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Ministry of Education continues to fail track and field sports   

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by Reemus Fernando   

In England last year, a 12-year-old girl ran a five kilometer road race in a time of 16 minutes and 40 seconds to establish the world record of her age category. In Australia athletes as young as 13 years of age run 1,500 metres events at Athletics Australia All Schools Championships. But in Sri Lanka young children gifted with endurance abilities never see their talent being identified thanks to a stagnated competition structure persevered by the Ministry of Education. Though the knowledgeable individuals have proposed to include such events at Under 14, 16 and 18 categories to encourage endurance events on more than one occasion, they have fallen on deaf ears. The enthusiasts were hoping for positive changes to the track and field competition structure this year when the Ministry of Education commence competitions after a long hiatus due to the Covid 19 pandemic, but the latest circular streamlining schools sports has pathetically failed to introduce positive reforms to its track and field competitions.

The directors of sports of Zonal and Provincial level were introduced the new circular recently. But several Provincial and Zonal Directors of Sports have cited flaws and have requested immediate changes to the new regulations that are set to discourage endurance events and have negative effects on outstation athletes.

According to the new circular 80metres and 100 metres are the only track events for Under 14 age category and all events in the Under 12 and Under 14 age categories will be conducted as competitive events.

“If you take the results of these events at Zonal, Provincial and All Island level you often see the same athlete winning both events as this short distance will test only one quality, which is speed. You need to have a longer distance probably the 600 metres or the 800 metres to test endurance ability, said Sanjeewa Weerakkody, the coach of South Asian Games medallist Amasha de Silva when The Island contacted on this regard.

“Conducting them as competitive events for this age category is not the best idea as coaches tend to concentrate on specific training for the event leading to early burnout. You do not see many athletes who excel at this level making it to senior national level. That is one of the reasons for Sri Lanka failing at Asian level in athletics in recent times,” said Weerakkody who is also an Assistant Director of Education (Sports) of the Zonal Education Office, Kandy.

Anura Bandara, the coach of Olympian and Asian Games gold medallist Sugath Thilakaratne expressed similar sentiments questioning the absence of even a 200 metres for the Under 14 age category.

The Under 16 age category has the 800 metres but the 4×800 metres relay which was there from the inception at the Relay Carnival until three years ago has not been included though there were calls to do so. The long distance medley relay which was reintroduced to the Under 18 age category in 2019 has been scrapped again delivering a blow to the outstation schools who dominate the event.

“The athletes of Central, Uva and Sabaragamu provinces generally dominate long distance events. The absence of these events will deny opportunities for outstation athletes. Currently Sri Lanka is getting stronger in the 800 metres in Asia. Those school children who get encouraged by this new trend should be given more opportunities. Long distance relays are a must to promote it,” opined Susantha Fernando, the coach of several national and junior national record holders of long and middle distance events.

Fernando is credited for making Ratnayake Central, Walala the athletics stronghold of the country and has helped many a school children reach national and international level. However such veterans have not been consulted in formulating the new circular, though the coaches of other sports have been consulted in formulating new regulations regarding schools sports.

The 3000 metres event is competed worldwide in the Under 18 age category. The World Athletics Youth events and Asian Youth events include the distance event. Sri Lanka Athletics too conduct the distance track event for the Under 18 age category at its Junior National Championships. The Sri Lanka Schools Athletics Association has the discipline for the Under 18 age category at its Senior John Tarbat Athletics Championships. Despite requests to include it the Education Ministry has not given though to include the event to the Schools games athletics championship.

An official of the newly elected Sri Lanka Schools Athletics Association too expressed concern over the lack of interest shown by the Education Ministry officials to promote long distance events despite Sri Lanka winning its only Youth Olympic medal in history in such a discipline.

Paarami Wasanthi won a Youth Olympic bronze in the 2000 metres steeplechase in 2018 and a gold in the 3000 metres steeplechase at the Asian Junior Championships the same year when she was still 18 years old.

With the country celebrating its centenary year in athletics this year it would be only appropriate that the Ministry of Education give track and field sports the recognition it richly deserves and the knowledgeable people are consulted when taking vital decisions.



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Yupun continues record-breaking spree  

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Yupun Abeykoon improved the men’s 100metres national record at a championship held in Germany on Wednesday.

