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Sajith: Small steps can help win big



by Reemus Fernando

Respected track and field coach Sajith Jayalal, the guru behind the success of highest ranked Sri Lankan athlete, believes that achieving tough Olympic qualifying standards is a matter of proper management of athletes and coordination of a diverse range of professionals from psychologists, nutritionists to doctors to get the best out of top athletes. “You don’t need big investments on infrastructure to achieve top performances. You can leap-frog to top international standards without being stagnated at Asian level if you can make available the services of professionals who can address nutritional, health, psychological and other issues of athletes,” said Jayalal in an interview with The Island.

Jayalal who is also the Director of the National Institute of Sports Sciences has trained numerous athletes to excel at international level and is the coach of steeplechaser Nilani Ratnayake who has come closer to achieving Olympic qualifying standards in track and field sports. In the absence of her pet event Ratnayake clinched two golds in her supporting events (1,500m, 5,000m) at the last South Asian Games.

“Look at the number of professionals working around athletes winning at Asian level. There is the coach, the officials from the federation, physio, psychologist, nutritionist and many others. These professionals work together to improve standards. I urge authorities to get involved to make this happen here. The coach is isolated here. You don’t need to spend big to achieve this,” Jayalal opined.

“At junior level, a coach can play several roles but at elite level it is different. You need only to have a system in place. I have under me several athletes who win at Asian level. There are others who train such athletes. If they can obtain the support of these professionals I have mentioned, Sri Lanka can win big,” said Jayalal.

“Coach should do the technical part. The training part. There are people who are willing to support without monetary gain. I am speaking as a coach not as the Director of an institution attached to the ministry of Sports. I am coaching because I have a burning desire to do that. I am not paid for coaching. There are people like that. Doctors, nutritionists and others who are willing to help. What we need is that help. Not money. What we need is the mechanism to bring these resource persons together to support elite athletes.

Jayalal also stressed the importance of managing athletes and their affairs. “I have had enough talented athletes but there was no one to manage them apart from me. There should be someone from the Association to manage the athletes in the elite pool. There should be a qualified individual to do that. For example I am not willing to send my athletes to Colombo from Boralanda even for a meeting conducted by Sri Lanka Athletics if that meeting falls during a peak training week. By sending my athletes I will be ruining the whole build up to that week. Since my athlete is not coming to the meeting, some other athlete in Colombo also takes that as an excuse to skip the meeting. I have to negotiate with the head of Sri Lanka Athletics to resolve matters. These matters should be taken care of by a manager. Managing these is a different area when it comes to elite level.”

Absence of quality and safe supplements for recovery has been the bone of contention. The veteran coach stressed the importance of regulating supplements. “We are afraid of taking protein supplements because there are no safe places to purchase them. If we do not provide athletes with correct nutrients and legal means of obtaining them then they will opt to take what ever available. There should be some responsible institution or company who could be trusted to provide pure protein supplements not contaminated with banned substances.”

Sajith Jayalal has dozens of his elite athletes engaged in high altitude training at Boralanda where the climatic conditions remain dry making it possible to maintain an uninterrupted training programme compared to Nuwara Eliya. While Ratnayake is based in Diyatalawa with Sri Lanka Army looking after the well-being of the athlete, some of his other elite athletes are housed at a rented place in Boralanda.

Speaking on Sri Lanka’s prospects of qualifying for Olympics Jayalal had this to say.

“Olympic qualifying standard have become tough. But if we prepare strategically we can qualify in several events. We can have hopes on the mix relay. Qualifying in the 100 metres relays will be really tough. According to what we observed before the lock down we had a chance in 400 metres relays. If we manage the athletes properly we can have hopes of qualifying. Hiruni Wijeratne (marathoner) is already doing well in the US. Then we have Sumeda Ranasinghe (javelin thrower), Nilani Ratnayake, even the two women’s 800 metres runners (Gayanthika Abeyratne and Nimali Liyanarachchi). Though the qualifying standards is high if they can break the national record they might come closer achieving entry standards. Then we have the men’s long jumpers. If five of our athletes could qualify for Olympics then we can build on that to succeed at regional international events. Coaches should work hard to achieve that.”

Lack of quality competitions had hampered the preparation of many a top level athlete in the past. The prevailing health issues around the world emanating from the Covid 19 pandemic has worsened the situation preventing the possibilities of taking part in competitions overseas in the immediate future. Jayalal said that tough competitions were necessary to improve standards. “We do not have proper competitions. We get Singapore Open or Thailand Open. We don’t get challenged at those races. We win by big leads there. For the elite athletes we need tough competitions. Where we get beaten. We must compete in competitions in Kazakhstan, Bahrain and India and if possible events in the European circuit where we can strive to be among the first five.”

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Now, Bangladesh ask for three day quarantine



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



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



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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