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Of Sports Schools and schools sports

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The absence of infrastructure at Ratnayake Central was compensated by well laid out individualized training plans for each sports scholarship holder. It was the key to Ratnayake Central dominating All Island Schools Games.

by Reemus Fernando

Introduced to the education structure with the objective of nurturing future sportsmen and women of Sri Lanka, the two dozen Sports Schools doting the island from north to south have lasted three decades without going through a proper scrutiny. Names of majority of Sports Schools are not even heard of when the All Island Schools Games are held annually. While semi government, private and international schools have gone on to dominate school sports, some half a dozen Sports Schools have survived the gross negligence of education authorities and storms of change that have swept through the schools set up during the last two decades to perform relatively well.

The success of these few schools were purely due to the dedication of a few qualified individuals who had gone out of their way to uplift standards. With the Education Ministry and the Sports Ministry preparing to upgrade the standard of Sports Schools around the country it should be noted that while addressing the infrastructure needs, emphasis should also be given to appoint qualified and dedicated officials to take responsibilities of these institutions.

When the Sports Schools were started in 1989 with the Ibbagamuwa Central as the first such school the project was overseen by an Education Ministry official who had obtained his sports education qualifications from a reputed institution in Germany. The decisions relating to physical education and sports in the Ministry of Education had his influence. Results were available to see in the form of success in athletics at Asian level during the late 90s and early 2000s with athletes who came through that system later graduating with the help of top level coaches. Ministry of Education has a handful of qualified individuals who are operating as instructors or coaches but at decision making level they do not have a say.

Infrastructure verses qualified officials

Ratnayake Central Walala, the only Sports School to have maintained the supremacy in track and field sports right throughout does not have a proper ground to date, not even a proper 200 metres track. The absence of infrastructure was compensated by well laid out individualized training plan for each sports scholarship holder. Susantha Fernando who was instrumental in guiding the destiny of many top level athletes also had an eye for talent identification and made sure the school had a continuous supply of raw talent every year. The school boasts of Asian Junior Athletics Championships medallists to Olympic participants to South Asian Games medallists. Fernando’s training was responsible for the majority of medals won at the last South Asian Games as well.

Sumana Balika, Ratnapura was probably the next best Sports School in the girls category taking in to consideration the number of times the school became runners-up to Ratnayake Central. Once again it was the coaching qualifications of an individual that mattered. Sumana Balika excelled as long as R.B. Palitha was their instructor. Seevali Central the other Sports School of Ratnapura had a similar experience. They could dominate as long as Palitha was their mentor.

Henegama Central did well during Prabath Fernando’s stint and Rajasinghe Central is the only Sports School in the Western Province to maintain its stature as a Sports School with Jayalal Ratnasuriya, a qualified World Athletics coach overseeing the progress of its athletes. Vijitha Central, Dickwella and Kuliyapitiya Central are among few other Sports Schools to have made their presence felt during the last several years.

No amount of infrastructure development can make a Sports School competitive. Once a stronghold of Sri Lanka’s national sport, volleyball, the name of Sports School Senanayake MV, Madampe is hardly heard these days. Ibbagamuwa Central, the first Sports School is not functioning though the school’s instructor trains a few high jumpers. Some of the 23 Sports Schools are either not operating at all or are performing below par. Had there been qualified individuals in the Ministry of Education to scrutinies these institutions.

Talent identification failures and emergence of private schools

One of the brightest prospects to emerge from the schools system during the last few years is Asian Junior Athletics Championship gold medallist Aruna Dharshana. Hailing from Seruwila, Trincomalee, Dharshana bypassed several Sports Schools in two other districts to find refuge at Weera Keppetipola MV, Akuramboda. He was lucky to have the guidance of Asanka Rajakaruna at that Sports School. Wasn’t there a system to identify his talent at his home place? Trincomalee is home to two Sports Schools.

While the standards of Sports Schools were crumbling, a good number of private and government schools had given priority to sports and athletics in particular. A number of schools in Colombo and Kandy and International Schools elsewhere started investing heavily on sports during the last one and half decades. Sports training at these schools are no longer overseen by officials attached to Ministry of Education. For example, the track and field coach of a leading government school in Colombo is a sports officer of the Ministry of Sports and a qualified World Athletics coach and instructor. These schools have been responsible in producing many athletes to represent Sri Lanka at junior Asian and junior World level. The emergence of these schools has also given rise to an unprecedented talent exodus from outstations.

