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Has Education Ministry forgotten value of sports?



The Ministry of Education has suspended all sports competitions. If the Junior Nationals is not held hundreds of junior athletes who have endured unprecedented challenges in continuing the sport this year are likely to be without a single competition.

by Reemus Fernando

Sri Lanka Athletics is in two minds with regard to conducting the Junior National Athletics Championship as the number of Covid 19 positive cases has increased dramatically during the last few days. If it is held, the major junior event which was scheduled for November will be the only track and field event to be conducted for junior athletes this year. If it is not, hundreds of junior athletes who have endured unprecedented challenges in continuing the sport this year are likely to be without a single competition.

Palitha Fernando, the President of Sri Lanka Athletics told The Island: “It is too early to say whether we are going ahead with the Junior Nationals or not. The increasing number of covid 19 positive cases has ruined the prospect of conducting competitions. We will soon have to take a decision.”

Sri Lanka Athletics last week postponed the National Trials scheduled for this month, citing health concerns and kept postponing the decision to conduct the Junior National Championship and the National Championship.

A decision by the Ministry of Education to cancel all school competitions to be conducted by them for this year in the wake of the Covid -19 pandemic has already dealt a severe blow to the sport. However, it had granted permission for some schools sports associations to conduct their annual events, adhering to health guidelines. That was some respite for young track and field athletes who continued training in the belief that they would be able to compete in the Sir John Tarbat Athletics Championship conducted by the Sri Lanka Schools Athletics Association and the Junior Nationals conducted by Sri Lanka Athletics.

But last week, the Ministry of Education withdrew approval putting in jeopardy all sports competitions involving school athletes, although it went ahead with the Scholarship and A/L exams.

Like the A/L exam, which is vital for students pursuing higher education and entering the job market, competitions are vital for hundreds of school athletes in the higher age category.

“Competitions and rewards for victory are the stimulants that help athletes keep interested in the sport. When you don’t have competitions you can’t also expect performances to improve,” says a prominent coach who thinks that the impact of the pandemic will not be immediately felt.

Many who are in the Under-20 age category will miss their final competition as school athletes due to the current situation. Athletes’ achievements at national level earn them vital points for University admission.

Although many leading junior athletes are still training in the hope of competing, the track and field sport is in the danger of losing a strong second string in this pandemic.

“If you can’t conduct events with mass participation then you should look for some alternatives,” said the coach.

Sri Lanka Athletics decided to conduct a time trial for top athletes instead of the national trial during the same period they were scheduled to conduct the latter. Similarly, some form of competition should be make available for the junior athletes who trained hard this year.

Competitions are the exams that put to test the athletes’ speed, strength, power and endurance and determine how well they control their emotions in improving their performances in their respective disciplines. Athletes and coaches spend hours developing these skills and need competitions to test how successful their programmes have been. The absence of competitions will deny them that opportunity.

Global sports organisers are preparing to go ahead with the competitions planed for the year 2021 despite the prevalence of the virus. The International Olympic Committee is going ahead with the Tokyo Olympics. There are a number of junior and youth international events taking place in 2021. The World Governing bodies of sports are conducting these events in some countries worst hit by the pandemic.

According to health experts Covid 19 pandemic will not be over soon. Physical health, they say, is the key to survival during a pandemic. Certainly you can’t risk the health of young athletes, but local sports authorities including the Ministry of Education should explore the ways and means of overcoming this hurdle and providing competition opportunities. If there is no health risk in conducting exams in closed environs how will it be risky to conduct non-contact sports events like track and field sports outdoors? Health Authorities have not restricted or banned competitions. Sports activities can be continued with 50% of participation adhering to guidelines.

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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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