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Aussie teams improving in Round four of Trans-Tasman, or are they?

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by Rajitha Ratwatte

A second-string Crusaders team (mainly due to All Black resting of players requirements) took on the Western Force in Christchurch. The preceding week had torrential rain that caused havoc on the roads and in the farms of the South Island, but the ground was dry and conditions underfoot as good as could be expected. The Crusaders without Mo’uanga, Seevu Reece, Blackadder, Whitelock, and a host of their regular starting line-up. The Force with Kurandrani in the center looking like a real threat. Referee Ben O’Keefe.

The Western Force started with a bang, with star winger Tony Pulu stepping beautifully off his right foot and leaving the famed Crusader defence standing to score extreme right in the second minute of the game. Tony Pulu who was injured later in the game, made that try look easy and would have made a bigger impact on the final result had he been around for longer. Converted from a difficult angle and a 0–7 lead to the visitors. The Crusaders struck back in the tenth minute from a judicious chip kick by Braydon Ennor playing at center that was picked up by Manasa Matele showing a great turn of speed from the wing and scoring mid-right. Fergus Burke who took the kick in the absence of Mo’uanga added the extra points and the scores were locked up at seven each. Nine minutes later some great hands in the three-quarter line saw Will Jordan in a gap with 22 meters ahead of him and crossing the line was a mere formality for the full-back. The conversion was difficult from the extreme left of the field and Fergus Burke was not up to the task. 12–7 Crusaders in the lead. Twenty five minutes into the game two successive penalties were awarded to the Crusaders and the resulting touch kicks saw the now famous rolling maul activated and Whetukamokamo Douglas (..and they say Sri Lankan names are difficult!) scored a try which remained unconverted 17–7 to the Crusaders.

The Force was spending a lot of time in Crusaders’ territory and strung together 10 phases before the defence finally crumbled and their no eight Olli Callan scored far left. It was converted nicely, and the score read 17-14 after 30 minutes of very “uncrusaderlike” rugby. All the marginal decisions and line calls seemed to be going the way of the visitors but that may have been this reporter’s bias towards NZ teams! However, it left the room to wonder if a directive had been made in an attempt to “level the playing field” in favour of the “weaker” Australian teams. This thought started with the last game played in round three during which the Waikato Chiefs lost and was exacerbated by certain occurrences in the next game played on this day. One hopes sincerely, that this is not the case because should it be and should it have come from the television Moghuls, in a ham-handed attempt to attract bigger audiences from Australia, it is totally unacceptable! Two crusader tries were disallowed by the TMO over the next five minutes and finally, another rolling maul from the crusaders got them a seven pointer on the halftime whistle. 24–14 but the home side not looking very convincing.

The second half started badly for the Crusaders with Will Jordan misjudging the kick-off and allowing it to bounce. That gain of territory made by Force combined with 16 phases put together by them had the Crusaders defending grimly. There was no change in the scoreline, but the Force dominated this phase of the game playing with numerous penalty advantages given by the referee. Two more Crusader tries scored by Will Jordan and Tamati Williams (a huge man 6’5″ and 140+ kgs- Playing his first game at prop) were disallowed by the TMO until a forward’s scramble and a great pass from the Crusaders halfback saw an unconverted try take the score to 29–14 with an all-important bonus point for the home side. This is when the Crusaders skipper with maybe some input from the coach should have decided to close the game down and settle for a win, with this margin, but they are not used to playing like that and suffered the consequences of having dominated rugby in this part of the world for so long. Even the regular starters and star players who made it to this game like David Havili and Will Jordan were looking nonplussed and Crusaders fans who associated jersey numbers of the regulars with their usual impeccable performances were disappointed when those numbers didn’t deliver. An injury caused to a Force player after the full use of the bench saw them a player short for the last ten minutes of the game. This may have been the reason for the Crusaders’ brains trust to decide on an all-out attack even neglecting to kick from well inside their territory and try to run the ball out and losing it to the opposition. Finally, a kick ahead from the Force saw no one manning the last line of defence for the Crusaders and a straight sprint for the line won by the Force, getting themselves a converted try and removing the bonus point from the Crusader’s final tally of 29–21. There are three possible contenders for the final, all NZ teams, and the bonus points may decide the outcome. The Crusaders now have to wait and see how the Auckland Blues and the Wellington Hurricanes go later in the weekend.

The next game on Friday was at the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane. The Queensland Reds hosting the Auckland Blues who have missed out on finals contention in the Aotearoa Super Rugby tournament are now looking for an opportunity to make up. The Blues remained in the Red’s territory from the kick-off when they charged down the attempted clearing kick but couldn’t capitalise until the 11th minute when Oteri Black converted a penalty from mid-left, awarded by referee Mike Frazer for a “no hands in the tackle” by a Red’s player. Red cards have been issued for such offences in the past. 3–0 Blues ahead. 20 minutes into the game the Red’s number eight Harry Wilson collected an offload from Hunter Paisamy, who had an exceptional game, an offload that could only have gone forwards in the view of Andrew Mhertens and everyone else except the referee ran 30 meters to score under the posts. 3–7 the Australian Champions in the lead. A series of baffling decisions by the on-field referee including disregarding a tackle on a player in the air (fortunately rectified by the TMO) and issuing only a yellow card for collapsing two mauls inside the Red’s 10-meter line, instead of at least one penalty try, saw the scoreline remain unchanged. Dalton Papelili was finally able to score the first of two tries in the 10 minutes that the Reds were a player down due to the yellow card issued to their Hooker Amosa for collapsing a maul in a possible scoring area. The first try took the score to 10-7 and the second unconverted try in the 33rd minute scored by Mark Telea took the Blues ahead by 17–7 at halftime.