A particular school in Colombo launched a recruitment drive during the last three years to an extent that that school now has the luxury of winning the All Island Schools track and field title with their second string. Some of these schools hellbent on winning have gone on to the extent of jeopardizing the education of these recruits from outstations. Many junior athletes recruited from outstations find themselves out of place in the midst of their English-speaking classmates and hardly attend classes. They are guaranteed jobs when they are recruited and find education non essential. To be continued…………….. 

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Now, Bangladesh ask for three day quarantine

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by Rex Clementine

Sri Lanka Cricket has been left with Hobson’s choice and postpone the three match Test series against Bangladesh after their cricket board had informed on Friday that they are willing to follow only three days of quarantine in Colombo ahead of the series.

Earlier, Bangladesh had informed SLC that they were willing to do only seven days of quarantine as opposed to two weeks of mandatory quarantine stipulated by the Health Ministry.

Sunday Island

learns that SLC had reached an agreement with Health Ministry to reduce the quarantine days to seven and then send all players and support staff into ‘a bubble’ and resume training ahead of the series.

However, with the tourists asking for a further reduction of quarantine days, there are doubts that the series will take place as expected next month. They are already in quarantine in Dhaka.

“We will know what are the guidelines the Health Ministry wants us to follow by Monday, but we don’t think that three days of quarantine is feasible. We know that the Health Ministry and the Task Force established to battle COVID-19 have done a terrific job in containing the pandemic and need to follow their guidelines,” an SLC official told Sunday Island.

“The problem is one of the Bangladesh players and a member of the support staff have been tested positive and we get the feeling the Health Ministry would not want to take any chances. So we will wait and see”

Bangladesh batsman Saif Hassan and trainer Nick Lee were tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this week. Interestingly, Lee was Sri Lanka’s trainer until recently before he joined Bangladesh.

The guidelines that Health Ministry issues to resume international cricket will be passed onto other cricket playing nations who are set to play bilateral series in Sri Lanka. SLC officials were not too sure whether they would be able to have any international cricket this year.

The Board however is confident that the inaugural Lanka Premier League tournament will take place as scheduled in November. SLC said that good progress is being made in organizing the event and a grand show is expected in November.

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“Crysbro Next Champ” join forces with NOC to empower young athletes

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Under the agreement, Crysbro will serve as the sponsor for 20 deserving athletes scouted by NOCSL, with potential to qualify for the Youth Olympic Games 2022, Asian Games 2022, Commonwealth Games 2022, and South Asian Games 2021.(Pic by Jude Denzil Pathiraja)

As part of its ongoing mission to empower and support the aspirations of young people in rural Sri Lanka, poultry producer Crysbro signed a landmark MOU with the National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka (NOCSL) to launch the ‘NOCSL-CRYSBRO Next Champ’ scholarship programme. The objective of this magnanimous partnership is to uplift talented young Sri Lankan athletes to the international sports arena.

Under the agreement, Crysbro will serve as the sponsor for 20 deserving athletes scouted by NOCSL, with potential to qualify for the Youth Olympic Games 2022, Asian Games 2022, Commonwealth Games 2022, and South Asian Games 2021.

Sri Lanka’s living athletic legend, Olympic medal winner, Susanthika Jayasinghe praised the National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka for joining hands with Crysbro in this multimillion rupee sponsorship to empower and support deserving athletes from Sri Lanka’s rural settings.

“We are extremely honoured to join forces with the National Olympic Committee to unearth and groom the future torch bearers of Sri Lankan sports. While it is certainly rewarding to help these young athletes realize their aspirations of winning a medal at these games, our primary focus will be on supporting the journey, the strategy, and the holistic development of each athlete which involves a combination of physical, mental, and psychological training. However, at the core of this initiative, is a deep desire to elevate the experiences of many resilient Sri Lankan athletes in rural areas with big dreams but with very little financial backing to make them a reality,” Crysbro Senior Marketing Manager Amores Sellar said.

In addition, this partnership will see the launch of an online portal, which for the very first time in Sri Lanka will enable members of the public to financially sponsor rural athletes, school sports associations, and sports clubs and chambers. All funds collected through this portal will be fully disbursed to the entities they were contributed, a process carefully overlooked and strictly managed by NOCSL.