Sri Lankan is the Asian leader

by Reemus Fernando  

Italy based sprinter Yupun Abeykoon continued his record-breaking spree at a championship in Dessau, Germany as he clocked the fastest time in the men’s 100 metres in Asia this year to win ahead of Kenyan world leader Ferdinand Omanyala on Wednesday.

Abeykoon, who is also the South Asian record holder in the 100 metres clocked 10.06 seconds to win as he took a good chunk of 0.09 seconds off his previous national record.

It is the third time that the 27-year-old has improved the national record in 100 metres.

Abeykoon first took the national record of the 100 metres (10.16 secs) in 2020 before improving it to 10.15 seconds last year.

Abeykoon’s 10.06 seconds is the fastest time in Asia this year as he overtook Abdullah Abkar Mohammed (10.14) of Saudi Arabia and Abdul Hakim Sani Brown (10.15) of Japan who had both produced their seasonal best in March.

With Abeykoon winning the 100 metres against a quality field inclusive of Ferdinand Omanyala, who had clocked a world-leading time of 9.85 seconds early this month, it is expected that the South Asian Games medallist would produce the tough qualifying standard of 10.05 seconds for the World Championship soon rather than later.

Athletes are selected for the World Championship through direct qualifying standards and through the world rankings. Of the 48 slots allocated for the track’s showpiece discipline, 27 are selected from those who achieve the tough qualifying standard of 10.05 seconds, for which Abeykoon is just a millisecond behind.

The remaining slots are filled according to the ‘Road to Oregon 2022’ list in which Abeykoon is placed in the 58th position at present. That ranking is set to improve when stats are updated next week.

Abeykoon’s remarkable achievements have come at a time when some of the country’s promising athletes struggle to improve their rankings due to lack of quality competitions here in Sri Lanka.

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Bangladesh top order stumbles after Mathews, Chanidmal hit tons

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Dinesh Chandimal and Angelo Mathews shared a 199 run stand for the sixth wicket as both batters hit centuries to give Sri Lanka a 141 run lead in the first innings in the second Test against Bangladesh in Dhaka yesterday.

Sri Lankan seamers cut through the Bangladesh top order in the second innings after centuries from Angelo Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal gave the visitors a commanding lead in the second Test in Dhaka yesterday.

Bangladesh were in a dangerous position at 34 for four at stumps on the fourth day and still needing another 107 runs to ward off an innings defeat.

The visitors were all out for 506 runs in the day’s final session, with Shakib Al Hasan claiming his 19th five wicket haul in Test match cricket. Fast bowler Ebadot Hossain finished with four for 148.

The hosts fell into trouble in the sixth over as Asitha Fernando delivered opener Tamim Iqbal his second duck of the Test, returning after a catch in second slip from substitute fielder Kamindu Mendis. It’s the first time in his 67 Test career, Tamim had picked up a pair.

Najmul Hossain (two), Mominul Haque (0) and Mahmudul Hasan (15) followed him in quick succession as Fernando and Kasun Rajitha ripped through the top order to finish with 2-12 and 1-12 respectively.

Mushfiqur Rahim and Liton Das, who shared 272 in the first innings and slammed a century each, finished the day on 14 and one.

It followed a day of struggles with the ball, with Bangladesh unable to make any breakthrough until after tea.

Mathews finished Sri Lanka’s spell at the crease unbeaten on 145 while Chandimal made 124 in the pair’s 199-run partnership for the sixth wicket.

The pair dominated the Bangladesh bowlers before Ebadot took Chandimal, with the final five wickets falling in 41 runs.

Mathews, who faced 342 balls and struck 12 fours and two sixes in his second century of the series, was given out caught-behind off Khaled Ahmed on 94 but survived on review.

He was given leg-before again off Mosaddek Hossain at 105 but the decision was reversed.

Chandimal enjoyed a similar lucky spell in the morning session after a caught-behind call on the fourth ball of Mominul’s first over was overturned.

Two balls later the right-hander narrowly survived a stumping chance on 44.

He later hit Ebadot for two successive fours before reaching his century with a single in the same over.

Chandimal hit 11 fours and a six in his 219-ball innings. It was his first Test hundred since 2018.

The first Test between the countries in Chittagong was drawn.

