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Navy deeds to spur a rugby sea change? 

Lasitha Gunaratne and Namal Rajapakse (inset) Yoshitha Rajapakse and Dr. Maiya Gunasekera

Rugby 2009 has all thequalifications to be an annus horribilis. After all, it's the year in which the government was forced into appointing a two-man interim committee to run the affairs of the game, thereby terminating a tradition as old as the game here. On the face of it at least, this government intervention represents a shameful indictment on the game's system of governance by elected officials, specifically the one preceding the Interim Committee.

The 2007/08 elected committee of DIG Nimal Lewke, of course, wasn't by any means angelic so as to render it infallible. Indeed, it had been the butt of quite some virulent criticism, arising chiefly from suspicions that its president had been partial to his son in the national captaincy stakes. As well, there wasn't always unanimity among its own ex-co over extravagant spending.

But whether rugby deserved to be penalised with the imposition of an IC for the sins of omission and commission of the DIG Lewke regime is questionable. Nothing nearly resembling the horrendous allegations (not excluding fraud and violation of the country's laws) that forced an interim committee on cricket was levelled against the 2008 elected rugby administrators. If the elected cricket officials were accused of grievous crimes, the crimes of their rugby counterparts, by comparison, were petty.

Be that as it may, the setting up of an IC clearly was intended to cleanse the elected committee's "mess,'' but nothing of the sort has happened. Eight months into the job and the IC management has only gone to further compound rugby's problems. Much of its time has been spent on rewriting the constitution, touted as a pre-requisite to ensure fairer administration under an elected system. No sooner the constitution was amended and made legal; it was solemnly promised that the 'deferred' 2009 AGM would be held.

AGM remains in limbo

Some two months ago, amendments to the constitution were proposed - and accepted at a Special General Meeting (SGM), but the vowed AGM remains in limbo. Clubs, provincial unions, indeed the rugby family, are entitled to feel they're being taken for a ride by an IC determined to not let go of the reins. "The rewriting of the constitution, the amendments, the SGMs, they are all ruses so that three individuals (Chairman Dr. Maiya Gunasekera, Secretary Kiran Atapattu and CEO Lasitha Gunaratne) can continue to control rugby,'' says a past SLRFU official. "If you ask me if all this suggests permanent ICs for rugby, then, I would have to say we're heading in that direction."

That permanent ICs might, with time, translate to dictatorial rule, however is least of rugby fears at this point in time. Let's face it; a bit of dictatorship, providing it instills greater discipline and fair-play into the sport's management, isn't such a bad thing, especially with rugby long blighted by the nasty rivalry born of club politics. The problem, however, is that the IRB doesn't recognise any body other than one that is democratically elected. And the IC isn't. Two IRB officials flew out here in March to specifically spell out that requirement to the Sport Ministry and IC officials. But all that was water down a duck's back.

The upshots: (1) IRB withdrew its Rs.14M. annual disbursement for development of Sri Lanka rugby; some 25 development officers stationed countrywide are without jobs and rural development lie abandoned. (2) the ARFU, the IRB's Asian arm, deny official status to the 2009 Singer/SriLankan Airlines International Sevens, a status the Kandy tournament enjoyed from 2004-2007. The 10-year tournament has been abandoned this year and Rs.7M. IRB funding for the event and hence a contribution to the national coffers is lost.

Job for the son

As if all that is not bad enough, the IC goes and surrenders Sri Lanka rugby's right to choose its own national captain. It will be recalled that the SLRFU selectors named one player to lead the country's Asian Five Nations campaign, but the Sport Ministry's panel of National Selectors appointed another, all because the father of the latter wanted the job for his son. What this says is that rugby selectors no longer have the final say on who is worthy or unworthy of a national jersey- if a father or mother thinks his/her son deserves to be captain/player, the wish will be granted.

And should there be more than one claim then the issue is apparently decided in favour of the claimant closest to the powers that be, as illustrated by the appointment of Pavithra Fernando over Dilanka Wijesuriya, the selectors' choice. Fernando's father is the head of the powerful National Olympic Council, a job that in the world of influence is a mile ahead of the chicken-farmer that Dilanka's papa is. In rugby's long history never has a year managed the dubious distinction of having outsiders decide who its national captain should be - and, for heaven's sake, kowtowing IC officials take the outsiders' decision without a whimper. Opposing, though, might mean losing their jobs with the IC, and the sort of gentleman-administrator, who would stand up in defense of the rugby union's long-held preserve, risking their seats of power, is, well, rare as oasis in the Sahara

So, for this endless administrative devilry, 2009 is not a year which one would want to look back with undiluted pleasure. Right? Not quite. Two weeks ago, 2009 would've unanimously been voted rugby's worst annus horribilis.

