The Sunday Leader

CAN ASANGA LIVE UP TO HIS BRAVE WORDS?

ASANGA Seneviratne, president of the SLRFU since last week, was deputy in 2010 and 2011; so it’s rather extraordinary that he should describe the administration of the last two years as “a lesson on how not to administer”. More pointedly he told a newspaper interviewer, Monday, there had been “a complete breakdown” in governance.
Such strong remarks emanating from opponents of the Chief Air Marshall Roshan Goonetilleke 2010/11 committee is of course expected, but coming from the second-most senior official of the previous administration is, well, perplexing – and deserving of a discussion on the possible reasons prompting his outburst. Seneviratne’s critics would be quick to decry him a hypocrite, arguing that, as a member of the administration he so harshly chides, he too is responsible for the “breakdown’’.

Can we lift Rugby to the next level and Asanga Seneviratne

That is fine as arguments go, but hardly enlightens us on why Seneviratne chose to go ballistic at this point in time. There are some clues, though, to be found in the history of the elected administrations of the past two years, as well as the interim committee rule of the year before. You’ll recall the unending controversies blighting the game in that period: The SLRFU was in conflict with just about everybody it had to work with – the IRB, provincial unions, clubs, selectors, referees, national players … the list is long.
There was a sense of inevitability that the aforesaid problems would inflict blows on rugby given government interference, since 2009, in the election of the office bearers. Government intervention, in fact, denied Seneviratne himself the presidency for three consecutive years – in 2009 by the appointment of the Dr Maiya Gunasekera-headed Interim Committee, while in both the 2010 and ’11 elections, powerful government politicians persuaded him to pull out in favour of the Air Force chief, the government’s preferred choice. Apart from being heir apparent in all those three years, nominations for the 2010/11 elections clearly had Seneviratne a hands-down winner. But he admits he was “in a no-win situation’’ (read: under government pressure) and so had to back down.  “Even if I had beaten him (Goonetilleke) it would’ve left a bad taste” – apparently meaning that opposing the government’s favoured choice would’ve made the rugby chief’s job rather awkward to perform.
So the inference probably is that he served under virtual duress as deputy in the two years of the Goonetilleke regime. If, in principle, his decision to remain in a committee whose workings he disapproved of is questionable, casting aspersion on his integrity wouldn’t be fair either. If you subscribe to the school of thought that he ought to have quit a committee that was dysfunctional, and remained only for the love of the position, then, his tongue-lashings of the last administration doesn’t make sense at all. Partners in crime, after all, don’t make confessions until and unless they’re forced to – and no one forced Seneviratne, he confessed of his own accord.
When he could so easily have kept his trap shut (and got on with the business at hand), what made him say the things he said?  He might’ve been unhappy the way the last committee conducted business, but then in administration you really can’t row against the tide.  There’s one option to get out of that “no win situation”: quit – which if he did, would have meant washing his hands of rugby, forever.  You must remember he’s waited three years in the wings, and were the president’s job denied a fourth time, then surely, rugby’s message to him would’ve been: you’re not wanted, stay away. And he might’ve turned his back on rugby, never to return.
His critics, however, might say he remained in the last regime out of self interest, but that is not entirely true. His commitment and devotion to rugby is well established. (He was national player, coach of many clubs before being national coach, national selector, five-time deputy president and now financier of the Havelock SC). His C.V. though, is less of a reason why he stayed on to become SLRFU president. Had he quit the last committee, as critics wished he would, then there’s no saying who might’ve got the job. But with sport being increasingly politicised, it is a fair bet that a person with political affiliations would’ve been given the reins. Which would’ve meant that the composure of the 2012 committee would pretty much have resembled the ‘anything goes’ committee of 2010/11– and that in turn would’ve meant rugby sinking deeper into the mire.
With his blast on the past, Seneviratne has set himself a challenge – to do things that will set him apart of the “breakdown’’ regime. His harsh conclusions on the last regime, so, can be interpreted as notice of a new beginning – and an ending to what had been two years of cavalier management. In other words, bending of rules to pander to clubs with political clout won’t happen: “I’ll ensure a level playing field,’’  promised Seneviratne.
It will be recalled accusations of partiality were frequently leveled against the past regime – that it applied one set of rules favouring the Services teams, and another set undermining clubs. The accusations spoke of disciplinary inquiries against offending services’ players being allowed to pass by, and ignoring protests against some service teams of recruiting other clubs’ players in midseason; clubs, especially champions Kandy SC, allege they were always under union scrutiny for perceived wrongdoings.
Only time will tell if Seneviratne can resist political influence, something the last regime pandered to, causing the “breakdown’’ and so, ruining rugby. Clearly, the new committee wants to tread a different path, and there’s no better way of beginning the new journey than to admit the faults of the past – which in effect is a pledge not to repeat old sins.
Seneviratne’s courageous words notwithstanding, there’s lingering doubts if he can translate those words to practice. Steering the ship of rugby to new waters won’t be easy. Bad practices have a way of getting entrenched, especially ones politically foisted. A committee without any residue of the last administration might’ve proved more helpful in chartering a new course. But his number two and the treasurer are both “breakdown” remnants, while the secretary’s appointment was at the behest of Minister Johnson Fernando.  It is common knowledge that vice president Lasitha Gunaratne and Treasurer Kiran Atapattu are government favoured officials, both entering rugby administration as members of the government appointed Interim Committee in 2009.  They’ve managed to hold their places in the subsequent elected committees through political maneuvering. Rizly Ilyas’s election as Secretary was influenced by Minister Johnstone Fernando, union insiders say. So what we have here is three government preferred officials holding three key jobs – vice president, secretary and treasurer.
This is not say that having government preferred officials serving on national sport bodies is a bad thing per se. Their political influence can be exceedingly useful for promotion and development. But sadly, the previous regime used political influence not for reasons beneficial to the sport but rather for baser causes that damaged the game’s good name – like handing the national selectors job to a Sport Ministry selection panel so that the son of the NOC chief was appointed national captain; the national selectors’ choice was different. With three politically-backed officials in key positions, there’s the danger of the 2012 committee too conceding to wishes of politically influential clubs. Thus, one hopes that, in condemning an administration that was “a lesson on how not administer’’, what he means is that he’ll resist political influence and ensure “a level playing field’’.  To do that, he’ll have to have the balls to put his foot down on politicians trespassing into rugby administration. Let’s see if he does, if the need arises.

2 Comments for “CAN ASANGA LIVE UP TO HIS BRAVE WORDS?”

  1. Ela Kiri

    He is the one who can take National Rugby to the next level. He has the knowledge and the Financial backing to do this.

    all the best Sene, you will need it !!!

  2. dagobert

    One thing is for sure, SLRFU is going to have a very neutral no nonsense Chairman to head the diciplinary committee in the form of a non rugby player.

    Miscreatnt beaware…………………..

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