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SLR must put players in a bio bubble



Sri Lanka’s national players haven’t had international exposure at any form of rugby for a long time due to the present pandemic

by a Special Sports Correspondent

Sri Lanka’s sports scene is similar to a hatchling stepping into the world. Like the newborn learning to cope with new territory, Sri Lanka’s sportsmen and women have to carefully tread wherever they go due to the pandemic that’s raging.

Compared to other sports our rugby players have done little to get their training off the ground during this challenging environment. For their ill luck the inter-club rugby sevens tournament became a nonstarter because Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF), a co host of the event, announced that it wasn’t in a position to go ahead with the tournament because of the pandemic. The tournament was to be organised by SLAF under the supervision of Sri Lanka Rugby (SLR) to celebrate the former’s 70th anniversary. Most club players who committed themselves even went into a bio bubble to prepare for the tournament. But all efforts channeled towards having a much needed rugby event proved futile in the end.

On the administration side of the equation there is SLR President Rizly Illyas who is struggling to kick start rugby events in the island. Just the other day he was quoted in the newspapers stating that Sri Lanka had received hosting rights for two Asian Rugby Sevens tournaments. However what catches the eye of this writer is a comment Illyas made regarding the announcement of the two tournaments. The SLR President says he is aware of the challenges posed by the pandemic to conduct a tournament of such magnitude. But most importantly he adds ‘We can’t sit back and wait’. That thought can create the platform to launch future rugby activities.

To conduct an international rugby tournament SLR needs the support of the Sports Ministry and Ministry of Health. According to informed sources Illyas is not enjoying the best of support from ‘other influential parties’ who can help the first rugby tournament to get off the ground after rugger activities came to a stop several months ago.

Rugby can take a cue from cricket, badminton, table tennis, chess and athletics. The national cricketers are making tours abroad and continue to be reimbursed despite the pandemic developing into a third wave and disrupting human life activities.

According to sources the majority of domestic rugby players are not getting remunerated hence the difficulty in getting them into a bio bubble and have an international tournament. Unlike the national cricketers the country’s best rugby players are owned by the clubs and not by the rugby controlling body. The SLR has to get its first rugby activity off the ground for the year 2021. Compared to rugby, which is starving, the international cricket calendar is chockablock. SLC CEO Ashley de Silva was quoted in newspapers saying that Sri Lanka hosting the Asia Cup would be put back, due to the pandemic, till late as after the 2023 cricket World Cup. This he says is because the national cricket teams of all countries have a packed schedule.

Even sports must be viewed from a human angle. As much as sports administrators use psychology to motivate players these players must be encouraged when sports activities have come to a standstill. They can take a cue from the Sunera Foundation, founded by Sunethra Bandaranaike. The foundation conducts workshops for differently abled persons. Workshops are conducted so that participants are able to feel, be seen and can express themselves in a creative manner. Rugby players must be made to feel that they are wanted and given opportunities to express themselves through sports.

From the perspective of player wellbeing Sri Lanka Badminton conducted an online fitness programme for the players titled ‘keep shuttle fit’. National coaches and players, members of the ‘challenge pool’ and junior players took part in the programme conducted in the mornings on weekdays. Even a sedentary sport like chess has got off the ground and the country’s national players are at present contesting the Asian Continental Chess Championship via online participation. Sri Lanka’s chances are carried at this chess tournament by Ranindu Liyanage, Minul Sanjula, L.M.S.T de Silva and Theekshan Dinuwan. The tournament is held from May 20-30.

All sports draw ‘oxygen’ form the National Olympic Committee (NOC). This is because the NOC facilitates travel of sportsmen and women to events like the Olympic Games, Asian Games and Commonwealth Games. A top NOC official has been quoted in the newspapers that plans are underway to field teams for the Commonwealth Games (UK) and Asian Games (China). The NOC is concerned about how the Sri Lankans will perform, hence the committee has said that it wishes to see two sets of players being sent for the two events to enhance medal prospects and limit injuries.

In any given situation what matters is not how challenging the situation is, but how big the person put in charge of the situation is. All national sports bodies must have an innovative and determined president to make sure their respective sports don’t lose players. Just the other day we read in newspapers that some of our national cricketers are contemplating premature retirement because of reduced payments to them. But the SLC has made alternate plans to reimburse players with the best available paying scheme. The idea is to keep the players in the game during difficult times. Given the present situation this writer hears of a sad story from the south. A known rugby coach is now undertaking home painting contracts in the absence of any money coming his way from rugby coaching. There is another rugby coach, possessing a bike license, who has taken up transporting food and has signed up with a food delivery company.

