The Sunday Leader

Rugby IC Out, Now Pick Right Men For The Job

Sri Lanka rugby’s worst fears will be put to rest next month when elected office bearers regain control of the sport from the government-appointed interim committee, whose controversial year-long reign did little to endear itself to the rugby community.

Gamini Lokuge, Dr. Maiya Gunasekera AND Lasitha Gunaratne

So news of its departure next month was, not surprisingly, greeted with a palpable sigh of relief from long-discontented provincial unions, clubs, players, selectors, referees, and the lot – all victims of heavy-handed IC rule. It’s remarkable that despite its unpopularity the IC survived this long. In fact, when its founding composition of three members in February was enlarged to five in September, there was growing suspicion the government might want a permanent IC for rugby, as in cricket.

Against the backdrop of such apprehension, the swiftness of the decision to dissolve the appointed body, at the Special General Meeting last Monday night, was surprising to say the least. A SGM deep into the night was expected, given that a raft of controversial amendments, authored by the IC, was to be argued to a finish between rivals who for a year had been at each other’s jugular. But, whereas for a year neither conceded an inch to the other, amazingly, accord between the IC and the provincial unions was reached in a matter of 90-odd minutes – not nearly long enough to even call for a round of coffee.

It’s not as if rivals became buddies and the room was drenched by a new-found spirit of forgiveness. One night can’t wash away a year-long fermentation of bitterness, and, I am told, there had indeed been quite some nasty exchanges – none nastier than the cross-talk between the IC head and the chief of the Sabaragamuwa provincial union, who would’ve been disqualified from holding office in an elected SLRFU were an amendment adopted in the manner presented by the IC. The amendment, though, was modified so that the door to Union office would remain open to the provincial chief, a matter which we’ll take up in later lines.

Spirit of compromise

Clearly, a spirit of compromise had pervaded the crucial SGM. Mercifully, interest in the game’s future was finally given precedence over officials’ craving for self-aggrandisement. If only the commonsense of Monday night was shown at the outset, as it should’ve, the game might’ve been spared of (1) the abandonment of provincial rugby (2) the loss of employment to some 30 provincial development officers (3) the suspension of 16 senior players that seriously depleted the national team, a consequence of a running battle between players/selectors and the IC, (4) fast- emptying coffers… endless are the woes of a year of IC administration.

The provincial unions naturally were outraged by the IC’s actions and publicly vented their anger. The IC was unfazed, reiterating the government appointed it to do a job, and tough luck if its decisions were going to hurt some. It would thus be extreme naivety to think that the sudden camaraderie between the long-warring camps came wholly out of concern for the game. The IC had been obstinate to stay put for far too long to believe that it let-go of the reins so facilely in the game’s interest alone. Just so that it stays in power, the IC, one well remembers, went so far as to defy IRB’s cautioning, in February, that its’ illegal composition could render it an outcast. So, why did the IC budge, Monday night, when it refused to in the face of IRB’s warnings?

IRB warning

The only plausible reason for the volte-face: whereas in February the IRB issued only a warning, at the annual Congress last November in Dublin, Asanga Seneviratne, the IC’s delegate was told plainly that unless an elected administration is installed before March 31, 2010, the country would cease to be a member of the IRB. In other words, we would be banned from playing any IRB-recognised match, which is to say, from any international rugby. We would’ve become the pariahs of international rugby, period.
This evidently is why the IC was willing to compromise on just about all the amendments it wished to incorporate in the constitution.

For example, the amendment requiring prospective SLRFU office bearers to be former ‘A’ division players (which would’ve shut Sabaragamuwa chief Arjun Dharmadasa out of office) was adjusted to include also players who had played “representative rugby”, the initial  exclusion of which was illogical anyway. Dharmadasa, incidentally, represented ‘B’ division Kelani Valley in the 1980s, and so, not having played for an ‘A’ division club he would become ineligible to hold Union office. But the inclusion of those who have figured in “representative matches’’ too being eligible candidates for Union office entitles Dharmadasa to stake his claim. He represented Up Country against a foreign team.

For example, the amendment to eject the Schools Association, Universities and Referees Society from the Council was met halfway: no change in the status of the Schools, meaning it retains its voting right. But the Universities and Referees are to be lowered to observer status.

One seat to ‘A’ division clubs

For example, an amendment to give two Council seats to each of the ‘A’ division clubs was halved. Presently, clubs have no seat at all in the Council; the amendment rightly acknowledges the importance of the views of ‘A’ division clubs (independent of those of their respective provincial union) to the decision-making process. But the allotment of two Council seats, it was felt, might diminish the importance of Provincial Unions; hence a seat each to the clubs.

