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An approach to improve school athletes’ present and future performance

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The National and the Public Schools athletic meets are conducted during the Second and Third Term. In effect a school athlete will at most have only three or four athletic meets a year. Here school athletes are seen preparing for a 100 metres at a junior event at Diyagama.

by Nagalingam Ethirveerasingam. Ph.D.

Increasing Opportunities for Competition

Athletes in schools and those out-of-school do not currently have enough opportunities to participate in competitions. Scheduling competitions between schools within districts, and between districts for those who are out-of-school, will provide athletes with more opportunities to develop their skills and achieve a higher standard of performance. Factors that may present an obstacle to competitions include: 1) cost of ground preparation; 2) availability of qualified officials to conduct weekly dual athletic/sports meets between schools within the Education Zones; 3) lack of space for a 400m or 200m track in many schools; and 4) tradition requires the expensive practice of awarding certificates and trophies/medals in a formal presentation soon after the competition.

Many students now compete in the Inter-House athletic meets during the first term. Potential future athletes are identified at this time. The first three in an event compete in the Zonal or District meet. The first three from those meets are selected to compete in the Provincial school meet and those who place in the first three move on to compete in the National School Meet. Such an arrangement gives only one chance for an athlete to compete at the next level. The athlete who fails at the Inter-House meet or at any of the next levels has to wait another year to demonstrate his talent.

The National and the Public Schools athletic meets are conducted during the Second and Third Term. In effect a school athlete will at most have only three or four athletic meets a year. In the 1940’s and 1950’s I had only 4 meets per year. Those were: the Inter-House, the Jaffna School Sports Association meet, the Junior National meet, and the Open National meet.

In contrast school athletes in California (USA), then and now, have track meets between schools every week from February to April each year. That is about 12 meets during their track season. During the off-season they engage in conditioning and strengthening activities.

All schools in Sri Lanka have the traditional yearly Inter-House sports meet. Students engage in erecting and decorating sheds for their houses. It is a fun-filled school function where teachers and students interact outside the classroom. It includes the awarding of medals and certificates for winners and a lot of long speeches by dignitaries. Students get the experience oforganising an event and executing it by cooperating with fellow students and teachers.

Such a large-scale event and festive atmosphere is not needed for‘Dual Meets’ between schools. In secondary schools two school teams can compete, the results of the events are recorded, announced, and published. There is no need for speeches, certificates, medals, or trophies. The important thing is for the student to test his skills in competition with others of his age.

A New Approach

It is important for schools in the provinces to prepare Dual/Triangular athletic meet schedules for all schools including 1AB schools in their province at least twoyears in advance. The provinces should also prepare such a sports schedule for schools in other sports within their province. Any sports schedule prepared by the National Associations in sports such as cricket, athletics, or football should be in consultation with the Provincial Departments of Education and the schools. Provincial Departments of Education should ensure that the schedule of travel outside their provinces for sports events by school teams is structured in such a way to ensure that student class attendance is maximised and that classroom learning is not negatively affected.

Advent of Professionalism in sports

Since the time professional sportspersons were permitted to compete in the Olympic Games, athletes of national and international standard have been paid to take part and compete for prize money in their sports. The term “amateur” was dropped from international and national organizations names. The Sri Lanka Amateur Athletic Association, for example, was renamed Sri Lanka Athletics.

Athletes can now also receive sponsorship from shoe, clothing, or equipment manufacturers.

Although athletes in school are not currently permitted to lend their names to sporting goods and apparel manufacturers, the school/team can receive such sponsorship in the form of equipment and uniforms or monetary compensation. Schools also are able to garner funds by allowing businesses to advertise their products or services on the school grounds for a recurrent fee. Such income supplements the meagre allocation for sports from the Ministry of Education.

Athletes over 18 do not earn any income unless they are performing at national level. Many national level athletes in Sri Lanka can join the Sri Lanka Army, Air Force, or Police teams and get paid a monthly stipend of approximately Rs. 30,000. The only requirement is that the athlete regularly trains three to four hours per day and competes for them. The Sri Lanka Athletic Association provides similar monetary grants for selected national level athletes who are not paid by the armed forces. The three organisations depend on government funding for such programs. Some organisations in the business sector also sponsor athletes with varied requirements.