Going down memory lane to the late 1980s most defence establishments allowed their players to represent domestic clubs in SLR conducted tournaments at a time when the JVP insurgents threatened security forces personnel with death if they didn’t quit their places of employment. Careers of many rugby players were saved as a result of far thinking by the SLR (Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union back then).

The SLR has to come to the fore and sign contacts with players with the motive of putting them in a bio bubble when future international tournaments approach. This is the best time for the SLR to break the monopoly on players by clubs and look to the future and escape from the pandemic blues.

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Decision on Asia Cup venue postponed to March 2023



A final decision on whether Pakistan will host the 2023 Asia Cup is now expected in March, after an Asian Cricket Council (ACC) meeting in Bahrain failed to reach a breakthrough. They will meet again in a month’s time, around the next set of ICC meetings.

The uncertainty around the 2023 Asia Cup began in October when the ACC president, and BCCI secretary, Jay Shah said it will be held in a neutral venue because India can’t travel to Pakistan.

The PCB took particular exception to that and ESPNCricinfo understands that on Saturday their chief Najam Sethi told Shah that if India don’t play in Pakistan, Pakistan will consider not playing in India for the 2023 World Cup.

This has led to the deadlock which needs revisiting in March when the ICC and ACC meetings take place one after the other. The issues across tournaments, in the PCB’s views, are the same, whether it is the Asia Cup, the 2023 World Cup or the 2025 Champions Trophy, to be staged in Pakistan. Depending on what happens in those March meetings – and the PCB is likely to go in again with the same stance – a decision may be left to the Pakistan government to take a call on.

In addition, all ACC members are believed to have been asked to seek their own government’s positions on whether their teams could travel to Pakistan. *The PCB, however, clarified with a statement on Sunday, that “no such matters were raised in the meeting, nor did any member indicate any intention to seek government clearance for playing in Pakistan”.

The PCB added: “Sri Lanka has recently visited Pakistan in 2017 and 2019, while Bangladesh has toured Pakistan in 2020. In the 2023-2027 Future Tours Programme (FTP), which has been agreed and announced by all ICC Members, Afghanistan Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have confirmed their tours to Pakistan.”

After years of isolation following the 2009 attack on Sri Lanka’s team bus in Lahore, Pakistan has returned to hosting international cricket regularly over the last three years, with nearly all full members (other than India) visiting the country for red- and white-ball cricket.

Pakistan-India ties have deteriorated over the years as a result of stormy political relations between the two countries. India and Pakistan have not played each other in a bilateral series since 2012-13, when Pakistan toured India for a limited-overs series. Their encounters have been limited to ICC and ACC events, and while the Indian men’s team has not played any match in Pakistan since 2008, Pakistan last travelled to India for the 2016 T20 World Cup.

The PCB is intent in its stance of hosting the 2023 Asia Cup with Sethi saying in January, “whatever the stance is, it will be according to the interests of Pakistan.”

The ACC executive board also approved the inclusion of teams from Japan and Indonesia in the ACC pathway tournaments and ratified ACC’s calendar of activities for the financial years 2023 and 2024.


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Jurgen Klopp: I’m ‘angry, disappointed’ after latest Liverpool defeat



Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said he has no explanation for his side’s 3-0 defeat at Wolves on Saturday, adding he was “angry” and “disappointed.”

Relegation-threatened Wolves humiliated the Merseyside club at Molineux with Craig Dawson, Ruben Neves scoring after a Joel Matip own goal.The result means that Liverpool have only secured one win in seven games in all competitions since the turn of the year.

“Obviously it was a horrible start. Two goals which cannot happen like that,” Klopp told Premier League Productions after the game. “But it happened and we were 2-0 down because of our own fault. We should have defended better. We were passive in that period. I cannot explain it. There is no excuse for it.

“You’re 2-0 down, the crowd is there but it opens up and we get some control. Then for about 45 minutes we play a good away game without scoring. That sums it up pretty much.

“Concentration for the first 15 minutes. Again, I cannot explain. But these 15 minutes cannot be allowed. It needs to change.

