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Rohan roars on rowing


Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Thursday, 13 September 2018 12:00


From left: Damith Subasinghe, Dimuth Gunawardena, Commander C. Wijesiri, Rohan Fernando, Sithira Wickramasekare, Reshane Fernando and Deva Henry at the AGM

 

Following is the President’s Report delivered by Amateur Rowing Association of Sri Lanka (ARASL) President Rohan Fernando on 11 September at the ARASL AGM

Good evening ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Annual General Meeting of the Amateur Rowing Association of Sri Lanka.

The purpose of the AGM is to present the reports on progress, approve the audited accounts for the financial year 2017 and elect office bearers for a two-year term, 2018 and 2019. 

Although the annual accounts were audited as usual, the recently-introduced regulations requiring the audited accounts to be certified by the Auditor General to give due notice of the meeting, delayed the AGM. 

The Ministry of Sports is reviewing these regulations to revert back to the earlier status quo together with new regulations to make the election process independent and transparent. 

General degeneration in sports administrationand standard

In the recent times we have witnessed a general degeneration in the way sports bodies are administered and the declining standard of sports. Media has been vociferous on these issues, often pointing out corruption and manipulative actions by persons with vested interest as main reasons. 

The recently-held Asian games is the best example, sending one of the largest contingents returning without a single medal. Many complaints are afloat on questionable selection of teams and officials bordering on Joy rides as paybacks for favours done. 

From what we see around us, wrong persons in wrong places has created this sad situation in sports. The clean-up of this mess has to begin from within the Ministry of Sports to the NOC and the NSFs. Immunity under the cover of IOC should not be tolerated for high handed activity sans transparency on the part of the NOC to waste money of the State and foreign donors.

Professional coaches, accredited judges, sports goods suppliers, bookmakers, media personnel and persons with siblings in competition are strictly barred from holding office in National Sports Federations. Key office bearers of sports organisations who have failed to submit annual accounts are also banned from holding any positions in any sports federation. 

But what we witness today is a blatant violation of laws of the land with scant respect even for the Judiciary. Persons who have not played a single sport move from one sports body to another, merely to hang on to positions in the apex body, the NOC by promising favours in return, amounting not only to foreign trips. 

Ethics and good governance compromised

It is sad that we live in a time where ethics and good governance in sports are compromised for personal benefits of individuals. Repeated complaints to the highest decision makers have fallen on deaf year and the rot continues. For a good majority, sports is no longer a passionate indulgence but a means to make money, launder black money and a path to climb the social ladder. 

The current Minister of Sports who vowed to clean the mess in sports is yet to wield the sword of justice. The committee he set up to investigate corruption and wrong doings in sports administration has enough submissions and evidence to recommend punitive action and we all wait in hope. Until then the only hope for genuine sports enthusiasts is to agitate through the media and continue with the campaign under the theme ‘Save Sports from Corruption’ backed by independent civil and HR activists and genuine sports persons. 

If the sports administrative structure is cleared of wrong precedence practiced in the past with Ministerial impunity we can for sure achieve the national target of producing athletes of medal winning capacity. Look at the humble netballers who stunned the Asian circuit by winning the championship. The captain and the star shooter from Jaffna visited me with their President, Trixie Nanayakkara, to request sponsorship and I am glad that I was able to convince the Minister of Sports to give them assistance. 

High altitude training centre

The other day I read in the newspapers that a high altitude training centre is being constructed in Nuwara Eliya at an enormous cost. This is a project coming down from two previous ministers and now being pursued by the present Minister. I have already warned the Minister to exercise caution as there may be persons with commission interest to make mince out of it.

At a time when high altitude training has evolved to simulated modules not needing altitude base training but could be positioned in many locations at much lesser a cost it will be a national crime to waste money without a fresh feasibility conducted. 

My personal knowledge based on a visit to Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban where a simulated high altitude pod is in operation and the latest information available in the internet confirm that high altitude training can be simulated even at sea level without having to spend large sums of money. I am also aware of our Rowing coaches adopting this technique at the Diyawanna Rowing Centre using basic equipment. 

