Boxing for Gold at Commonwealth Games 2022 - Dian Gomes | Daily News

Boxing for Gold at Commonwealth Games 2022 - Dian Gomes

Sri Lanka's  boxing chief Dian  Gomes  is not one to sit on his laurels.
Sri Lanka's boxing chief Dian Gomes is not one to sit on his laurels.

Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country,” said President John F. Kennedy's in his Inaugural Address on January 20, 1961.

These words seem to resonate and embedded in the mindset of Sri Lanka’s boxing chief Dian Gomes, who was born three years before JFK made this iconic speech.

His relentless pursuit of seeing Sri Lanka’s boxers bringing home medals finally paid dividends at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia last year when Anusha Kodituwakku became the first woman pugilist to win a medal in addition to two more bronze medals from Ishan Bandara and Tiwanka Ranasinghe.

Gomes could have relaxed after having accomplished his goal of seeing a Sri Lankan compete at the 2008 Beijing Olympics after 40 years. On the contrary, the 61-year-old corporate wizard is buoyed by these feats reigniting his passion of bringing more glory to Sri Lanka in the ring putting country before self.

“To win a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in 2022 is my goal,” declared Dian Gomes in an interview with Daily News. “It is possible if you put that effort.”

Pipe dream

It is not a pipe dream of Gomes who is fondly known as the ‘Godfather’ of Sri Lanka boxing having turned around the fortunes of a sport which was dwindling by transforming the Boxing Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) to a dynamic corporate-driven entity with a clear vision.

“I think we (BASL) have been lucky to have a few corporates sponsoring us. A&E Thread has been the main sponsor of boxing for a decade. Brandix, MAS and in recent years Hela have also been supporting us. The incumbent president should have corporate influence to obtain private sponsorship and the government also needs to chip in some money. For the Commonwealth Games the government approved one or two tours for five or six boys and obviously that gave us the result. So if the private sector, government and the controlling body goes hand in hand, I am sure that getting a medal is not impossible,” said Gomes who was first elected president of the BASL in 2002.

“Generally boxing has been one of the few associations which always had a long term and mid-year plan and a very clear succession of leadership so that halfway people don’t change the goal posts. When the succeeding president takes over, there is a nice transition of leadership and nice changing of the baton without upsetting focus and strategy. We have some senior and experienced people in the boxing association like Udeni Kiridena, Col. Hemantha Weerasinghe, Saman Gunaratne of Police and Cdr Perera of Navy who make a good team. Most of them have boxed at a very serious level and they understand game. We also have some good officials who are doing internationally extremely well. For a small country like Sri Lanka I think we have produced some good officials,” said Gomes who returned for a second stint as BASL president in 2016 after serving from till 2008.

“I came back at a time when boxing was going down. They wanted me back because politics was creeping in. There wasn’t a strong personality to hold the fort and to clean up the stables. I have a fairly good team and officials are very committed. There is less politics,” said Gomes who is not without his detractors.

“They can call me a dictator but last year was a good clean up year as well for referee and judges. At the National championship we had to bring four international judges for transparency. Three international and two Sri Lankan judges were there for each final bout so there is no interpretation of favouritism. Sri Lanka must come first not their companies or individual goals, otherwise boxer will suffer,” he said.

Epoch year

2018 was an epoch year for Sri Lanka boxing and Dian Gomes who savoured success.

“After 18 years of boxing commitment I thought I will not see a Commonwealth medal in my lifetime. Sometimes you keep on trying to get somebody to the Olympic Games but can’t bring a back a medal. Then you have not achieved. But when we got there and won a medal after 68 years, it was a great victory for Sri Lanka and for me to be part of that effort to bring a medal home in my lifetime. After 18 years of hard work reaping the results was satisfying,” he beamed.

However, he lashed out at the lack of funding from the state for sports in general and boxing in particular. “There is no focus on that. Government is keen on building stadiums basically showing the politician in a greater light. There is no long-term or mid-term strategy for each sport. You need to have a policy frame work for sport. The picking of talent, the selection and the development of the sport to get a medal. You can’t just train for a couple of weeks and expect us to win medals,” said Gomes who knows what it takes to climb the summit.

Commonwealth journey

“The Commonwealth journey took us nearly about eight years. You have to invest at least four years minimum to win a medal. So you have to start when you pick the schoolboy from the Stubbs Shield or Junior Nationals to take the kid forward,” he said.

He lamented the fact that Sri Lanka is one of the few countries “where we don’t have a psychologist training our boxers on how to take mental pressure or how to do develop nutrition.”

“In all these tours there are more unwanted officials, kith and kin and friends of these so called associations going on these tours rather than getting the doctors, physio, psychologist and the team composition. There are more officials going who are not at the games than the athletes. They need supporting staff but they would chop off as much as possible. For example boxing needs three people at the corner but they don’t want that. They think we can manage with one. They don’t understand you need two coaches and a cornerman at the ringside,” he said without pulling punches.

Hammering the bureaucracy which controls sport he said: “Administrative blunders has cost Sri Lanka medals not only in boxing but in other sports as well. For them to get votes they would send sports which does not have a dog’s chance of winning at Commonwealth or Asian Games. Nobody is thinking Sri Lanka first.”

Sri Lanka boxing could only benefit further from his elevation to the executive committee of the Asian Boxing Confederation (ASBC).

Personal victory

“I think it was a great personal victory for me being recognized in Asia for my contribution to Sri Lanka boxing and also my work in Women’s Commission in AIBA (world body governing boxing). I have served in number of AIBA commissions starting with Finance, Marketing, Athletes and Youth and then the Women’s Commissions,” he said.

“For about 12 years I’ve been involved in the world body mostly developing women’s boxing in other parts of the world as well supporting them and giving strategic input. This is the first time I contested to become and executive member of the Asian body,” said Gomes the only South Asian official to be elected to this 10-member committee after Jay Kowli of India.

“My recognition as a doer and my experience in the last 20 years got me the foothold into Asian boxing. The kind of training programmes and input that we would require from other countries is much easy for me to obtain. Getting our referees and judges trained, doing other developmental work and networking with other Asian countries as well,” he said.

Among the many hats Dian wears is being Honorary Consul General of Georgia in Sri Lanka. “It’s a very honourable role,” said Gomes who also serves on the board of Nestle.

“I am a much more relaxed man doing little bit of teaching and motivational lectures and focusing on Sri Lanka boxing,” said Gomes who was founder president of the Fencing Association of Sri Lanka.

What is his greatest achievement?

“For me to take a boxer to the Olympic Games, for Anuruddha Ratnayake to be one of the best in the world. When I took him to the arena in 2008 in China, that was one of my proudest moments. And when three boxers won medals this time (at Commonwealth Games) it was also a happy moment,” said Gomes who has no plans to retire.

“As long I am healthy and mentally fit, I would like to contribute in boxing maybe not as president because that is part of my passion and I have been the longest serving cornerman. Four World championships, four Commonwealth Games, a couple of Asian Games and Olympics. Each time a Sri Lankan fights internationally I have been at the corner sometimes to the irritation of my family because I spend for my ticket and hotel. I am there supporting them because I enjoy it. Enjoy being a boxer and enjoy being in the corner. That’s my contribution to the country as well. It's fun for me. I don’t take it as a job but more like a passion on how to build people, how to build talent which I did in the corporate world as well. Allowing them to live their dreams whether it is an Olympic medal or degree and mentoring them. That has been motivating me as well. That keeps me going,” said Gomes with a glint in his eyes hardly concealing his pride. 

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