How will the Galle Face protest philosophy influence our sports? | Print Edition

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Boys are seen engaging in a football game. Image by: Akila Jayawardena

Truth is an uncomfortable context. A bunch of children who founded an institution called “GotaGoGama” (GGG) in Sri Lanka’s famous countryside have raised the spirit of a dying population, the tenet that truth shall ultimately prevail. It’s almost declared a surreal king who thought that victory in war would entail the blatant destruction of a land called paradise, and gave timely notice to all who infest the sacred precincts of the state legislature that a new moral code wafts over that desolate land!

The message is crystal clear; “We shall no longer take the excrement so boastfully offered as manna from above”. This brave gathering of people from all walks of life intends to keep dictating that it’s the man in the street and the boys in the field that count. Your vote should represent the longing of the citizens, who have long been deceived by promises that have never been kept and hold out as long as a bulky voting queue.

The local sports heaven did not go unnoticed. Our international icons expressed their solidarity and spoke with a distinctive voice. The National Sports Council (NSC) quickly disintegrated, even when a second-level sports minister was appointed to regroup and keep the game going.

But the message brooked no ambiguity. Standing together on stage and online, they identified with the mass uprising that all was not well in this godforsaken country. Merit was no longer a measure of honor. It had instead become a twisting, twisting, cantankerous distortion of the method and talent that would otherwise have to define our sport. With meager resources and an acute shortage of dollars, the Department of Sport (MoS) or its subordinate departments have done little to announce a revised policy that must apply at this difficult time. All the sporting ex-minister did was dissolve legitimate rugby union as the final roll of the dice before leaving office and seceding from the government of the day.

The National Olympic Committee (NOC) has upped the ante in its preparation for the Commonwealth Games (CWG). His president lightly implied that those who can afford will go, not necessarily those who qualify. So it was obvious that the usual juggernaut was ready to descend on Birmingham. Cricket and rugby have the stated funds while the others rely on benevolent sponsors.

No sooner had this edict been issued than two villains paid a late-night visit to the NOC Secretary’s home and abused him before driving off in his own car, which was later found abandoned. Certainly an act that should not be condoned by any organization, let alone the country’s athletes. Therefore, it is incumbent on both the MoS and NOC to make a joint statement on who will go to the CWG (the Asian Games are now postponed).

Shouldn’t it be a nominal representation in such a situation? Can’t we limit the full quota to the President or Secretary, the Chef-de-Mission and any qualified NSF depending on the size of their respective teams? That will set the tone for who needs to go if Sri Lanka chooses to maintain its participation in the CWG.

Of course, the money bags remain. Several sports federations do not have such concerns. Boxing, which is in constant dispute with the NOC, or badminton, for example, which have big sponsors, where money doesn’t play a big role even in these desolate times. The boxzar might want to flaunt his new IBA status, but IOC recognition remains in denial.

In a recent press release, badminton fans advocated allowing only two events; men’s doubles and mixed doubles. They bemoaned the need for a full contingent, including an old grandmaster. Three athletes and one coach would be adequate, they argue? Many other sports obviously face the same temptation to beg, borrow and leave, but they all have to come to terms with this new reality.

On another front, take the gimmicks of soccer. The President faces a series of legal challenges and the suspension of the Extraordinary General Meeting to adopt a new constitution. Again, money doesn’t seem to be an issue, as former Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) Rasputin(s) has long proclaimed.

The last international coach was kicked up and then sent home on the serious condition that funds were not available. Now comes the hooray; an unabashed announcement that three new coaches have been appointed with funds from Qatar’s Aspire Foundation.

Reminiscent of the heyday of a football supremo whose constant scuffles with another Qatari led to life bans. So much for so little; corrupt misconduct that the MoS must fight with greater vigour, if our sport is to adorn a veneer of seriousness.

Sri Lanka faces great difficulties. So these usual train cars need to be discouraged. Corruption in sport must be discouraged and those responsible identified and shamed. Zero tolerance is the need of the hour. The National Selectors need to step on the gas and get rid of the fat that’s always in the air!

The MoS and the NOC must work together and run together. This is the transparency Galle Face protesters are demanding. Cut out the deadwood and stick to the basics. Sri Lanka cannot accommodate the extravagance that has been our way of life. Sport must take the lead in this new wave of national responsibility.

The NOC must timely publish the names and titles of those accredited to go to CWG. Sri Lankan football needs to be more transparent. These actions will dispel the notion of followers and show that our symbolic presence in Birmingham is well thought out and justified.

Certainly not the work of the manipulations and stratagems that are common practice. At the time of writing this essay, a new Secretary of Sports may be based on Reid Avenue. His task will be to beat the bouncer to the stands! Remember, the protesters are watching and waiting.

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