The Blues forwards started to dominate the second half with a few line out steals complemented by stringing together 19 phases of play that saw the number nine Christie who failed to see a scoring opportunity for himself, pass to his skipper Patrick Tuapoletu who barged his way over the line for a seven pointer; 24–7. The Blues had to defend furiously against a sustained attack by the Red’s who were finally awarded another try off a ball that squirted out of a ruck off a Reds player and in the view of the officials was deemed to have bounced sideways first before it bounced forward and was pounced upon over the line by Paenga Amosa trying to make up for his yellow card. 24–14 Blues still ahead. 53 minutes into the game The Blues Halfback was in a similar situation to their last scoring opportunity inches away from the Reds line, when he saw the gap, he had missed last time and dived over to score his first try of the game and to cap off a fine run of form. No problems for Oteri Black with the conversion 31–14 and the Blues looking comfortable. 50 minutes or so into the game All Black prop and impact player Nepo Laulala suffered a brain freeze and was caught blatantly offside, picking a ball up off a ruck and exacerbating the “dumb” reputation that the big men in the engine room seem to attract every once in a while! The Blues line-out jumpers continued to dominate and kept either stealing the ball or spoiling the Reds lineouts. Zaan Sullivan who has played brilliantly in the number 15 jersey for the Blues continued finding great touch with his left boot. Special mention must be made of the Pacifica players in the reds lineup Sulasi Vunivelu, Taniela Tupou, Hunter Paisami, and Krisi Kurindrani in particular who continue to impress and are undoubtedly among the prime reasons for the Reds dominating Australian rugby. The Reds kept attacking with penalty advantage after penalty advantage being given to them, it took a cross-kick to Daugunu on the wing who split the Blues defence and left two Blues defenders gaping to score under the posts. The score read 31–21 at this stage and the commentators were getting excited with their perceived view that the reds had a chance of winning with 10 minutes left in the game. The benefit of the doubt and all marginal calls kept going to the Reds until a penalty was awarded from around 40 meters out but right in front of the posts. Who steps forward but the one and only Filipo Daugunu a truly outstanding exponent of the game and boots it over easy as you like! 31–24 remained the final score, taking the Auckland Blues to the top of the leader board until the next games in 24 hours.

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Nilani’s chances and the importance of quality competition

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by Reemus Fernando

It will be an anxious few days for country’s number one long distance runner Nilani Ratnayake as the Tokyo Olympic qualification deadline looms. For a better part of the last two years Ratnayake was country’s highest ranked athlete in the ‘Road to Olympic Rankings’. In the Asian Rankings she was only second to Winfred Mutile Yavi of Bahrain in her pet event, the 3,000 metres steeplechase. In the ‘Road to Olympic Rankings she was well within the required rankings to earn the ticket to Tokyo. But two weeks ahead of the Olympic qualification deadline she has dropped to the 39th position. But that is not due to a lack of commitment or form but due to things beyond her control.

Lack of quality competitions to compensate solid training regimens has been a problem ailing country’s progress in track and field. Though experts, mostly the former athletes and Olympians who had benefited from overseas training and competitions, have repeatedly highlighted the need to provide quality competitions for local athletes, they have often fell on deaf ears. The World Athletics’ world ranking system, which heavily favours top grade competitions, requires athletes seeking top rankings to compete in such championships. An athlete seeking Olympic qualification has to excel at top competitions if he or she is to realize the dream of competing at the quadrennial event.

The Covid 19 pandemic has dealt a severe blow to the aspirations of country’s Olympic hopefuls in the track and field sport as they have been deprived of quality competitions to improve their rankings. The Asian Athletics Championship did not take place due to the pandemic and many other regional competitions also did not see the light of day due to the same reason.

In a desperate move Sri Lanka Athletics tried to send their top athletes for a meet in Kazakhstan but lack of interest from the part of organizers in helping visa proceedings derailed the plan. The Indian Track and Field authorities have extended an invitation to their Sri Lankan counterparts to field a team for their Inter State meet starting on June 25 but the tour was still doubtful when this article went to press.

The US based high jumper Ushan Thivanka climbed up the world rankings in dramatic fashion during the last few months. But he is stranded in the 52nd position in the Road to Olympic Rankings due to unavailability of competitions. Thivanka has a seasonal best of 2.30 metres, his new Sri Lanka record, but needs to clear 2.33 metres or reach a ranking position of 32 if he is to compete in Olympics.