These amendments and their modifications, it must be said, went more to resolve perceived political and personal differences between the IC and provincial unions. How much of a bearing these amendments might have on the development of the game is left to be seen. But there were new laws incorporated that can, potentially, be beneficial to the game in ways the aforementioned amendments can’t. The most meaningful ones concern the establishment of (1) A Board of Trustees and ( 2) the Rugby Foundation, proposals  which were long filed-away in the Union cabinets and inexplicably never made it to Union agenda.

For all the many nasty bouts of infighting that has gone on in the Union boardroom (seriously harming the good name of the game), there clearly was a need for supervision by the game’s elder statesmen to bring the administrative process to even keel. Incumbents, however, wouldn’t hear of it, probably in the belief that a superior committee might erode their power, which, as past tells us, includes the “right’’ to influence selections, to travel anywhere they like to at Union expense in short, to  run the union as if it was pretty much their private fiefdom.

With the incorporation of a Board of Trustees, the “do as I wish’’ sort of governance will become a lot more difficult. The SLRFU, effectively, will be answerable to the Board of Trustees, to be made up of three Life Members elected at the AGM – that is, hooray, men of the caliber of Summa Navaratnam, Hemaka Amarasuriya, Y.C. Chang, Gamini Fernando, Malik Samarawickrema and Lionel Almeida would be at hand to shape the game’s destiny.

Powers to intervene

The Trustees are to be bestowed with the power to intervene if they feel any decision or action of the union council is in breach of the constitution. As well, if the Council is legally prevented from functioning, the Trustees are empowered to run the affairs of the Union. In other words any restraining order from court wouldn’t mean the workings of the union will come to a standstill. In other words, the disarray of the past three years might never have been had the Board of Trustees been in function.

The Rugby Foundation’s purpose, essentially, will be that of raising funds, itself a formidable task. More than a year of economic slowdown meant less sponsorship – and hence depleted coffers. No small job awaits the Foundation, given that the game’s image has never been as low as now.  The Foundation is to comprise of three selected Life Members, Union President, V/P and executive director, an independent auditor plus three respected corporate figures from the rugby fraternity.

To clean up image, however, is not in the Foundation’s scope – rather, in the hands of the to-be elected committee. Just as well Asanga Seneviratne is heir apparent president. A respected figure in the investment business, Seneviratne, vice president during DIG Lewke’s two-year term, probably has learnt lessons, first-hand, on how not to run the union. If noting else, he’ll at least take care to avoid past pitfalls – and having that mindset is a good way of approaching the leader’s job.

Flaws in the constitution are partially the reason for much of the problems of the past three years. To Seneviratne’s advantage, he’ll work with a more tightly-woven constitution, and provided his committee is spared of the incompetents, exploiters and wheeler-dealers that have blighted previous administrations, there’s no reason why 2010 season can’t be dramatically different.

Back to the past: During the turbulent year of IC rule, its chief, Dr Maiya Gunasekera has been called all sorts of names, including a jackass. He was head of an IC that was ostensibly appointed to only lay the ground for holding the 2009 AGM. But the good doctor dared to amend the constitution, and though much of his recommendations didn’t quite make it to the hallowed document in the way he wished, the upshot is that rugby finally has a set of rules and regulations more effective than those that were in the books previously – which might not have been the case but for doc’s bravado. For that, the “jackass’’ has a right to feel he’s lion!

7 Comments for “Rugby IC Out, Now Pick Right Men For The Job”

  1. ex srilankan international in OZ

    Sam, excellent article.
    Hope the guys involved now and in the future will read this article over and over again and bring rugby back to the glory days where everything was on merit,above board and no politics or politicians were involved.
    Good Luck to Sri Lankan Rugby.

  2. anthony jones

    The most ideal person has just cropped up, from the blue.

    It is none other than the Rt. Hon. Namal Rajapakse former captain of St.Thoma’s College,, the next MP for Hambantota and the next cabinet minister for Oil Exploration, that’s in Mannar, a virgin territory so far thanks to the now toothless LTTE. Tons of monies there.

  3. Maurice De Silva

    Good one TMK I only hope that now the right people would be appointed and will be allowed to do a job without interference. Lets wait and see what the Jackass will do.

  4. Russell Baptiste

    Good one TMK….I have always loved reading your articles…..since my playing days….oh what I would give to bring back that era where all that mattered was the game and specially the team bar later on…great to see people like YC, Gamma, Summa and Co. having a say….augurs well for the future. keep up the good work….

  5. SAnjeeva

    lets hope for the best. in the first place, the ministerial mutt has to be removed from the post. the national sports council shouldn’t interfere with SLRFU selectors. lift the ban on 16 players immediately and mete out justice for all.

  6. Mahesh

    I still don’t see why playing ‘A’ division rugby / or representative rugby is necessary to be a member of the council? Is there a ‘A’ division way of running the game?

  7. anthony jones

    mr.russel babtise, how are you this is rj one of your old school-mates at sjc, one year senior to you, now in aussie.

    cheers. a j.

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