State patronage for SA Games
Elections to pick Sri Lanka's head of state and Olympic chief were
concluded last week. The Presidential election and the general sessions
of the National Olympic Committee (NOC) were important to Sri Lanka
sports as the two elections had a big impact on Sri Lanka's preparations
as the host nation of the 10th South Asian Games.
Congratulations to His Excellency Mahinda Rajapakse on his election
as Sri Lanka's fifth executive President and to Olympic President
Hemasiri Fernando on his re-election. They will now have a key role to
play as Sri Lanka gets ready to host the eight-nation Games in April
President Rajapakse will be the chairman of the all-important
Steering Committee of the South Asian Games. Having attended the
inaugural meeting of the SA Games Steering Committee at Temple Trees
several months back, we are aware of the keenness of President Rajapakse
to host a successful Games.
President Rajapakse needs no introduction to the sporting world. He
had been a versatile sportsman during his day, representing Thurstan at
Public Schools athletic meet and Relay Carnival. He also served as the
President of the Athletic Association of Sri Lanka and Sri Lanka Elle
He is also a keen rugby fan as his three sons - Namal, Yoshitha and
Rohitha play for the Thomian first XV team. First lady, Madam Shiranthi
Rajapakse, headed the Netball Federation last year.
President Rajapakse has first hand information on the hardships faced
by our national athletes. He is a regular visitor to Sports Ministry
grounds at Torrington for morning physical fitness workouts and often
talks to Sri Lanka athletes, coaches and officials. Hence, President
Rajapakse knows exactly the medicine needed to cure the problems in Sri
On the other hand, President Rajapakse has experience as an able
sports administrator and was also a special IOC guest at last year's
Olympic games in Athens. Hence, he knows the responsibility and efforts
that Sri Lanka has to make as the hosts of the 10th SA Games. Under
these circumstances, President Rajapakse has the ability to give a
dynamic leadership to Sri Lanka's quest to host the most successful
South Asian Games ever.
Meanwhile, former Sri Lanka marksman, Hemasiri Fernando was
uncontested for the post of president at the last week's NOC elections.
Thus, Fernando could serve his third four-year term, which would extend
his stay at the top seat to 12 long years. So was his Secretary General,
In the contest for Vice Presidents, Sri Lanka's football ambassador,
Manilal Fernando polled the highest number of votes among all six
candidates to retain his place. Their re-election would give them a
strong backing and confidence to organise the SA Games. The trio have
vast experience and strong international relations, which could be
combined effectively under the leadership of President Mahinda Rajapakse
so that we could be the proud host of the next SA Games.
Hosting a multi sport event of this magnitude is a challenge to a
third world country like Sri Lanka, for which hosting even Asian Games a
dream, forget about a global event like Olympics. Hence, South Asian
Games is our version of Olympics and we must make every effort to make
it a huge success.
Talking about state patronage for South Asian Games, one cannot
forget the important role played by the late President Ranasinghe
Premadasa when Sri Lanka successfully hosted the Vth South Asian Games
way back in 1991. Even greater contribution by the Government is
necessary at this time around.
We are already late in our preparations for the SA Games, which was
taken a backseat due to the elections. But we must act quickly now as we
are running short of time. The funds promised by the Government must
come quickly for the infrastructure development and training of the 19
national pools of respective disciplines.
The State patronage is needed to obtain various services for the
Games as well as to attract public and corporate sponsors. At the same
time, there should be transparency on the utilization of those huge
funds for the success of the Games as well as Sri Lanka sports.
Athletics will be Sri Lanka's best medal prospects, as we cannot
expect the same performance from swimming as in 1991. When Sri Lanka
last hosted the SA Games 14 years ago, swimming was our No.2 medal
winner with 12 golds. Our athletes and swimmers accounted for 27 of the
record 44 gold medals won by Sri Lanka.
But with the recent administrative problems in the athletic and
swimming national governing bodies, these two sports have been in
wilderness. Sri Lanka will be at the receiving end with India making a
good build-up. We must put all our resources train our sportsmen and
women to go for the gold!