Instead of spending money on building more sports stadiums and unproductive facilities costing billions of rupees, the Minister will be blessed for cleaning the rot in sports without fear or favour and allocating funds from the National sports budget for talent identification and scientific training of all registered sports with set KPIs whilst eliminating joy rides associated with international sporting events burdening the exchequer. 

It would also do good to have forensic audits into suspect accounts of sports organisations and punish the culprits according to legal statutes. Putting the horse before the cart is the need of the hour by cleaning the sport administrative structure first and installing qualified, respected and capable sports administrators in the NSFs and the NOC. The rest will fall into correct grove automatically, like a self-adjusting audio record.  

Progress and potential of rowing

Having dealt with sports in general and the debacle of national sports in particular I must place before the audience the progress of rowing, the potential of the sport in winning medals and the facilities we can offer to other sports to enhance endurance, discipline expand capacity of body and mind to create formidable athletes. 

Rowing has been practiced in Sri Lanka for over 150 years and it is one of the earliest Olympic sports introduced from the second episode of modern Olympic Games in 1900. The event in the first Olympic Games in 1896 was cancelled due to bad weather. FISA, the world governing body for rowing, is the oldest sports federation in the Olympic movement. 

What then happened to rowing in Sri Lanka introduced in 1864? For a good part of the 20th Century rowing was hidden away in a secluded location in Colombo with access to selected persons and schools. In 1964 when the ARASL was formed, there were very few persons involved in the sport. The ARASL gradually grew in stature and upgraded the format of rowing to the international specifications of 2000 metres. Today the association boasts of active participation by over 600 athletes representing over 20 affiliated institutions. 

Thanks  to the timely action of Gotabaya Rajapaksa the manmade Diyawanna rowing canal in the capital city where the National Rowing HQ are located is a hive of activity witnessed by the general public.

The progression of rowing from a positive perspective into the international scene took effect only during the recent times with committed participation from the defence services. Rowing being a sport not popular in the country compared to most other national level sports, finding sponsors is extremely difficult. Yet, we have achieved much, from limited resources, generated form rowing activities as well as from rowing enthusiasts with means to support the sport. 

A busy year

During the year under reference, the waterway was kept busy with activities. The training of the National pool of athletes continued year round to prepare participation at several local and international events. The high altitude training camp for rowers by courtesy the Chinese Rowing Association accommodated five top-end athletes and one coach. The Asian Junior championships were represented by our Junior rowers in Singapore. The Asian Rowing championships held in Thailand was attended by a full contingent of Rowers. The recently-concluded Asian Games in Indonesia was represented by one boat, a quadruple scull. 

From these international events, we were successful only in the Asian Rowing Championships where our crews reached the “A” finals. The Asian Games carried much hope on the back of the success from the Asian Rowing Championships but we were curtailed on our participation and even the reserve we requested for the quad scull was denied on a flimsy excuse. We had to be content with just one crew in one event out of 10 events and pin all hope on this singular opportunity whereas some of the NOC favourites were allowed to take large contingents. 

We would like answers from the NOC, National Selectors and the Ministry of Sports on what basis the selection of participation was made. If it was to provide an equal opportunity to all, we are fine with it but then how come some of the associations were bestowed with kid glove treatment whilst several mainstream NSF’s who were opposed to the wrong doings of the NOC were deprived of due placings. 

Despite all these, we are happy the rowing crew which represented Sri Lanka gave their best having endured much hardships in training as a crew only for three months. We are aware, the minimum required training as combinations is one year to shave off seconds over the long course. The winning Indian crew had such opportunity and facilities to click 6 minutes 11 seconds over 2,000 metres whilst our crew was 6 minutes 47 seconds, way behind but improved in terms of crew performance which we will consider as the benchmark for future training and participation. Our rowers are now matured and given the right training and facilities to build muscle and stamina they could achieve success. 

The National Rowing Squad was nurtured by a team of coaches and the crew selection was on a transparent format by an independent panel of selectors. After many years of evolvement we now have a strong platform to move forward with training and competition throughout the year. 

