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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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Sri Lanka to play at Bull Ring and Centurion



The Wanderers also known as the Bull Ring for its intimidating atmosphere for visiting teams will host the New Year Test.  Sri Lanka have played two Tests there and lost both – by innings margin.

by Rex Clementine

Cricket South Africa (CSA) seem to have learned from their embarrassment last year, when Sri Lanka became the first Asian nation to win a Test series in South Africa and have left no room for complacency when they host Dimuth Karunaratne’s side in December this year. Accordingly, CSA has chosen Wanderers in Johannesburg (also known as the Bull Ring for its intimidating atmosphere for visiting teams) and Centurion for the two Tests.

While officially CSA would say that logistically the two venues, half-hour drive from each other, were ideal to host the two Test series, they are also the quickest tracks in South Africa and Asian teams usually don’t  last three days in those venues.

Sri Lanka for example have played two Tests at Wanderers and have lost both games by innings margin with the two games ending inside three days. At Centurion, meanwhile, Sri Lanka have played four Tests and lost all four (two games by an innings).

The blunder that CSA committed last time Sri Lanka toured South Africa was to schedule the games in the slowest tracks in the country – Durban and Port Elizabeth. That backfired as Sri Lanka clinched the series 2-0. Test match cricket is such a tough game in South Africa, that apart from England and Australia no other team had won a series in that country and Sri Lanka’s achievement surprised many.

Several members of the current squad have unhappy memories of Wanderers and Centurion and they will not be pleased that the games had been slotted there.

The team will stay in one hotel during their month long stay in South Africa and will shuttle between the grounds which are in close proximity to each other. Centurion will host the Boxing Day Test while the Wanderers will host the New Year Test.

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Wickramasinghe comes up with guidelines to train during the pandemic



Training programmes of a number of top track and field athletes were interrupted at various training venues due to Covid 19 concerns last week. Some of the interruptions were reported in areas where no new Covid 19 positive cases were reported. With the second wave of pandemic starting to disrupt daily life, sports training too is set to suffer badly. But senior track and field coach Upali Wickramasinghe believes that training can proceed without an interruption even during the pandemic by changing the coaching or training style.

Wickramasinghe in his instructions for coaching during the Covid 19 pandemic lists out important guidelines to follow during training, pre training and post training.

Being equipped with a clearance certificate issued by health authorities and submitting parental consent with regard to training juniors will help avoid disappointments at venue entrances according to Wickramasinghe. Sanitizing participants and checking their temperature are the other prerequisites before starting training.

Maintaining social distancing, limiting the training to small groups or individuals, avoiding physical contact (no high-fives, no handshakes) and prohibiting of spitting and clearing of nasal respiratory secretion are the instructions for sportsmen engaged in non contact sports.

Training can be continued even for minimal contact games by classifying training areas into three or four and sticking to training partners and avoiding body blocking.

Training for full body contact games can be done by focusing more on promoting individual skills and technique, utilizing alternative practice equipment, prohibiting sharing of personal equipment and making sanitization mandatory even during training.

Disinfection of training equipment like javelin, shot put, relay batons, shuttlecocks and balls is a major requirement immediately after training. Wickramasinghe also advices participants to exit venues immediately after their training schedules are completed. He also advices not to share personal equipment like rackets, helmets shin – guards, water bottles and T – Shirts.

A former national athlete, Upali Wickramasinghe has been in the field of coaching after his retirement as a Major in the Sri Lanka Army. He has produced a number of top national athletes and was the first coach of Olympian Anuradha Indrajith Cooray, who holds the Sri Lanka National record in the men’s marathon. (RF)

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Sri Lanka to take 20 players to South Africa



Left-arm seamer Vishwa Fernando outperformed South African quicks Kagiso Rabada and Dale Steyn during Sri Lanka’s tour to South Africa in 2019 as they won the series 2-0. Here he traps Francois Du Plessis leg before wicket.

by Rex Clementine

Cricket South Africa has  come up with one of  the simplest health guidelines in these testing times and it could turn out to be  the  blueprint other sporting bodies will follow in conducting international sporting events.  The Sri Lankan team will be in South Africa in December for the Boxing Day Test and New Year Test and they will not be required to go through lengthy quarantine periods.  All what the players need is a negative PCR report before boarding the flight to Johannesburg and another negative report upon landing in Oliver Tambo International Airport.

Two negative reports are good enough for players to resume training immediately within the team bubble. The method is quite a contrast to what other countries follow. Sri Lanka’s mandatory 14 day quarantine period resulted in the Test series against Bangladesh being postponed.

The Sri Lankan team will not be given any warm-up games although they are expected to be in South Africa for two weeks prior to the Boxing Day Test match.  With the team in a bubble, net bowlers also will not be provided and hence Sri Lanka will be carrying 20 players in the squad. This avoids the risk of last minute replacements being called up due to injuries as well.

CSA is yet to announce the venues for the tour. England who will be in South Africa prior to Sri Lanka will be secluded in Cape Town and nearby Paarl. England will play three ODIs and three T-20 Internationals in South Africa.

This series will mark Sri Lanka’s return to international cricket after the outbreak of the pandemic in March this year. This year was supposed to be full of international cricket for SLC with several bilateral series at home including tours by India and England that bring much needed television revenue. SLC was also set to host this year’s Asia Cup but all that now has been pushed back due to the pandemic. SLC officials are confident that they will be able to reschedule all postponed series within the next 18 months.

SLC is expected to host England in January next year for two Tests. The national cricket team will then undertake a tour of West Indies.

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