The scholarships will cover costs such as nutrition, transportation costs, coaching fees, accommodation, logistics such as clothing, sports gear, and medical expenses necessary for the training, grooming and development of each selected athlete. The programme will also give athletes access to a combination of high-value tools and world-class mentors, including foreign training exposures.

“Our partnership with Crysbro offers a unique opportunity for home grown athletes to succeed in the global arena. Over the course of two years, they will have access to numerous tools that will assuage the challenges they may face due to inherent financial and situational constraints, and flourish in a sustainable support system that identifies, nurtures, and maximizes their potential. We are excited to kick off this venture as one which would undoubtedly contribute greatly to furthering the Nation’s agenda for sports,” stated National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka, Secretary General, Maxwell De Silva.

The ‘NOCSL-CRYSBRO Next Champ’ scholarship programme is phase-II of Crysbro’s ‘Next Champ’ scholarship programme, which up to date has groomed and supported the dreams of 120 young athletes from the under-privileged regions of the country. The initiative has also successfully produced a collection of athletes who secured gold and silver medals at the recent South Asian Games in Nepal.

Crysbro Next Champ not only recognizes and rewards young sporting talent from all corners of the country, but also budding athletes from multiple sporting disciplines with guidance from experts on aspects such as proper training methods and a suitable diet. The project’s founding vision sought to bolster Crysbro’s already significant social contribution as a key pillar of the country’s rural economy plus creating sporting opportunities and promoting the message of staying physically and mentally active.

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Dean Jones – Sri Lanka’s friend indeed

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by Rex Clementine

The Aussies were in Galle for the first Test of the series in 2004 and Dean Jones joked in commentary. He said that it took him less than four hours from Singapore to Katunayake but five hours to get to Galle from Katunayake! He was driving home some pertinent points. Travel in Sri Lanka before the highway days was a nightmare. Sri Lanka Cricket did not raise objections with the television company that employed Jones nor did the Sports Ministry. His criticism was well taken by all and sundry. Jones didn’t mince any words. He was a bold critic. As The Island’s former Editor Mr. Gamini Weerakoon used to say, ‘A good journalist works with his resignation letter in the pocket.’

Jones was a huge fan of Sri Lanka. After the death of Tony Greig, he was an ideal ambassador to promote tourism and he did a splendid job. Some of his best moments in commentary came in Sri Lanka.

He earned the nickname of ‘Professor Deano’ for the pre-match show that he did during a triangular series in Dambulla. Jones was dressed as a Professor giving the pitch report and supporting him was up and coming actress Anarkali Akarsha, just 18-years-old. The show was a hit and fans took an immediate liking to both the ex-cricketer and budding actresses.

Not that his career was entirely smooth. During a Test match at P. Sara Oval in 2006, Ten Sports fired him while the day’s play was in progress for calling Hashim Amla a ‘terrorist’. Jones was off air but the microphone in the studio had picked his remark. He apologized immediately and was reinstated a few months later.

The fact that he was shortlisted to take over from Graham Ford in 2017 as the national cricket team’s Head Coach was a poorly kept secret by Sri Lanka Cricket. The Island asked him what would be the first thing he would do if he got the job. Jones said, ‘ban f***ing football during training.’ The Sri Lankan cricket team’s obsession to engage in a game of football as warm-up before a day’s play and training was frowned upon by many given the high number of injuries it was causing.

Jones was a fine batsman and in his generation only Viv Richards played one-day cricket better. A smart thinker of the game, it was Jones’ bright idea to run the extra run on the throw in the vast Australian grounds. He earned a reputation as an excellent runner between the wickets and when asked what was his secret, he replied, ‘just common sense.’ Soon, others followed the extra run on the throw theory while playing in Australia and it paid rich dividends.

His finest hour in the sport came in Test cricket though during the tied Madras Test in 1986. Jones made a double hundred and the scorching heat took a toll on him. He was vomiting and feeling uneasy but did not throw it away. At the end of his 210, Jones was hospitalized. Coach Bob Simpson said that it was the greatest innings played for Australia. His final Test match was played in Moratuwa in 1992.

Jones was in Bombay doing studio shows for host broadcaster on IPL games. The Island learns that he had gone for a run in the morning and was with former fast bowler Brett Lee when he suffered a severe heart attack in the seven star hotel lobby at lunch time. Lee desperately tried to save him with CPR after Jones collapsed but for no avail.

He was 59

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