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SLR sees tradition challenged during troubled times 

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by A Special Sports Correspondent 

Rugby in Sri Lanka is at a standstill and there are many reasons for this. The main reason for this is Asian Rugby (AR) suspending the membership of Sri Lanka Rugby (SLR); the controlling body for rugby in Sri Lanka. The other reason is the chaotic situation in the country which has been brought about largely by the economic crisis.

This puts paid to Sri Lanka taking part in any regional tournaments. That could mean Sri Lanka’s chances of contesting the rugby sevens event of the upcoming Commonwealth Games is also in jeopardy. But there could be a way out of this murky situation for SLR if it conducts the AGM and has a free and fair election. AR is monitoring the rugby activities in Sri Lanka and even sent one of its representatives here to study the situation. AR proposed having the SLR AGM.

Our investigations into the events that have taken place in Sri Lanka’s rugby scene reveal that AR has found out that a democratic atmosphere doesn’t exist within the fraternity that the SLR controls. A representative from AR was here in April to conduct a probe on the rugby set-up here. The probe, according to news reports published in the web and leading national newspapers, revealed that all stakeholders of the game are not equally represented in SLR’s decision-making environment. Also, it has been revealed that the decision taken to suspend the SLR’s membership has been taken with the interest of maintaining Asian Rugby’s principles which are equality, transparency, and accountability.

It is also learned that the AR representative had made it known that the rugby set-up here in Sri Lanka was in need of an Annual General Meeting (AGM). This AGM would be called upon by the National Olympic Committee as desired by AR. A letter indicating the above has been sent to the minister of sports. According to the SLR its AGM is scheduled for August 27.

One of the major issues in local rugby is that Western Province Rugby Football Union (WPRFU)-the union with the highest number of rugby clubs-has been denied voting rights at past AGMs due to the nonpayment of membership fees to the SLR. The clubs within the WPRFU have come together as a force and made a request through the competent authority- appointed by the former sports minister to control rugby-to grant voting rights to individual clubs at the AGM. This is because the WPRFU is facing obstacles in contesting this AGM. This practice of clubs voting at the SLR AGM was done away with many years ago. An SLR official asked why these clubs representatives now want to return to an old system of having voting rights for clubs when most of these individuals, when serving the SLR as officials, were quite happy with provincial unions having voting rights some years ago?

Rugby in Sri Lanka was once a happy family. This writer remembers the manner in which tradition was preserved at past AGMs. There was one year when the bidding present of the SLR (Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union then) Michael Jayasekara was challenged at a vote by another candidate for the post of president. Jayasekara withdrew his nomination at the last hour to ensure maintaining the tradition of the bidding present of the SLR not be contested at a vote.

Rugby AGMs in the past have been ‘healthy’ and camaraderie has prevailed even during a voting for other posts. These get-togethers have been like parties and representatives of clubs and provinces have caught up on old times after the voting concluded and new committees were formed. At present provincial unions are fighting for their ‘pound of flesh’ and dirty politics exists.

Just a few weeks ago the WPRFU organised an open club rugby sevens tournament and received much response from clubs. Several schools were also invited to take part in the tournament. WPRFU officials were quoted in newspapers saying that the purpose of organizing the rugby sevens tournament was to give an opportunity to club players to play rugby sevens because they were denied chances of playing rugby due to the  obstacles caused by the COVID pandemic during the past couple of years.  But the chaotic political and economic situation in the country didn’t support the commencement of this tournament, which was scheduled for May 14. As many as 18 teams had confirmed participation. For the record, last year, the WPRFU conducted the ‘Warriors Cup’ sevens tournament with much success.

In the same manner, the inter-club league rugby tournament is to be discontinued. This is due to the chaotic situation in the country. According to SLR President Rizly Illyas the council is in the process of naming table leaders Kandy SC as the winner; by taking into consideration points accumulated.

When contacted SLR President Rizly Illyas said that he together with his committee, overseeing the rugby operations in the island, has always given blessings to each provincial union to conduct its own tournaments.

The SLR headed by Illyas recorded a victory recently when they managed to bring an interim order suspending the enactment of the Gazette issued by the Ex-sports minister suspending the registration of the SLR with the Ministry of Sports. The interim order was issued by the Court of Appeal and is effective till June 30, according to news reports.

Illyas said that he hopes that there would be a free and fair election.

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