Enter Sri Lanka Navy

But then a bunch of doughty, but obscure, men from the Sri Lanka Navy comes along and dramatically and enthrallingly turns our rugby world inside out. Not since S. Sivenderan's policemen, as a 'B' division team, stormed into the 1967 Clifford Cup final, has any rugby season thrown up shocks as staggering as Navy did over the past two weeks. And suddenly, the yearlong misdeeds of the IC don't seem to matter any more.

A fortnight ago, the Welisera "upstarts'' stunned the second-best club in the country, 18/3, ending CR& FC's long-held yearning for championship honours. Having broken the dreams of the Colombo 7 club, the Navy then goes and ends champions Kandy SC's 60-match winning streak, spread over four seasons. And suddenly the champion club's chances of an eighth straight league title don't look so sure - an uncertainty they've not known for much of the past decade and half. Then, by the halfway stage of the season, the league trophy had as good as been locked away in the Nittwela cupboard - and the keys thrown away into the Mahaweli waters. That had been the prospect for the 2009 season too. But with the defeat at the hands of Navy, the champions will now have to win one of their two remaining league games - v. The Army and the CR - to retain the title.

Navy's achievements

In previous seasons accomplishing that task was a given, but this time round it's no dead-certainty. Army and the CR, for one thing, are no pushovers. But more importantly, the champion side faces a test it has never been subjected to since 2005 - how it will cope in defeat's hangover. The heart might wish that the 2009 will serve up a different league champion, but the head says, the champion of the past seven years will win it for the eighth time. Champion sides aren't disintegrated by one loss.   But Navy's awesome achievements in the league make the knockout title less certain for the champion club. After all, you can't disregard the Navy as a serious contender for the K/O title, given that they've overcome Kandy SC and the CR. So every prospect of the coming knockout pleases- so unlike the many K/Os since the early 1990s, which basically turned out to be ceremonial occasions for handing the silverware to Kandy SC. The sameness took away the crowds. The most meaningful impact of the Navy's giant-killing deeds, one hopes, would be the return to the spectator stands of rugby's missing legion. If that possibility eventuates, then, 2009 will be recalled by Navy's role in reigniting the flames of spectator interest, reduced to dying embers by the dominance of a single club for far too long. And to think that the team that made the transformation had been absent from competitive rugby for more than a few seasons, and their entry this season into the 'A' division had not been without objections. So, it's quite an extraordinary achievement by any measure. 

Critics, of course, will claim Navy's glory would not have been possible but for their unethical methods of recruitment. It is no secret that a majority of its players are civilians, not from its uniformed ranks, as had been the case from way-back-when. "I'm told that just two-three players are genuine navel men - the others are a collection of players from other clubs, mostly from the Havelocks,'' says an official, speaking anonymously, "you can accuse them of stealing others' talents, but not many clubs can claim to be lilywhite on that score either.''

Playing pirate

That the Navy has been playing pirate on other clubs' players during the season, however, has some legitimacy, as other clubs are taboo to do the same. But illegal it is not: all service teams are allowed mid-season recruitment. That it was a concession allowed in days of yore when services chose their teams from among their own personnel is another matter - or to be more precise, is an anomaly that ought to have been rectified when the play-for-pay scheme came in operation in the early 90s.

The part played by the presence of President's two sons in the Navy team (the younger as captain) in influencing recruitment cannot be over emphasised. The advantages are manifold for the joining players. So, it's much a case of "you call and I'll come'', as the overnight recruitment CR fly-half Dev Ananda illustrates: one week he was in CR's red jersey, the next, in white and navy-blue top. It is an unfair practice, but not beyond rectifying - provided the IC doesn't shows partiality to the Navy, something the IC didn't do when more than one complaint of on-field misconduct by Navy was put before the IC. The complaints were simply ignored. The wondrous deeds of Navy over the past two weeks show they can pretty well look after themselves - without any favours from the IC.

If you have class, you adjust

Sri Lanka won the first ODI beating Pakistan fairly comfortably in the end. All was not well with our lads in the early session of this game. Admittedly the Dambulla strip is slow and shot making is not easy. Yet at this level top players are expected to adjust. Given the nature of the strip the Sri Lankan total looked formidable. Two thirty plus takes some getting. Yet it was once again left to Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela to steady the innings. This bodes well for our cricket. I have consistently maintained that the contributions the seniors make will affect the outcome of the game. This was yet another ocassion.

