Where did our sports go in 2011?

Thursday, 29 December 2011 00:33 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

This is the 11th article in the Daily FT’s fortnightly series titled ‘Business of Sports,’ focusing on the back office of the various sports administered and played in this country. Readers are invited to share their views and express their opinion via email to [email protected] on the features carried in this column so that a greater public participation in sports matters can surface and be debated for the benefit of all

Bringing the curtain down on our national sports agenda for 2011 would be somewhat of a heartrending task. Even as we write, our Cricket Team will be steeling themselves for a right royal battle in Durban with another green top prepared to keep the hostile South African pace attack in business.

Let’s wish our lads well in one resounding cheer because we as a nation find it difficult to unite even when the chips are down. So, let us drink a toast to our valiant cricketers and ask them to bring the Sri Lankan lion heart to bear, even if it is a bit mauled at present.

Mauled if you say, the antics of our politicians did just that at the committee stage of the Budget debate, adding injury to insult by raising the spectre of match fixing and disunity within our team. This from the very people who are supposed to protect and defend our national assets, but to a man they suddenly took a holier-than-attitude with the Matara mauler having enjoyed all the political largesse in his time, taking umbrage against his one-time colleagues.

The Sports Minister was spot on, blaming politics for the team’s defeat, but what he failed to articulate was that the sport itself is as politicised as you can get; instead he laid the blame on the very people fighting it out in the African heartland sans their pay checks and little else to boot!

Political games

Politicians of all hues close ranks when they are threatened and we saw ample testimony to that when the Parliamentarians took time off from other doubtful activities to play soft ball cricket.

Even the Opposition Leader joined the fray and jostled he did, giving the genteel public a lesson in how to behave like ‘nave gilunath band chung!’ As if wayward leg cutters were not enough, our national mouth piece saw we did on television commenting on the run of play.

Did not we see enough of this in the run-up to the elections, when whatever bad news there was, the inane ability to transform it into a national crusade was half the talent of these bedfellows, something that is relentlessly trust upon a docile public each day?

How else can you interpret the CWG bid that one private sector worthy terms the ‘Essence of Perseverance’? It is indeed asserted that the Organising Committee changed the face of the nation internationally.

For the more discerning, it was not the bid itself that was faulty, but the manner in which it was staged. The NOC boss for example stated that he was certain Sri Lanka would come out on top, claiming that he knew how the international sports community works.

Well, we now know, and when the day comes again when we must reignite our bid, hopefully saner counsel will prevail and a more responsible evaluation made before we enter climes that even angels fear to tread.

Sports administration

The question therefore that begs an answer is: Where did our sports go in 2011? Did we make an overall improvement, are we in the right direction or are we merely mired in petty political horseplay?

Thilanga Sumathipala offers half an answer! Having mustered a formidable team and having made bold invigorating statements, he backed off the forthcoming SLC election, feigning personal reasons. That he did not receive the blessings of the all mighty is very clear to all concerned.

It is even perhaps a good thing and hopefully a forerunner to the preclusion of politicians from sports administration. It may even make the hand of the Sports Minister stronger so that he can without fear of favour discharge the critical governance that national sports needs above all else.

No significant gains

Apart from cricket, none of the other sports made significant gains in 2011. Athletics remains in the doldrums. Rugby, in spite of many shenanigans, enjoys a good following particularly at school level. Basketball dribbles along and badminton claims many gold medals in arenas that are not as yet the big leagues.

So in general it can be said that there is nothing to boast about, but much to ponder and take stock from both a short- and long-term perspective. Football is a classic case and demands more than a cursory glance from the powers that be.

A perennial administration has all but taken the sport down to abysmal levels and each two-yearly team goes through the motions, leaving in place a panjandrum who straddles the world stage with an air of disdain that should put even FIFA to shame.

The National Coach, a Korean national who barely survived for five years, has now left unceremoniously without as much as a by-your-leave, after the ignominious defeats at the recent SAFF Championships.

Ministry of Sports

The Ministry of Sports (MOS) has a lot to do in such a perilous situation. First of all it must minimise the effects of politicisation and emphasise a modicum of accountability from all sports bodies. Next, it must pursue a measure of transparency at all levels and seek the blessings from the highest in the land to do so.

Night races and high tech stadia are all good and necessary initiatives, but they must benefit the humble and persevering sportsmen from the city and the village to emerge and forge competitive international standards as we had demonstrated a few years ago.

This column has repeatedly canvassed a web portal that encapsulates and makes available the blueprints of the MOS as well as all sports bodies. Along with a digital platform such as this, designated competent directors who will overlook and supervise each sport reporting directly to the MOS will prove an effective organisational framework.

Such a structure will bring the sport to the public and help the MOS nurture and govern an arena where performance both on and off the field will be the principal criteria. Machinations and old boy networks that perpetuate skulduggery have no place in a modern sports management. To settle for less will only make the play in 2012 more questionable!

A happy and eventful new year to all sportsmen and sportswomen, wherever they maybe.