There are others. Rio Olympic participant Sumeda Ranasinghe is currently ranked 48th in the Road to Olympic Rankings, middle distance runner Nimali Liyanarachchi is ranked 55th, just seven ranking positions behind the selection mark and sprinter Nadeesha Ramanayake is ranked 56th and needs to climb just eight positions up if she is to realize her dream.

Now take the case of Italy based sprinter Yupun Abeykoon. He needed just a single Diamond League Competition last week to overtake more than thirty athletes and secure a position among the top 50 athletes in the world rankings. He was placed fourth there. He is now almost certain of his participation in the Olympics as he has couple of more competitions to maintain his rankings.

It is no simple task to secure a position among the top 100 athletes in the world. There are other local athletes who have secured positions among the top 100 athletes in the world in their respective disciplines despite not taking part in quality international competitions. They have toiled hard for years to reach where they are and with the hope of doing their best this year. They will feel hard done by as hopes of reaching qualifying standards diminish due to lack of competitions.

Nilani Ratnayake’s chances of competing in Tokyo will depend on the performances of her rivals who are ranked below her during the next week. Ratnayake last competed in an international event in 2019. She needs to remain within the top 48 athletes in world rankings by June 29 if she is to take part.

True that the Covid 19 pandemic was responsible for the lost opportunities that denied chances of improving world rankings but it is incumbent upon authorities to realize the value of making available quality competitions for deserving athletes.

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Sportsmen, sponsors and ambush marketing

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by Rex Clementine

For the T-20 World Cup that is scheduled for later this year, the Sri Lankan players like all else will be supposed to sign participation agreements and one key point in these agreements is the ‘Ambush Marketing Clause’. This particular clause protects the sponsors of the International Cricket Council and players are supposed not to endorse any rival products of the official sponsors during and 30 days either side of the event.

How and why did the ‘Ambush Marketing Clause’ come about? Here’s how.  During the 1996 World Cup, Coca-Cola had signed up as one of the tournament sponsors and promoted their drinks with the tag-line, ‘the official soft-drinks of the World Cup’. Pepsi, another giant in the trade, hit back running television advertisements that you are chilled out and relaxed with a Pepsi in hand and they used some clever words, ‘Nothing official about it.’

They went a step or two further actually.  Pepsi had leading Indian players like Mohammad Azharuddin and Sachin Tendulkar as their brand ambassadors. Now during drinks break, a Coke trolley would come  into the ground but none of India’s leading players would go closer to it and one of the reserve players from the dressing room would bring them drinks separately.

This was a huge cause for concern and the ICC had to address the issue. Soon, the Ambush Marketing Clause came to effect. The players were up in arms, naturally, as they were losing out some big endorsements. But with home boards promising to compensate the players, they eventually signed the contracts.

Some Sri Lankan players too cashed in during the 2003 World Cup. They never had any deals with rival companies of the official sponsors but they made most of the stance the Indian players had taken.  Hemaka Amarasuriya, the Chairman of the Cricket Board at that point, told the players to sign the agreement, play the tournament and that they would be compensated accordingly. Amarasuriya kept a gentleman’s agreement by parting ways with 25% of the participation fee that the ICC paid the board.

Successive Sri Lanka Cricket administrations have followed Amarasuriya’s  lead although the amount has been cut down in recent times as the performance of the team has been below par.

There was a reason for us to suddenly bring up the Ambush Marketing Clause. Anyone who is following EURO 2020 would have seen the plight of soft drinks giant Coke after Portugal captain Christiano Rolando removed two Coca-Cola bottles from the press conference table.  Coke has reportedly suffered four billion US$ fall of the share prices.

Since Ronaldo, other players have followed suit.  Each sponsor paid a sum of US$ 30 million for the organizers and the fall out is sure to have major repercussions. Incidentally, Coke used to be a personal sponsor of Ronaldo years back.

Ronaldo’s action is nothing new in sports. During  the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, basketball star Michael Jordan covered the Reebok logo in his official kits strategically draping it with an American flag. This was to show solidarity with his personal sponsor Nike.

The millions that sponsors pour in is vital to nurture any sport at grass root levels. The marketing experts of sports bodies must be fretting over on the measures that need to be taken to protect their sponsors from superstars who have massive following all over the world. Ronaldo’s actions could take sports marketing to different scales.

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Karatekas of the Shitoryu Shukokai Karate Society win third place

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The medal winning karatekas with Chief Instructor Sensei Lakshman Saparamadu.

 

Karatekas of the Shitoryu Shukokai Karate Society won 33 medals at the E – Kata International Karate Tournament recently.

This team were placed third at the tournament organized by the United Universal Shotokan Karate Association. The event was conducted using video technology. Some thirty counties participated in this tournament.

Karatekas fielded by Shitoryu Shukokai Karate Society won twelve gold, eleven silver and ten bronze medals. They were trained by Shitoryu Shukokai Karate Society’s Chief Instructor, Sensei , Lakshman Saparamadu. (Text and pic by W.D. Vithana Delgoda Corr.)

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