A disastrous start, steadying in the middle and a canter in the death overs brings a rush of adrenaline to the stands and viewers on TV. Sri Lanka provided all this and added mirth was when Murali weighed in with a match winning contribution. Murali is a good striker of a long ball if he keeps his head steady. He did this time to the chagrin of the Pakistanis. Angelo Mathews is on a good run and balanced Sri lankan budget with his intelligent batting. He is turning out to be a worthy replacement for Chaminda Vaas.

Pakistan failed to get the momentum going and contributions by the middle order consisting of Afridi et al was not good enough to attack two thirty. As usual the bowling of the local lads were up to scratch. Thilina, Sanath and Murali bowled well to keep the rate down and others picked up a few to romp home.

Sri Lanka has lost two of her front rung bowlers in Test cricket in the last two weeks. This time it was Murali who announced that his Test against the Windies would be his last. Close after Chaminda's announcement, Murali's retirement from Test cricket should ring alarm bells. Yet, I believe we have talent to continue. It will give younger players an opportunity to play a few Tests in Muralis shadow, pick his brains and hone their skills.

As I stated on an earlier article, the senior players now opt to play in the limited versions of the game as they get longer in the tooth. The physical demands though gruelling are not drawn out enabling them to be competitive. This I believe is good for the game. Emerging players get an opportunity to play alongside them with more regularity now.

Though its a little premature to doff our hat to Murali, I sincerely hope his dodgy knee holds out till he completes the Tests against the Windies. He deserves it. Meanwhile I wish the Sri Lankans the best for the one day series.    

The illustrious Wijekoons from Matale

By Lal Gunesekera

The Wijekoon's are an illustrious family hailing from Matale. They are synonymous with Hockey. Six Members of this family (Four Brothers and two sisters) represented Sri lanka, while two others played for the Matale District teams at National Championships. This could well be a world record and the Guinness Book of World Records could take this unique achievement of this family into consideration and honour them accordingly.

Herbert is the Eldest in the Wijekoon family of five bothers and three sisters. Educated at St. Thomas' College, Matale and introduced to the sport by the late George Mant, Herbert, excelled not only in Hockey, but also in Cricket, Athletics and Soccer in school and had the distinction of captaining the teams in all four sports. It was at Hockey that Herbert made a name for himself and was an automatic choice for Sri Lanka teams from 1951 to 1962. It was under his leadership that Matale won the inaugural Nationals in 1957 at Edward Park. He coached his alma mater from 1955 to 1958 and produced 19 national players.

The late Dauglas and Chandra also played for Sri Lanka, but it was Ranjith, who proved to be a legend. He first played for his country as a schoolboy against an Indian team and was a wizard with the hockey stick. He represented the Country at two Asian Games and even picked to play for the Asian teams in 1966 and 1970. Ranjith's career ended in 1974 after he led the national side to beat Mysore. His wife Pushpa and two daughters (Neluka and Nadira) too represented Sri Lanka and toured India and Singapore. Herbert's son, Major (RTD) Sagith, captained Sri Lanka Schools and played for Defence Services at the nationals, and also captained the Defence Services cricket team too. Sujatha and Manel too played for Sri Lanka and are old Girls of BMS College in Matale. The former played for the country from 1963 to 1975. Manel first represented Sri Lanka at Netball in 1963 at the inaugural World Championship in England and was selected for the inaugural Asian Women's Hockey Championship in India in 1968. In the following year (1969), both Manel and Sujatha, played for Sri Lanka in a three Test series against England. Manel was married to the late General Vijay Wimalaratne, and old Royalist, who boxed for his school, while playing Hockey for the Army and Defence Services. Sujatha's Husband, Randiligama, was an outstanding Basketball player for Army, Defence Services and Sri Lanka too.

The late Richard's daughter, Sandiya, too represented Sri Lanka for a period of five years against India, Pakistan, Japan, Singapore and Malaysia.

Herbert's Grand daughter, Gimhani Alahakoon, who is a student of Musaeus College, represented the school Under-12 team that toured Malaysia for the Pesta Cup, and Hopes that one day, she too will go on to represent Sri Lanka in Hockey.

Chandra's two sons (Asanga and Harsha) represented Sri Lanka and toured India for the Nehru Memorial Championship. They also played for Matale and Mercantile at the nationals.