“That’s the thing. I stand here again and for the first 15 minutes I have no explanation, I’m sorry. In the end we lost 3-0 because the goal in the second half was perhaps the first time they crossed the halfway line. But it’s right because when you start like this you don’t deserve anything in a Premier League game.

“We have to change it immediately in the next game. Everton won today and they are in a good moment so we have to prove a point again. For the moment, I’m so disappointed and angry about the first 15 minutes, I can’t find the words for it. Then we have chances we should score. It could have been 2-1 and that would have changed everything I’m sure. Wolves deserve the three points.

“Yes, definitely. That’s clear. We cannot go through that season that nobody did before but how long do we want to suffer? It is one explanation in general yes, but not for the first 15 minutes here today. What we make of it in this moment is absolutely not OK.”

After coming close to a historic quadruple last season, where they won two domestic cups and were runners-up in both the Champions League and Premier League, Klopp’s injury-hit side have struggled this term.

The result was the first time in a decade that Liverpool have lost three consecutive Premier League away games.

They have conceded more goals in the Premier League this season — 28 in 21 games — than they did in the whole of last season and remain 21 points behind Arsenal at the top.

“Same as the other games, we have no consistency at all through the 90 minutes, focused and doing what we have to do on the pitch fighting,” Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson said after the game.

“First 15 minutes we started the game not in a good way and we got punished for that. Conceding two goals, we are not in a good situation. They are confident, we tried, did a good second half but conceded again. Completely frustrated.

“Looks like in the game we went two steps behind then we make one step forward, we need to do more steps because of the results. Step forward was the second-half performance, two completely different sides first and second half. We have to take that for the next game and using the chances we have and stop conceding the silly goals.”


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Why no Independence Cup?  



By Rex Clementine 

When Sri Lanka turned 50, our heroes were Aravinda de Silva, Susanthika Jayasinghe, Nanda Malini and Victor Ratnayake and the Rupee was 60 to the USD. When Sri Lanka turned 75, our heroes remain the same but the Rupee has hit a whooping 370 to the Dollar. What Independence Day celebrations you may ask for a nation that has gone from pillar to post having become the laughing stock going around the world with a begging bowl.

Usually, when you travel to India for cricket, the locals come to you and ask, ‘How is Aravinda,’ ‘How is Arjuna’, ‘How is Duleep’, ‘How is Roy,”. This time around the Indians had only one question? ‘How is the situation in Sri Lanka now.’

For Sri Lanka’s golden jubilee independence celebrations in 1998, SLC put up a grand show hosting a tri-nation series involving India and New Zealand. Those days for sports sponsorships the go to man was Hemaka Amarasuriya. He came up with a generous sponsorship and the tournament was known as Singer Akai Nidahas Trophy.

It was one of the best cricket events held in Sri Lanka. India defeated Sri Lanka by six runs in the final and Aravinda’s century nearly took the team over the line. His dismissal triggered a sensational collapse as India snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.  A few people have some unkind things to say about the game conveniently forgetting it’s a game of great uncertainties. They also forget that Sri Lanka won the title the previous year when India had organized their Independence Cup. It was an event where India failed to make it to the finals.

In the best of three finals, Sri Lanka beat Pakistan in Mohali and Calcutta and the third final wasn’t even required. For the 70th independence celebrations too a Nidahas Trophy was organized at RPS in 2018.  The event brought a financial windfall for SLC although the team flopped not being able to make it to the finals in the T20 event. Sri Lanka lost a tensed game against Bangladesh and were knocked out. Yes, Shakib Al Hasan, broken dressing room windows and all, For the finals, RPS witnessed something very unusual. In Sri Lanka, Indian players have received little support over the years but that night every Sri Lankan wanted India to win. Bangladesh had the game in the bag but Dinesh Karthik became an instant hero with a last ball six. It was a final to be cherished.

Sadly for the 75th independence celebrations this time around, there’s no cricket event that has been mooted. Had India organized something last year to mark their 75th independence, our cricket bosses would have got excited.  But India’s priorities have changed and international cricket events hardly excites them anymore. They have a cash machine in IPL and the women’s IPL is set to bring them new riches as well. That’s their focus.

As for us, conducting an Independence Cup will help boost our finances especially if we are able to bring India down. A two week white ball tournament will create much interest, help small businesses and tourism will benefit too. SLC has been late in not being able to organize anything. But it’s better late than never.

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