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Amalka, Ananda guiding lights of country’s netball stronghold

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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.”



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Dilshi stamps her class with national record

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Shanika qualifies for World Junior Championships

by Reemus Fernando

Former Ratnayake Central Walala athlete Dilshi Kumarasinghe stamped her class with a new Sri Lanka record performance in the 800 metres while emerging 800 metres runner Shanika Lakshani reached qualifying standards for the World Under 20 Championships and sprinter Mohamed Safan broke shackles to win the 200 metres as the first Selection Trial produced its best on the final day at the Sugathadasa Stadium on Friday.

Kumarasinghe who registered her maiden 400 metres triumph at national level on Wednesday bagged the 800 metres win as well in style on Friday when she clocked the fastest time for the distance by a Sri Lankan in history. Her time of two minutes and 2.55 seconds erased the four year-old national record held by experienced Gayanthika Abeyratne who finished third(3rd 2:03.64 secs) yesterday. Asia’s third ranked 800 metres runner Nimali Liyanarachchi was placed second in a time of 2:03.15 seconds. Former record holder Abeyratne is ranked fifth in Asia.

The 21-year-old athlete trained by Susantha Fernando maintained a steady pace right throughout to win the event for the second time within months. She won her first 800 meters title at senior level at the last National Championships in December. “I am happy to have broken the record. We planned for the record but I am not satisfied with the time,” Kumarasinghe told The Island. Her coach Fernando expressed similar sentiments. “We were planning to produced a far better timing as she has the potential to reach international level,” said Fernando.

Kumarasinghe who is currently ranked sixth in Asia behind local counterparts Liyanarachchi and Aberatne is set to improve her ranking when the World Athletics update statistics next week.

Holy Cross College, Gampaha athlete Shanika Lakshani became the second junior runner at this championships to earn qualifying standards for the World Under-20 Championship which will be held in Nairobi, Kenya next August. Her coach Madura Perera said that it was a huge relief to witness his trainee accomplish the target after missing it by a whisker at the National Championships in December. Lakshani, running alongside the veterans clocked 2:07.02 seconds (Qualifying mark: 2:08.70 seconds).

On Wednesday Isuru Kawshalya Abewardana of Ananda Sastralaya Matugama reached qualifying standards for the World Under-20 Championship when he returned a time of 47.24 seconds in the Junior Men’s 400 metres final.

In the men’s 200 metres, Mohamed Safan turned tables on National Champion Kalinga Kumarage as both clocked sub 21 seconds, a rarity at local athletics. Safan was playing second fiddle to Kumarage at the last National Championships where he clocked 21.41 seconds. Yesterday Safan returned a time of 20.81 seconds, while Kumarage clocked 20.85 seconds.

In the women’s 200 metres, Nadeesha Ramanayake was the winner. She clocked 24.28 seconds.

The men’s 800 metres, conspicuous by the absence of national record holder Indunil Herath, was won by the Asian Championship participant Rusiru Chathuranga, who clocked 1:49.82 seconds.

Herath was not the only leading athlete who was absent at the First Selection Trial which was organized by Sri Lanka Athletics to provide much needed competition opportunity to top athletes vying to reach Olympic qualifying standards.

The next track and field competition for top athletes will be the next month’s National Championship.

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COPE; a toothless tiger?

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by Rex Clementine

Parliamentary watchdog COPE – Committee on Public Enterprises has made a scathing attack on some of the corrupt practices at Sri Lanka Cricket. COPE Chief, Professor Charith Herath has gone onto claim that by fighting out certain legal battles and writing off money that companies and member club owed SLC, insiders may have been receiving kickbacks. This is a very serious allegation by the  legislature.

Professor Herath wants legal action taken against SLC officials. It remains to be seen whether any culprits can be hauled up before courts or whether COPE is just a toothless tiger.

In the absence of SLC bigwigs, CEO Ashley de Silva bore the brunt of the criticism. In January this year, in these pages we wrote that Ashley’s time was up. While there are many questions about his efficiency and decision making abilities, it can be safely said that Ashley is no crook. The real crooks are hiding behind the CEO.

There have been some decent men as well at SLC like Mohan de Silva, who was President in 2004. De Silva had warned his colleagues that their excesses could tarnish the reputation of the institution, but his concerns fell on deaf ears.

Not only the guardians of SLC but even those who let them enter into these corrupt deals need to be probed. While most of these allegations will take time to prove, certain things can be proven beyond reasonable doubt. For example fixing a domestic match in 2017 by some prominent members of SLC.

However, four successive Sports Ministers – Dayasiri Jayasekara, Faizer Mustapaha, Harin Fernando and Namal Rajapaksa – failed to take action. All four turned a blind eye despite having overwhelming evidence in front of them. Ravin Wickramaratne, the number one suspect, went places in cricket circles. He is now SLC’s alternate ICC Director.

At a time when the game has been so badly managed, Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa’s decision to backdate a gazette notification extending the term of SLC’s Executive Committee has not gone down well with many. Rather than giving a clean bill of health to SLC hierarchy, he should have perhaps taken the bad eggs out.

The ball is back on Namal’s court. It is his Ministry that has to now decide which deals need to be proved and against which officials’ action needs to be taken in courts of law.  From the start, Namal has treated SLC hierarchy with kids’ gloves. Now that their deficiencies have been exposed well and truly, he needs to watch his steps. If he continues to play politics with cricket governance, his popularity is going to wane, fast.

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Saha wins U12 boys’ singles title  

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Saha Kapilasena beat Sasen Premaratne to win the Under-12 boys’ singles title of the Clay Court Nationals conducted at the Sri Lanka Tennis Association courts on Friday. 

Kapilasena scored 6-3, 6-1 to win the title. Kapikasena ousted third seed Aahil Kaleel in the semi-final, Premaratne eliminated number one seed Methika Wickramasinghe in the semi-final. 

In the mixed doubles final Anika Seneviratne and Thangaraja Dineshkanthan were the winners as they beat Sanka Athukorale and Neyara Weerawansa 7-5, 6-4. 

Sanka Athukorale and Yasita de Silva beat Rajeev Rajapakse and Renouk Wijemanne 6-4, 6-0 to clinch the men’s doubles title.  

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