Promotion of Athletics at District Level

To promote District Athletics, it is important for District Athletic Associations to be funded by the government or the private sector. They could sponsor the first two athletes, in each event, who have potential to achieve national standing but do not have any sponsorship or other means of support. Payment of a monthly living allowance for the first two performers in each event in the district, similar to what the Army and Air Force pays the athletes who are enrolled with them, will help the district athlete to continue to develop their skills. This will allow the district level athlete to practice three to four hours a day and also attend job oriented tertiary courses. Such practice will ensure more opportunities for district level athletes to achieve National, South Asian, and Asian level standards. In exceptional cases the athlete may also be able to attain Olympic standards. It will also give opportunities for district level athletic coaches, who should also receive a stipend, to improve their coaching skills. An additional benefit is that the number of athletic officials will increase and they will acquire higher levels of organisational and officiating skills.

Promotion of Athletics at School Level

Since 2017, those who are not successful at the GCE O/L at age 16 and are thus not able to enter Grade 12, are required to continue in the Vocational Technical Program in 1AB schools. That is, a student who fails GCE O/L cannot dropout or be ‘Pushed Out’ at age 16. In effect education is compulsory for all until they are 19 years old. The above requirement was a recommendation made by the 2014 Northern Education System Review (NESR) and was adopted by the Northern Provincial Council. It was also adopted by the National Education Commission as a National Education Policy and accepted by the National Institute of Education (NIE). All athletes can now stay in school until they are 19 and benefit from continuing education while developing their skills in their respective sports. The NIE has prepared an excellent Vocational Technical Education Program for such students enrolled in Grade 12 and 13. Some 1AB schools have already adopted it. Others should do so in the near future. School age sportspersons can now continue their sports activities, even if they fail GCE O/L, and acquire skills to make them more employable.

School sports and athletic competitions are the responsibility of the Assistant Director of Education in the Provincial Department of Education. The Sri Lanka Athletic Association and the National Olympic Committee have no direct responsibility. However, they can provide advice, guidance, and distribute the funding that they receive from their respective international organisations such as the IAAF and International Olympic Committee.

(The writer Nagalingam Ethirveerasingam represented Sri Lanka at the 1952 and 1956 Olympic Games and is the first Sri Lankan to win an Asian Games gold)



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Daniel anchors Sri Lanka Under 19s as hosts seal series

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St. Joseph’s College all-rounder Shevon Daniel played the sheet anchor role to help Sri Lanka Under 19 pull off an exciting three wickets victory over their Bangladesh counterparts in the third Youth ODI as the hosts clinched the five-match series with two games to spare at Dambulla on Wednesday.

Chasing a cautious target of 185 runs to win, the hosts lost both their openers – Harindu Jayasekara and Ryan Fernando- cheaply. The batsmen from St. Thomas’ Matara and S. Thomas’, Mount Lavinia respectively were replacing Sadeesh Jayawardena and Jeewaka Shasheen who played in the last two matches.

The hosts were two wickets down for 14 runs when Daniel joined Pawan Pathiraja to build a valuable 75 runs stand for the third wicket. Pathiraja who had struck consecutive half centuries made 31 and helped the hosts ease their nerves. But when he was caught and bowled by Ahosan Habib in the 22nd over and triggered a mini collapse leaving Sri Lanka struggling at 96 for six. They slid further when Vinuja Ranpul was bowled by Mushfik Hasan.  Daniel was then joined by Wanuja Kumara who was lucky to receive two lives in a match-deciding partnership. The Joe Pete combination was responsible for an unbroken eighth-wicket stand of 66 runs. Kumara’s contribution was 38 runs which included two fours. Daniel scored an unbeaten 85 runs, inclusive of seven fours and a six (117 balls) to seal the match and cement his place.

The hosts made five changes to the team that won back-to-back matches. Vinuja Ranpul, Lahiru Dewatage and Wanuja Kumara were the others who came in (to replace Sadisha Rajapaksha, Chamindu Wickramasinghe and Yasiru Rodrigo). Of the five replacements Kumara and Ranpul made the most of the opportunity. Kumara bowled economically and grabbed two wickets giving away just 26 runs in his quota of ten overs which included three maidens.

Deciding to bat first Bangladesh top order collapsed as Ranpul, Mathew and Raveen de Silva did well reducing them to 71 for seven wickets by the 19th over.  They further slipped when de Silva bowled Ariful Islam for nine runs to take his third wicket. Bangladesh were 107 for eight wickets at that stage.

