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No doping control at junior track and field competitions yet

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by Reemus Fernando

The 2019 Junior National Athletics Championship witnessed 20 new meet records being established in various age categories. The All Island Schools Games athletics Championship also registered an outstanding number of 49 new records last year. Standards of junior athletics keep improving and at times juniors have come close to matching the feats of their senior counterparts. However many have raised eyebrows over outstanding athletics performances of juniors as the junior competitions continue to be held without doping controls.

Recently Olympian and prominent sprint coach Sunil Gunawardena alleged that a few track and field coaches of top level athletes and even schools athletes were ruining their careers by promoting controversial supplements.

At present Sri Lanka Anti Doping Agency (SLADA) conducts tests only on a limited number of schools sports. Though SLADA considers track and field sport as one of the vulnerable sports it does not conduct doping tests during junior competitions. Schools rugby is probably the only schools sport that SLADA puts its full strength into to conduct regular tests.

Schools track and field athletes had been found positive for banned substances on two occasions during a span of eight years. But on both occasions they were tested when they were competing alongside seniors at senior competitions and not at junior meets.

In 2012, an up and coming sprinter who won the men’s 100 metres at the National Championship while still attending school was banned for using performance enhancing drugs. He produced several outstanding performances, including meet records at schools competitions in the run up to that National Championship. It took another six years for the next schools athlete to be tested positive for a banned substance. Does that mean the schools athletics has been clean? A female athlete from the Southern Province too was tested during a senior championship, when she was representing her province at the National Sports Festival in 2018. She too produced outstanding performances at schools competitions in the run up to the National Sports Festival. Her case is still being argued at an Appeals Committee.

Athletic enthusiasts considered it as the tip of the iceberg but schools competitions continued to be conducted without doping control. Why is SLADA not conducting doping tests at junior track and field competitions? According to Dr. Seevali Jayawickreme, Director General of SLADA the large number of schools and participants involved in track and field sports is making it difficult for his institution to complete the education process, which is a pre-requisite, before conducting dope tests at schools competitions.

SLADA informs Masters in Charge of Rugby at schools and players about doping control procedures before the competitions starts and it also has the player information available with them before the events.

SLADA is discussing with the National Institute of Education to include a study on anti-doping into the schools curriculum within the next couple of years. But even after it is included in the school curriculum, SLADA will need the support of the Ministry of Education, Departments of Education of Provinces, Sri Lanka Athletics and the Sri Lanka Schools Athletics Association to ensure that all officials and athletes are made aware of the doping control procedures. Only then that the Junior Track and Field competitions could to be conducted under doping control.

An effort has to be put in to coordinate these institutions to make doping control possible at competitions involving schools athletes. Will SLADA take the initiative to do that?



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Sports

Dilshi stamps her class with national record

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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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Sports

COPE; a toothless tiger?

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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  

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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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