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)
A championship in November might hurt athletes’ preparation for next year’s key events
by Reemus Fernando
Sri Lanka Army’s decision to schedule their flagship athletics event to November is likely to hurt top athletes’ preparations for next year’s major international events. The Army’s decision has come just a couple of weeks after Sri Lanka Athletics decided to windup the pandemic plagued season in October to allow enough time for off season as top athletes will have several crucial international competitions in 2022 including the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games.
“Sri Lanka Athletics took the decision to conclude the season with the remainder of the National Championship in October in consultation with coaches as we have a busy schedule in 2022. Most of the coaches whose athletes had already completed their National Championship disciplines had started off-season training when the Army decided out of the blues to conduct their championship in November,” a senior coach told The Island.
Most of the top track and field athletes of the country are employed by Sri Lanka Army and athletes are bound to give equal prominence to the Army Athletics Championship. However, preparing them for the championship in November is likely to derail training plans of coaches who are eager to bring the best out of their athletes at two major international events in 2022.
Not having a proper Competition Calendar has been a problem that has hurt track and field athletes for decades now. Though Sri Lanka Athletics continue to announce their competition calendar in advance other stakeholders in the sport including the tri forces and the Sports Ministry have at times failed to announce theirs.
True the Covid 19 pandemic has hampered all schedules but it is important that all stake holders come together to take decisions vital for national athletics.
Despite the Covid 19 pandemic hampering sports events, Sri Lanka Athletics conducted a number of disciplines of the National Championship 2021 at the first leg in May to give opportunities for athletes who are closer to earn Olympic qualifying standards. The remaining legs of the National Championship 2021 which were rescheduled several times due to the pandemic will now be held on October 30 and 31.
The track and field governing body which will celebrate its centenary year in 2022 is eager to prepare strong teams for both the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games as it has not experienced medal success at these championships for years now. Country has won 46 medals at the Asian Games. Of them 27 are from track and field sports. From the 11 gold medals it has won in the history of the Games ten have come from track and field. However, Sri Lanka has not won a medal in track and field after the men’s 4×400 metres relay team won a bronze in 2006. Sri Lanka has won only three track and field medals at the Commonwealth Games but non during the last two decades.
MJ to work as consultant during World Cup
Sri Lanka’s ICC T20 World Cup campaign has received a massive boost after former captain Mahela Jayawardene agreed to work with the team as a consultant during the tournament.
MJ will not be available for the entire campaign as his stint will last just one week, which means he will be only available for the qualifying round. He will not be available beyond the games against Namibia, Ireland and Netherlands.
SLC also stated that MJ has accepted a consultancy role with Sri Lanka Under-19 team for a period of five months lead up to next year’s ICC Under-19 World Cup. He will be working alongside his former SSC team mate Avishka Gunawardene, who is the Head Coach of the Under-19 side.
MJ known as a brilliant tactician in the game was one of Sri Lanka’s most successful captains across all forms of cricket. He was skipper when Sri Lanka won overseas Test matches in England, New Zealand and West Indies. He was also captain when Sri Lanka blanked England 5-0 in their own backyard. Under his leadership, Sri Lanka reached the finals of the ICC World T20 in 2012.
Since retiring from the game, he’s been a highly sought after coach having guided Mumbai Indians for multiple IPL titles and having worked with the England team as a consultant.
Sri Lanka coach Mickey Arthur welcomed the appointment. “I have worked with Mahela before and really looking forward to having him with us. He is one of the best cricket brains I have worked with and just very excited to have him with us,” he told The Island.
Sri Lanka Athletics gives priority to Asian Games
by Reemus Fernando
Sri Lanka Athletics will give priority to Asian Games over the Commonwealth Games as the two major sports events take place within five weeks from each other in 2022. The track and field governing body indicated their priorities at a meeting with the National Olympic Committee yesterday.
“Our best chances are at the Asian Games. We are trying to get the best out of the talent we have. To achieve that we have set our priorities right. Though we are going to select a team for both events at the same stage we might not send some athletes for the Commonwealth Games,” a senior official of Sri Lanka Athletics told The Island after a meeting with the NOC yesterday.
“For example our best chances for the men’s 4×400 metres relay team is at the Asian Games. We might not field that team for the Commonwealth Games,” Saman Kumara, the statistician of Sri Lanka Athletics said.
“In 2002 we had both the Commonwealth Games (July 25- August 4) and the Asian Games within a span of two months. We had three men who could run 400 metres in 45 seconds. We had the best chance of winning the 4×400 metres gold in Busan but the Commonwealth Games had its toll on the runners when the time came for the Asian Games,” said Saman Kumara who has experience as both a selector and manager of teams for these games.
While the 2022 Commonwealth Games will be held from July 28 to August 8 in Birmingham, the Chinese city of Hangzhou will host Asian Games from September 10 to 25.
“We are almost certain of fielding a men’s 4×100 metres relay team for the Commonwealth Games provided they meet selection criteria. The men’s 4×400 metres relay team will be reserved for the Asian Games.”
Though medal prospects are dim in track events at the Commonwealth Games, Sri Lanka’s men’s 4×100 metres relay team consisting of Himasha Eshan, Shehan Ambepitiya, Vinoj Suranjaya and Mohamed Ashrafu had a memorable outing at the last edition in Gold Coast where they established the current national record clocking 39.08 seconds.
That record will be in danger now with Italy based sprinter Yupun Abeykoon improving the national record this year and showing the ability to further improve the record.
Sri Lanka Athletics will update the current elite and national pools after concluding the remaining events of the National Championship at the end of next month. That pool will be maintained till March 2022 when the teams for both the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games are selected. The centenary National Championships in 2022 April (8,9,10) will be the final selection trial for both the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games.
Sri Lanka Athletics will also target forming a mixed relay team for the Asian Games as there are two strong contenders to fill the women’s spots in Nadeesha Ramanayake and Dilshi Kumarasainghe. While Kalinga Kumarage and Aruna Dharshana are the front runners for the men’s sports in the mixed relay, the next few months will be crucial for the rest of the sprinters aspiring to win a place in the team for the men’s 4×400 metres relay.
Given their current form, the 100 metres, 400 metres, 4x100metres, 4×400 metres, high jump, long jump, and javelin throw, in the men’s category, 800 metres, steeplechase, long jump, and marathon in the women’s category and the mixed relay are the disciplines in which athletes have shown potential in reaching qualifying standards.
Sri Lanka has won the majority of Asian Games medals in track and field events though the country has not witnessed medal success after the men’s 4×400 metres quartet of Rohan Pradeep Kumara, Rohitha Pushpakumara, Prasanna Amarasekara and Ashoka Jayasundara won the bronze in 2006 in Doha. Since 2006 the country has won only two medals, both in cricket.
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