By Naushad Amit in Kathmandu, Nepal
The 13th South Asian Games (SAG) are already underway in Kathmandu, Pokhara and Janakpur in Nepal, and finally the majority of sporting teams representing Sri Lanka, who have had to endure considerable adversity, are able to focus on the vital task of winning medals for their country.
After India decided to compete in only 17 out of a total of 28 sporting events, Sri Lanka was presented with a chance to top the SAG medals tally. But the participants representing Sri Lanka in athletics, usually the greatest contributor to the country’s medals tally at multisport events, have mostly been neglected.
Firstly, they had to wait outside the hotel they were booked to stay in for nearly three hours after a logistical mishap, before eventually being provided with lodging. It was understood that the officials in charge of the technical and logistical aspects of SAG 2019 had sought to house the squad of 68 in the facility without realising it could only accommodate 34 people.
Eventually, team management decided to place the women’s team at the booked hotel while the men’s team had to wait for nearly three hours before officials hunted down enough rooms for them. Then they were relocated to another hotel before the entire athletic squad was reunited on Sunday afternoon at the original lodgings they were booked to stay at.
However, the saddest part of this episode is the way the Sri Lankan officials treated their ilk. The sole job of athletes is to perform to their potential and attempt to qualify by focusing on their performance. Sadly, the Director General (DG) of Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Sports seems to have misunderstood this fact. Rather than standing behind Sri Lanka’s own representatives in the field, he has been a busy bee, holding press conferences to rationalise what some teams, mainly the athletics unit, had to experience while on their way to Nepal and once arriving in Kathmandu.
Even when the Sports Ministry DG was holding a press conference for Sri Lankan journalists on Sunday morning, the national men’s athletics team was being shifted to its fourth and final location, hauling their own baggage across the busy and dusty roads of Kathmandu.
The DG had told the pressmen that at any sporting event, it usually was the athletic squad which always created a “headache”, perhaps not realising that these athletes were the contributors of the majority of the country’s medals in its final tally and that booking hotel rooms and looking into other matters were not their responsibility.
The DG had also told the press that Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Sports had even become the “laundrymen” of the athletic team and criticised their behaviour to justify his end in their ordeal. He had told the media that staying outside a hotel for a few hours and carrying their own baggage was not a matter to complain over, saying it was nothing compared to the great lengths the Ministry of Sports had to go to in order to ensure everything proceeded smoothly.
But from the very point of putting together the blueprint for SAG, the Ministry of Sports probably overestimated itself as the sole authority, even sidelining the National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka (NOC), who are thoroughbreds in conducting behind-the-scenes technical and logistical work ahead of any multi-sports event, be it SAG, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games or Olympics.
Had the Ministry of Sports utilised the expertise of the NOC in organising, liaising and coordinating all matters prior to any event, rather than let matters get out of hand, athletes would not have had to suffer. Had the DG at least studied the incidents before making brash statements to the media, the athletes would not have felt dejected and unwanted as was made abundantly apparent through the expressions on their faces.
The bottom line is that the DG could easily have looked into the matter and genuinely apologised for the inconvenience caused to the athletes, who deserved no blame whatsoever.
What occurred in Kathmandu, which began in Sri Lanka, is that the ego of a few senior authorities, who are probably only focused on their own wellbeing, took precedence over the country’s sporting welfare. If Sri Lanka somehow manages to top the medals tally at SAG Nepal, it would only be because of the grit and determination of those mistreated sportsmen and sportswomen out to prove their critics wrong.