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Controversial supplement use and suppliers going scot-free



by Reemus Fernando

Reputed sprint coach and Olympian Sunil Gunawardena alleged that a segment of track and field coaches guiding the destinies of Sri Lanka’s top level athletes were ruining their careers by promoting controversial supplements. He said that country’s fastest sprinter in both the boys’ and girls’ categories are now being coached by an individual who imports and promotes supplements. Gunawardena who did not name the individual said that the controversial individual was not a qualified coach.

In an interview with Roshan Abeysinghe in ‘Straight Drive’ on Derana 24, the veteran coach said that authorities have turned a blind eye to unsafe supplements used in the field of sports.

“Currently the fastest boy and girl in Sri Lanka are coached by an individual who has no coaching credentials. He is importing supplements and promoting them among athletes. Tragedy is that he is promoting them even among school athletes,” alleged Gunawardena in the show telecast on Saturday.

The criticism of Gunawardena, who trained the likes of Damayanthi Dharsha to hog the limelight at Asian level, comes at a time when suppliers of controversial supplements have easy access to competition venues and even accompany them to international competitions.

“There is no method to categories harmful supplements and safe supplements. So are those who sell them. One such supplier toured with the South Asian Games team. You could see some of the athletes adoring this person instead of their coaches after they won medals in Nepal last year,” an official close to top athletes told The Island.

Supplements had been blamed for the last two positive drug tests conducted by the Sri Lanka Anti Doping Authority.

A young schools sprinter from Southern Province was found positive for stimulants (Oxandrolone and Epioxandrolone) when SLADA conducted tests at the National Sports Festival in 2018 resulting a provisional suspension. Her ‘B’ sample test also confirmed the positive analytical finding. Months later at the Disciplinary Inquiry the athlete’s lawyers successfully defended her. The Disciplinary Panel in its report said: “the Panel is satisfied that the athlete and her parents have successfully established that they bear no fault or negligence in consuming the Protein Supplement which caused the adverse analytical finding.”

Ironically the athlete’s parents had proved that they had purchased the supplement during an all island schools competition held at the country’s premier athletics venue the Sugathadasa Stadium.

There had been more than one occasion when outstanding performances of young athletes trained by up and coming coaches being attributed to use of supplements than to a properly laid out training plans.

Taking supplements is not prohibited as rightly argued by the lawyers of the young athlete mentioned above. But who can guarantee which supplements are clear of substances banned by the World Anti Doping Authority?

Addressing a group of coaches during an online seminar last month a professor from the Nutrition Society of Sri Lanka said that there was no system to categories protein supplements, mostly whey protein in Sri Lanka. Protein supplements can play a major role in an athlete’s recovery process but unavailability of pure supplements has prevented recognized nutritionists from recommending any.

“There are no pure protein supplements which we can recommend in Sri Lanka. Contents in a protein supplement may vary from consignment to consignment,” Terrance Madujith, a professor on Food Science from the University of Peradeniya told a symposium recently.

Though it is widely believed that there is supplement use in many sports, positive tests were rare. Does that mean the supplements available are clean?

With limited resources, the country’s anti-doping authorities are conducting only 250 to 300 tests per year. According to sources it costs SLADA nearly rupees 35,000.00 to 40,000.00 to conduct one test. There are dozens of national level competitions in track and field alone per year and there are nearly three dozen Olympic sports. Even if it dedicates a major potion of the tests to premier sports, SLADA will be able to test only less than dozen athletes a year in one sport.

With no check or control on supplement use and with limited resources for SLADA to conduct tests outstanding performances are likely to be looked at with suspicion. How long will the coaches and athletes who believe in natural strengths will bear this?

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Dilshi stamps her class with national record



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?



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  



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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