But Ashikur Zaman staged a dramatic fight back anchoring the innings with an unbeaten half century to help the visitors post 184 runs. Zaman added a valuable 71 runs stand for the ninth wicket with Ahosan Habib who added 33 runs. Zaman also had the support of Naimur Rohman as the duo batted together for 15 overs to fight back.

Zaman’s unbeaten 54 came in 73 balls and included seven fours.

The two teams will meet for the fourth Youth ODI on Saturday.

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Record stand helps Sri Lanka to big total

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Rex Clementine in Abu Dhabi

Sri Lanka fought back admirably after being reduced to eight for three to finish on 171 for seven in their crucial World Cup qualifying game against Ireland here at Sheikh Zayed Stadium yesterday.

The former champions were in huge trouble when they lost three wickets inside two overs and they gambled by promoting Wanindu Hasaranga to number five slot. That paid rich dividends as Hasaranga added a career best 71 off 47 balls with ten fours and one six to give Sri Lanka a commanding total.

Hassaranga was well backed up by Pathum Nissanka, who finished on 61 off 46 balls with six fours and one six.

The pair were involved in a record 123 run stand for the fifth wicket that came off just 82 balls.

The big total should be sufficient for Sri Lanka to defend against an Irish side that was considered Sri Lanka’s strongest opponents. They did start off like a formidable side but Hasaranga and Nissanka put up a solid show to send a message that their side is in command.

The introduction of off-spinner Simi Singh in the Power Play overs helped Sri Lanka to cut loose as Hasaranga cashed in with an array of boundaries.

Sri Lanka did not look back from thereon posting a commanding total.

Skipper Dasun Shanaka’s big hitting came in handy in the death overs as his finished off well taking Sri Lanka’s score beyond 170. He was unbeaten on 21.

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Murali elaborates why Mahanama should be next Sri Lanka coach

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Rex Clementine
in Abu Dhabi

There is a school of thought to borrow a leaf out of India’s book and appoint a local as the Head Coach of the national cricket team. Under Ravi Shastri, India have enjoyed unprecedented success over the last three years and with his tenure ending, another former captain – Rahul Dravid is set to take up the position. World’s highest wicket taker Muttiah Muralitharan is taking the lead role to promote his former team mate Roshan Mahanama as the successor to Mickey Arthur.

“There is lack of discipline. Roshan is someone who is disciplined and he will help us to get over the hurdle. It is not easy to do that with seniors’ egos. If Roshan comes in, the whole mindset will change. That will help Sri Lanka Cricket. It’s only my opinion,” Muralitharan, who is a brand ambassador of the ICC T-20 World Cup said talking to local journalists on Monday as Sri Lanka overcame Namibia in their opening game here at Sheikh Zayed Stadium.

“First Roshan has to agree and then there is a process. It would be ideal if our local coaches can handle things. There are vast language barriers when foreign coaches are involved. When Arjuna was captain, he built a team for a foreigner to take it further. This team is young so you need one of our own. That’s why India looked at one of their own coaches. Roshan for us is the start. In future, we have to give our ex-cricketers a chance,” Murali added.

While Mahanama looks the ideal candidate for the job, whether he will fit in in a fragile and unprofessional  system remains doubtful. There were high hopes when he was appointed the coach of Sri Lanka ‘A’ team in 2002. Methodically, Mahanama was grooming several young players but his stint did not last long as he quit like a gentleman on principles.

Several members of the Cricket Advisory committee had been strong advocates of fewer teams in First Class cricket. But under their watch, instead of teams being reduced, it has only been further increased diluting the system further. Murali explained what prompted his colleagues’ actions.

“How are you going to throw out some of the clubs. If you do, you have to face the consequences. There will be court cases. The clubs will say it is unfair dismissal. The whole tournament can’t happen due to legal implications. We have to take some time to reduce the clubs. We have a three year period and by the end of it we want to reduce it to 15. There is a relegation system in place. However, the Provincial tournament will be the main format for us to select teams for international cricket,” he elaborated.

The arrival of former captain Mahela Jayawardene on a temporary mentor role for the ongoing T-20 World Cup has been welcomed by many. But Mahela will leave the Sri Lankan bubble after the qualifying round and Murali was asked why he could not stay beyond. “When we had a word with him on this, we realized that he had been away from home in bio bubbles for four months. He needs some rest. He agreed to start off the tournament and put the puzzles in place. You have the coaches and the selector on tour to take it on from there.”

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