In the local scene, the sport has been kept alive with regular competitions between traditional school rivals, Royal-Thomian, Museaus/Ladies. The Defence Rowing meet is a colourful event to witness. Inter University regatta is also an annual event looked forward to by the fraternity. The standard bearer of all is the National Rowing Championships now conducted in the month of April to facilitate talent identification. On the request of the institutions, the ARASL will conduct a Novices cum Intermediate regatta annually to encourage and induct newcomers to national rowing. 

It is somewhat of a concern to National Rowing administration that schools have not taken the 2,000 meter racing seriously. This is one reason why the talented young rowers miss a place in the national squad. The main selection criteria into the national squad being the qualifying times apart from winning races, regular rowing on a 2,000 metre course is imperative to make the cut. This we hope the schools rowing section will take note of sooner than later.

Diyawanna Rowing Academy 

The Diyawanna Rowing Academy or the DRA is a much-needed training centre open to any fit person young or old to indulge in rowing under expert guidance. Currently 60 individual members use this facility to learn the art of Rowing at a nominal monthly fee of Rs. 1,000. DRA has also engaged in assisting the development of para rowing and before the end of this year a few specially fitted boats will be launched for the benefit of permanently injured persons in several recuperating centres. 

The DRA is not only a rowing academy but also a cardio development centre set amidst a clean, oxygen rich environment. Soon we hope to open the doors for other sports to benefit from a series of programs to build mind and muscle. With the support of the Ministry of Sports and Local Government, we can easily convert this into an activity centre for sports, recreation and social functions and self-finance the facility without a burden to the State. 

Taking the sport beyond the Western Province

Taking the sport beyond the Western Province is a priority and work is in progress to take rowing to the north and south. Under the program of ‘Dakunata Rowing,’ preliminary discussions have been made with the representatives of the southern schools. The north east is being covered under this program ‘Uthuratath Rowing’ with an initial development plan being launched in Vakarai. 

To develop and propagate a sport is not an easy task. Rowing being one of the cleanest and most aerobic disciplines, much importance must be placed on popularising this sport, islandwide. The world Rowing FISA has identified Sri Lanka Rowing as an ideal development hub with India in the south Asian region. 

The recent visit by a development officer of FISA was impressed enough to propose a series of activity covering competitions, training camps for athletes, coaches and accreditation seminars for regatta officials to be held in Sri Lanka and India. This program will be launched before the end of this year with assistance provided by FISA.

We are also appealing to the Ministry of Sports and other line ministries to assist us in several ways to make Sri Lanka Rowing a much respected national sport with medal winning potential. The new committee will make representations to the relevant ministries with proposals in this regard. 

In conclusion, may I first thank all the institutions who have set up rowing facilities in Sri Lanka to encourage the indulgence in this noble sport. Primary amongst these are the Colombo Rowing Club, the birthplace for Rowing in Sri Lanka, the Bolgoda lake Rowing Club in Bolgoda set up by a rowing enthusiast with substantial investments purely for the love of the sport. The two other Rowing clubs on Diyawanna established by the Sri Lanka Army and Sri Lanka Navy need to be commended. Also the Gateway College, Kotelawala Defence University, Moratuwa University and St. Joseph’s College for establishing their own rowing facilities to popularise the sport. 

My heartfelt thanks are due to the DRA Administrator Sithira Wickramasekera who has done yeoman service to the sport and his team at the DRC, Tissa, the Officer in Charge, and supporting members, our Administrative Secretary Marlene, the dynamic Honorary Secretary Dimuth who has taken much flak in the line of duty, our Executive Committee, the National coaches and the independent committees of Selectors and the ARASL legal team comprising of eminent legal personalities chaired by Nigel Hatch Esq. PC. 

I also thank the Independent Election Commission comprising Senaka de Sarem, Attorney-at-Law, General Palitha Fernando, President Athletics Association of Sri Lanka and the Representative from the Ministry of Sports who have come to our home to observe the fair and transparent process we follow. Finally to all representatives from the affiliated institutions and the members of the media covering the event.

 


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