Schumacher begins F1 preparations

Michael Schumacher began preparations for his return to Formula 1 by driving a 2007 Ferrari at the team's  Mugello test track on Friday.

The seven-time world champion, 40, is to stand in for Felipe Massa, who suffered a fractured skull in an accident at the Hungarian Grand Prix.

F1's test ban means Schumacher cannot drive one of this year's cars.

It was a Kandy vs Kandy affair

By Hafiz Marikar

Saturday  July 25, at Welisara both Kandy SC and Navy SC packed with Kandy school products, gave a good display of rugby, where the Navy SC after 19 long years had to ward off a serious challenge from Kandy SC before earning a wafer thin 12-11 victory.

After this win, the entire Welisara turned to somersault on its axis. Even though this match had no bearing on the league plum, which the defending champions are sure to win for the 9th time in a row. But the Champions let down their supporters, with a disappointing display.

For the first rime the defending champions were kept on their toes by a fighting Navy side which had nearly 13 of Kandy school products on the field at play, so that is why one can call this game, Kandy beats Kandy.

The team was packed with Kandy names, the front row was made out of Kandy products like P. Manchanayake, A. Gunasekara (Kingswood), S. Suwarnatilake (St.Anthony's), second row S. Malevena (Vidyartha), T.H. Hassan (Wesley), Third row skipper Y. Rajapaksa (St.Thomas') S. Deen (Trinity), N. Rajapaksa (St.Thomas'), Scrum Half S. Puspakumra (Vidyartha/Trinity), Fly Half S. Lashantha (Wesley), Centers N. Ibrahim (Kingswood), D. Nandaruwan (St. Sylvester's), wingers E. Weerakody (Kingswood)), C. Dissanayake (Kingswood), Fullback N.Hettiarchchi (Dharmaraja). The players who substituted H Hassan (Royal), D. Pullikuttiarachchi (St Anthony's), M. Silva ( Ratnapura Central), Dev Anand (Kingswood) and the 12 points came off the boots of N. Hettiarchchi and Dev Anand.

Rs. 1 lakh in prize money at Janashakthi Full Option Lotus Smart Drivers Rally

The prestigious Janashakthi Full Option Lotus Smart Drivers Rally which is also the 75th anniversary rally of the Ceylon Motor Sports Club (CMSC) will kick off on the night of Friday 14, August at the Galle Face Hotel, with Janashakthi Full Option as Principal Sponsor.

Recognised by the Governing Body of Motor Sports - Sri Lanka Automobile Sports - as a National Event, this Rally is the oldest running rally in Sri Lanka. It provides an excellent opportunity for any motorist who wishes to take part in a motor sports competition without needing any special preparation of his vehicle, nor needing any special driving skills. Co-sponsors of this event are the Galle Face Hotel and MRF Car Care.

Vice President of the Ceylon Motor Sports Club Niroshan Pereira said, "Primarily organised as a 'time and distance' rally, it is geared towards people who would want to use their daily transport type vehicle for the event. This is a motor rally for the average motorist with a chance to win Rs. 100,000.00 in prize money".

"The CMSC, which is currently Sri Lanka's oldest motoring club, possesses a wealth of experience in organising events such as this Rally. Competitors are assured of a well organised rally which is, above all, a fun event to participate in. The officials who plot such rallies are always mindful of the fact that these rallies are run on public roads. Plotting is hence done so that competitors need not break speed limits or disobey any road rules", he added.

Managing Director Janashakthi Insurance Prakash Schaffter said, "As a trail blazer in Sri Lanka's insurance industry with Janashakthi Full Option, we are proud and honoured to partner with the Ceylon Motor Sports Club in its prestigious 75th Anniversary Rally this year. In fact we partnered with the CMSC in last year's rally which was a resounding success. This is an event which has generated a great deal of enthusiasm amongst Sri Lankans in all parts of the country. While testing one's ability to perform under pressure, it also enhances the pleasure of, and encourages, good driving". 

Otters diamond tennis c'ships.

The  Otters Diamond Jubilee Junior Novices Tennis Championship kicks off on the club's courts on August 10.

The event is open to players between under-8 and under-16. The under-8, under-10 and under 12 segments will feature in only the Singles. The under-14 and under-16 players will also have a Doubles event in addition to the Singles, according to Tournament Secretary, Ganendran Subramaniam. His father, K Subramaniam, will be the event's Referee.

Entries close on August 6. 







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