|Thursday, 3 June 2004|
Start preparations now
by Dinesh Weerawansa
Sri Lanka is due to host the 10th South Asian Games in Colombo next year.
It is only the second time that Sri Lanka is hosting the Games in its 20-year-old history. When Sri Lanka hosted the 5th South Asian Games 13 years ago, there was tremendous interest and enthusiasm not only amongst sports fans but also amongst the general public.
It was the most successful South Asian Games, held in Colombo in 1991. The hosts Sri Lanka lived up to expectations by winning a record number of 44 gold medals, a feat which they could not come anywhere near in the other South Asian Games held up to this year.
In fact, Sri Lanka managed just two-thirds of this rich haul of gold medals in the last two South Asian Games. At the last 9th South Asian Games, Sri Lanka won just 15 gold medals out of which 12 came in athletics.
Our athletes have always justified their presence at Asian and South Asian level. They won a record 15 gold medals, seven silver and 11 bronze when Sri Lanka hosted the South Asian Games in 1991.
At the same Games Julian Bolling and Deepika Chanmugam produced outstanding performance to win a record number of gold medals for Sri Lanka in swimming.
Unfortunately, our swimmers have not fared that well at South Asian Games since those great feats by Bolling and Chanmugam.
The only bright spot at the South Asian Games pool in Islamabad was Condrad Francis. True there were several other silver and bronze medallists but their timings were nowhere near the Asian level.
The big question is whether Sri Lanka can live up to expectations and be the proud hosts at next year's 10th South Asian Games, performance-wise.
Will our sportsmen and women be able to better that record of 44 gold medals won in 1991? The simple answer is NO, unless we start our preparations now.
We must get into action right now. Inspired by their performances at the last Games, countries like Pakistan have already formed their national pools, aiming at next year's event in Colombo.
A comprehensive training plan for each of the disciplines should be drafted immediately and put into action within the next couple of months. We must immediately draw a plan to see how we should get there by the middle of next year.
The training schedules of each sport must have short and medium term goals on performance, targeting various domestic and international sporting events our sportsmen and women will face before the 2005 South Asian Games.
The progress of each national pool should be carefully monitored on a regular basis and if desired short term goals cannot be achieved, remedial measures should be taken. While the training programs are on, any sportsmen or women who does well should be absorbed to those national pools on a regular basis.
In putting this whole mechanism in to action, there should be good coordination amongst the respective national sports associations, the Ministry of Sports, Sports Medicine Unit and the National Olympic Committee.
It is the Sports Ministry, which should take the initiative and play an active role in Sri Lanka's preparations for the 10th South Asian Games in 2005.
It is pointless to form 'instant' national pools with about couple of months before the eight-nation Games. We must start the training schedules of our respective sports bodies at least after the Olympic Games.
But to have such comprehensive training schedules in about 15 sports for a period of about 10 to 12 months needs considerable volume of finances.
The sportsmen and women in the national pools should be looked after with necessary nutrition and other facilities. They should be in a good frame of mind so that they will be able to concentrate fully on their training and produce the best results at the end of their program, leading to the 10th South Asian Games.
The Sports Ministry cannot wash their hands off by saying the Treasury is not providing adequate funds. They must get the private sectors actively involved in this whole exercise. Each sport should be found a national sponsor to look after their own finances, as it was done in 1994.
The private sector won't just throw money around for sports without any returns. In fairness to them, the interests of those firms sponsoring our South Asian Games sports teams too should be looked after.
The national sportsmen and women in the respective pools must carry the logos or brand names on their competition and training clothing at all times, as done by Sri Lanka Cricket.
This should be done to look after the interests of the sponsors because it is the sponsors who look after those athletes. We are not asking them to go out of way to boost the sponsors but at least try to pay them back through mileage for the financial backing they get.
At the same time, the Sports Ministry must allocate more funds to preparations of the sports bodies for the South Asian Games. It is true that there are limitations in budgetary allocations in a third world country like ours. But there are ways to cut down waste and use the funds that are allocated in a proper way.
Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports, Jeewan Kumaratunga is an experienced person having been in charge of sports from 1994-2001. He is knowledgeable and capable enough to give leadership to this campaign.
But at the same time, he should be careful from certain sports association officials who paint a wrong picture on the standard of the sports they represent. Not only the sports association officials but also from some of his very own Ministry officials who could feed wrong information to be in the good books of the Minister.
Produced by Lake House