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National Athletics Championship disciplines prioritized for Olympic hopefuls

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by Reemus Fernando

Sri Lanka Athletics published on Wednesday the list of eligible athletes for the first stage of the 99th National Athletics Championship which will be held on May 22 and 23. The track and field governing body has prioritized nine disciplines for the first stage with the hope of giving Olympic hopefuls a final chance to achieve qualifying standards as the cutoff date for entries nears.

On Wednesday Sri Lanka Athletics picked five women’s events, namely the 3,000 metres steeplechase, 800 metres, 400 metres, 100 metres and javelin and four men’s disciplines, the 100 metres, 400 metres, long jump and javelin for the first leg. They are the disciplines where some of the country’s leading athletes have the chance to reach qualifying standards for the Tokyo Olympics.

The time is running out for Sri Lanka Athletics to identify athletes who have reached qualifying standards for the quadrennial event.

On Sunday Sri Lanka Athletics Executive Committee decided to conduct the 99th National Championship during four weekends starting from May 22 and 23 to minimize the number of athletes per day per venue due to the spread of the Covid 19 pandemic. Sri Lanka Athletics announced only the eligible list of athletes for the first stage (May 22, 23) yesterday and did not comment on the fate of the other three stages.

Women’s steeplechaser Nilani Ratnayake and men’s high jumper Ushan Thivanka are currently on the threshold of earning entry standards for the Olympics. The US based Thivanka cleared 2.30 metres to establish a new Sri Lanka record in the men’s high jump on Saturday in Texas. While he is fast improving his world ranking (48) a performance of 2.33 metres would make him eligible as a direct qualified athlete. He will be competing in meets in the USA.

Ratnayake has to clock 9:30.00 seconds if she is to earn direct qualification, though she is currently ranked within the required range to be eligible to earn a berth through world rankings.

Rio Olympic participant Sumeda Ranasinghe and former national record holder Waruna Dayaratne are in the list to try their chances in the men’s javelin. Ranasinghe too has high hopes as he has remained among the top ranked athletes in the world.

Dilshi Kumarasinghe who created a new national record in the women’s 800 metres at the last Athletics trial will vie for honours against former champion Nimali Liyanarachchi and Gayanthika Abeyratne and schools athlete Shanika Lakshani. Only seven athletes are eligible to compete in this event.

Men’s and women’s 100 metres and men’s 400 are the only track events where semi finals and finals are likely to be held. Janaka Prasad Wimalasiri in the men’s long jump and Olympian Nadeeka Lakmali and Dilhani Lekamge in the women’s javelin are the top contenders in their respective events.



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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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