Bharti Airtel, a leading global telecommunications company with operations in 20 countries across Asia and Africa, today announced the conclusion of the Airtel Rising Stars program at a colourful awards ceremony held at the Sinhalese Sports Club at which the 12 best young footballers in the country were selected by independent coaches from Manchester United to visit Old Trafford in England for an opportunity to meet and interact with the Manchester United football team.
Launched in July, this first-of-its-kind island-wide hunt for young and talented soccer football players is a rigorous scouting program which covered 14 centres across Sri Lanka and chose the 48 best footballers from around the country for the second stage in Colombo where Manchester United Academy Coaches hosted an intensive football camp and selected the 12 best players who now have the chance of a lifetime to visit the home of Manchester United.
The 12 Airtel Rising Stars for 2012 as selected by the coaches were W. L. A. Fernando from the Kalutara centre, W. S. D. Sujan Perera from the Colombo centre, R. A. Chathuranga from the Galle centre, R. Saranraj from the Kandy centre, A. D. Dulip Madushanka from the Kalutara centre, L. C. Sajitha Kumara from the Galle centre, B. M. C. B. Ratnayake from the Kurunegala centre, M. Zarwan Johar from the Colombo centre, A. G. E. Prasad from the Colombo centre, H. D. Chandraratne from the Kandy centre, A. R. A. Shazny from the Colombo centre and J. M. Niyas from the Trincomalee centre.
Speaking to the 48 shortlisted children the Chief Guest, Airtel Brand Ambassador and former Sri Lanka national cricket captain Kumar Sangakkara said, “While only 12 of you will be going to Manchester United, all 48 of you must remember that you are all winners. You have competed with over 8000 other football enthusiasts and have been selected as the best talent in Sri Lanka. You should all be very proud of this achievement and don’t lose heart but instead practice harder and you could be next year’s winner.”
“As far as Sri Lanka is concerned, this program is a sheer example of our commitment in developing local talent to international standards, thus contributing actively towards the positive development of youth in Sri Lanka. I am proud to state that we received over 8000 applications. It was highly motivating for us to see the passion and excitement of these young kids. Not just boys, but talented girls as well. Their dedication to the sport was remarkable and the level of talent displayed was of a standard we never thought existed in Sri Lanka,” said Airtel Lanka CEO/MD Suren Goonewardene in his address.
Under the program selections were held in Jaffna, Colombo, Mannar, Anuradhapura, Trincomalee, Badulla, Kurunegala, Hatton, Kandy, Kalutara, Matara, Negombo, Kilinochchi and Kalmunai to select the best players between the ages of 15-19. After a gruelling session of try outs in the 14 centres the 48 shortlisted players came to Colombo for an intensive training workshop with the Manchester United coaches which also included academic sessions on discipline, training, nutrition, practice methods as well as drills and six a side matches, ending with a full 11 a side match.
Dr. Manil Fernando, Chairman – Youth Development, Football Federation of Sri Lanka said, “In our young days, the thought of visiting a prestigious club such as Manchester United was beyond even a dream. Our only goal was to be the best player in Sri Lanka. But now you youngsters have an opportunity to go beyond that and represent Sri Lanka on an international platform and I strongly urge you to grab hold of this fantastic opportunity. I must also thank Airtel Lanka for helping these kids fulfil a dream.
This will be a trendsetter for all young and budding footballers and I am sure that they will look forward to yet another Airtel Rising Stars program next year.” The Airtel Rising Stars program kick started in July with the endorsement of His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa (President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka) and with support from Hon Namal Rajapaksa and the Tharunyata Hetak organisation as well as the Football Federation of Sri Lanka.