A leg up for athletics | Daily News

A leg up for athletics

Budding sportsmen and sportswomen in the rural outback of this country, no doubt, would welcome the launch of a Special Sports Fund aimed at grooming them for international stardom one day. This special Sports Fund was launched by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe with an initial allocation of Rs.50 million, in association with the National Olympic Committee, at Temple Trees on Wednesday. It will target high performance athletes who have a realistic chance of winning medals at international sporting events for the country. “We must recognize outstanding sports stars and give our maximum support to develop their skills. Talented sportsmen and women in schools should be given all the encouragement, so that they will go on to represent the country in the future and bring honour and fame to the country by winning medals at international sporting events, the Premier said, speaking on the occasion. He observed that the government and the private sector should give a helping hand to develop sports in Sri Lanka.

The initiative, it is hoped, would not only groom promising sportsmen and woman to scale international heights but would also see the unearthing of hidden talent, particularly in the hinterlands, which otherwise would be left to wither on the vine. Many of our sportsmen and women, especially our athletes, who brought international fame to the country hailed from the villages. The Susanthikas, Dharshas, Kulawansas and the Dhammika Menikes who burned the tracks to international stardom were all village lasses who were discovered quite by accident. Had this fortuitous circumstances by-passed us, the country would have missed the opportunity of bagging only her second medal at an Olympics, won by Susanthika at the Sydney Olympics emulating countryman Duncan White. The feat not only put Sri Lanka on the world athletics map but also rescued the athlete from the clutches of poverty to which the family was condemned. How many more medal winners the country was denied, one could only speculate.

It is also a matter for gratification that the Special Fund will be solely dedicated to athletics. It has been the perennial complain in sporting circles that cricket was receiving all the attention and funding to the exclusion of all other sports. Not only that, we have not even seen the returning hero welcome accorded to some of our medal winning athletes at international events that has always been reserved for our cricketers. This was the case even when our cricketers have come second best as in the 2011 World Cup final defeat to India when the team received a typically heroes welcome at the BIA and hosted for receptions by the leaders of the country.

This lopsided treatment of lesser sports has not only discouraged would be champions in the field of athletics and other disciplines, but also spawned justified accusations of discrimination. After all, athletics deserved to have received more attention than it does today given that the country has produced international stars in the track and field disciplines though, admittedly, not scaled such heights as cricket.

Private sector sponsorship of athletics too is minimal though we come across instances where some commercial establishment coming forward to help out promising athletics by way of provision nutrition and incidental expenses. The Fund, therefore, would be a boon to the young athletes lacking in the wherewithal to further their aspirations.

Ideally, the private sector should involve itself in a big way to promote athletics, instead of putting all its eggs in the cricket basket. Cricket has all the money it needs and big money at that and can more than survive on its own. It is understandable though that commercial establishments look mostly for national cricketers to promote their brands, rather than athletes, given the popularity and glamour attached to the sport.

A good portion of the Special Fund should also be reserved for talent scouting. As mentioned, there may be a world champion somewhere in the denizens waiting for the knock on fate's door. In other countries there are special teams who fan out across the country to spot sporting talent. Pakistan's Prime Minister in waiting Imran Khan recounts how he spotted, a later to become one of the country's leading bowlers, from among a set of youth playing street cricket. Sri Lanka too could turn lucky and strike gold by plucking a world beater from obscurity.

The net should be thrown far and wide to harvest the talent. The north should also now be fully brought into the country's sporting ambit. With the industry and enterprise shown by the northerner in many a field, there is the very real possibility of the region providing the country with future medal winners.

The National Olympic Committee and its go-getter President Suresh Subramanium deservedly received a glowing tribute from the Prime Minister for his initiative in launching the Special Fund. Hopefully, the Fund will step into the breach to lift all the resource starved sports that have escaped the attention of the mega-sponsors of cricket and see the birth of a new breed of track and field artistes who would one day bring fame and glory to the country.

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