were more than 80,000 fans in the Stadio San Paolo when he arrived by helicopter. A new hero.

He played the best club football of his career in Italy, feted by supporters as he inspired the side to their first league titles in 1987 and 1990 and the Uefa Cup in 1989.

A party to celebrate the first triumph lasted five days with hundreds of thousands on the streets, but Maradona was suffocated by the attention and expectation.

“This is a great city but I can hardly breathe. I want to be free to walk around. I’m a lad like any other,” he said.

He became inextricably linked to the Camorra crime syndicate, dragged down by a cocaine addiction and embroiled in a paternity suit.

After losing 1-0 to Germany in the final of Italia 90, a positive dope test the following year triggered a 15-month ban.

He returned and arrested his slide, appearing to get his act together to play in the 1994 World Cup in the USA.

But he alarmed viewers with a maniacal full-face goal celebration into a camera and was withdrawn midway through the tournament after he was found to have taken the banned substance ephedrin. (BBC Sport)

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LPL rocked by corruption scandal  



By Rex Clementine 

A former Sri Lanka cricketer is under probe after his alleged attempt to entice a player into corrupt practice in the inaugural Lanka Premier League tournament that will get underway today at Hambantota. 

The former player – an off-spinner with a dodgy action – had represented Sri Lanka frequently from 2012 to 2016 before being discarded after being reported for a suspect action. He has featured in various T-20 leagues since losing his spot in the Sri Lankan side. Cricket officials said that he had been under the spotlight for corrupt activities but had escaped punishment due to lack of evidence. 

The player who was approached was former S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia spin bowler Tharindu Ratnayake. The ambidextrous Ratnayake bowls both left-arm orthodox spin and right-arm off-spin and represents Sinhalese Sports Club in domestic cricket. The former Sri Lanka player had got to know him at the club having also played for the Maitland Crescent club. 

Ratnayake had reported the approach after he received a Watasapp message tempting him to corrupt practice during the Lanka Premier League. Ratnayake represents Colombo Kings. 

Sri Lanka Cricket officials said that while they were disappointed that something of this nature had occurred on the eve of the tournament added that they were happy that players are taking corruption in the sport seriously.

“We have spent a lot of time, energy and money educating our young players of dangers of corruption and we are glad the incident was reported,” a senior cricket official told The Island.

The captain of the Colombo Kings franchise Angelo Mathews also came in for special praise by SLC. “We are glad to note that Angelo as the captain of the Colombo franchise had called up all his players for a meeting and had warned them to be vigilant of nefarious plots,” the official added. 

The official said that Mathews also had vehemently opposed an Indian player who was banned for corruption being flown in to be part of the Colombo franchise which Mathews leads. 

The LPL will get underway today at Hambantota and the scandal was the last thing the organizers wanted having gone through many difficulties in making the event a reality. The organizers were working in a short time frame to make this a reality and in the middle of that the outbreak of the pandemic threatened the event. 

Sri Lanka Cricket has successfully worked with health authorities in bringing down overseas players, support staff and television crew who have gone through isolation before being drafted into a bubble to resume training ahead of the tournament. 


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