Duncan White and Susanthika Jayasinghe are the only Sri Lankans to win medals in 72 years of participation at the Summer Olympics
By Sa’adi Thawfeeq
Dishonest sports officials have been the bane of Sri Lankan sports for many decades that have left the country with only a handful of medals to boast of instead of a plentiful.
The stats show that we have won only two Silver medals in the Olympics since 1948, 20 medals (4 Gold, 8 Silver, 8 Bronze) in the Commonwealth Games since 1938 and, 46 medals (11 Gold, 11 Silver, 24 Bronze) in the Asian Games since 1951.
But if the step taken by National Olympic Committee (NOC) of Sri Lanka president Suresh Subramaniam in liaison with the Ministry of Sports to stamp out this mendacious act proves fruitful, there is hope that there could be a surplus of medals in the future.
“One of the key factors is that people who are running the sport, like me, we have to be honest to ourselves. These are rural children, we have to give them the support, and we have to go with the best. There should not be any favouritism, no pulling. Then everybody gets a chance to represent the country on pure merit, nothing else. Then the problem is solved,” said Subramaniam who has taken a personal interest to wipe the slate clean of nepotism.
“The coaches have their own favourites, they want to survive, so they have to make sure their student is selected, probably through a ‘vangu’. The coaches have their own favourites sitting in the committee. Earlier it was nepotism, now it is different, there are so many other factors like sexual favours etc. It is unbelievable,” he said.
Subramaniam said the problem lay not only in Sri Lanka but in the South Asian region. “All over it is the same story, they pull for their friend, for region, caste, creed all play here. When I ran the Tennis Federation friendships were outside the tennis court, otherwise it was pure merit. In the NOC also favouritism has no place. Once you do that, the athlete’s mind is totally clear, he has only to work hard. He doesn’t need to know me, he only knows ‘I have a target I have to achieve, and if I achieve it I am through. I don’t need anything more’. The athlete should be able to compete with a free mind.”
Since Subramaniam moved into the high office of NOC president in February 2018, he has shown a steely determination to improve sports in the country.
“We have already put guidelines in place and we are working very closely with the Ministry of Sport to curb this. We have a very good backing from them and they are very open with us. In the past it is very unfortunate the NOC and the Sports Ministry didn’t work together, they were all working in different directions. I have to make sure they all work in tandem,” said Subramaniam.
“Fortunately we have a very good rapport working with the Ministry now, and we are telling them the areas to be careful. Both of us are watching what the national federations are doing. The last two years we have been talking and now it is becoming a reality. It will be successful as long as we are together not otherwise. We have to continue to be together moving forward. If all three parties work together (the NOC, Sports Ministry and National Sports body) then it is very difficult for anyone to take corners and ‘vangus’.
“The National Federation has to produce the players, they have to nurture the athletes who are supported by the Ministry. We come in when they reach a certain standard. The high performance is done by us,” he said.