Weerakkody says national rugby players under ‘mental pressure’ at int’l level | Daily News

Former Sevens star calls for resolution of club vs country conflict through consensus:

Weerakkody says national rugby players under ‘mental pressure’ at int’l level

Sri Lanka captain Dansha Dayan on his way to score a try against China in the final leg of the Asia Sevens Series at Racecourse Stadium on Sunday.
Sri Lanka captain Dansha Dayan on his way to score a try against China in the final leg of the Asia Sevens Series at Racecourse Stadium on Sunday.

Former Sri Lanka rugby star Nalaka Weerakkody feels empathy with national players who are caught between the devil and deep blue sea when their loyalty to play for the country is questioned because of their obligation to clubs.

The club versus country commitment which came to a head during the Asia Rugby Division I Championship also affected the team composition during the just concluded Asia Rugby Sevens Series where Sri Lanka finished a creditable fourth despite fielding a young and largely inexperienced side.

Although the Dansha Dayan-led Sri Lanka Sevens team cannot be faulted for lack of commitment, there are doubts whether the players were in the best mental state given the administrative conflicts between clubs and the governing body Sri Lanka Rugby (SLR) in the run-up to this premier event of the international calendar.

With Sri Lanka scheduled to take part in the Olympic Qualifying tournament in November, the imbroglio of player availability is bound to surface again due to the intransigent stance of some clubs vis-à-vis SLR. It is in this context that the opinion of Weerakkody, appointed as consultant of SLR before the Asia Sevens Series by Sports Minister Harin Fernando, should be viewed.

“The problem is the Union (SLR) does not take the boys into confidence. They have to loyal to clubs because they pay their salaries for 12 months. Players are unhappy. Clubs are not happy. When they play for Sri Lanka there is a doubt in their mind. SLR also puts pressure on the players. Clubs say we pay your salaries, don’t get injured,” said Weerakkody in an interview with the Daily News.

“The Olympic qualifiers is round the corner but the club season is about to start. Players are caught in a Catch 22 situation. Now they train for 7s but when they return to clubs they have to switch to XVs. It is two different types of training,” said the former Kingswood, CR and Kandy SC three quarter.

Weerakkody said the cooperation of all stakeholders should be reached by consensus not confrontation.

“My plan is once we select a pool of 25, to recommend to the Sports Ministry to give these players special preference and also inform the clubs. This is our national agenda. We should seek their help. Can the SLR change domestic calendar to suit international schedule. We must have discussions to resolve this,” he said.

He pointed out that players were under tremendous pressure because of their obligation to clubs and lacked incentive to perform at national level.

“We can say they have to be give priority to play for Sri Lanka but it is clubs which pay them. In a tough contact sport like rugby, we must not add to their mental pressure. We should understand their situation. Clubs say they pay their salaries for 12 months. When they play 7s and get injured, will SLR look after them is a question on their minds,” said Weerakkody who ensured past arrears with regard to allowances were paid by SLR before the Asia Sevens Series.

SLR has ambitious plans to form a professional Sevens squad with an eye on the 2022 Asiad but bemoan the lack of funds or sponsors for this initiative.

“They (SLR) say unless you perform well we can’t find sponsors. The national players had not been paid for the last two years. It was after I intervened, their allowances were paid. I motivated the boys to perform according to my experience and knowledge. We have to be honest in dealing with them,” said Weerakkody who felt it was not impossible to beat Asian giants like Japan, Hong Kong or China in Sevens.

“It is not impossible for us to go beyond this (fourth position). We can but we have to think from all angles and change. The boys are also comfortable after playing at this level knowing they can retain their places. We have to give them personal targets,” he said pointing out that Sri Lanka has to look beyond Asia.

“We can go far in Sevens but still we are fighting in Asian level. Earlier we were playing in the world circuit. We have to compete in Hong Kong and Dubai Sevens as well. We have to change our narrow mindset,” said Weerakkody, a former Sri Lanka Sevens captain.

Asked for his recommendations to the Sports Minister, he said: “I am going to suggest that the 25-member pool should be graded according to categories A, B, and C because all players are not the same. They should be given a monthly stipend, nutrition and needs looks after. Also give them good international match exposure like what China, Japan and Korea get. When we played China in the first leg, it was our first match but they had played three or four tournaments. We can beat China. We are closing the gap,” said Weerakkody.

Sri Lanka lost 27-12 to China in the third place clash in the Colombo leg to finish fourth overall in the series.

Weerakkody also suggested they should get assurances from the squad which goes to Singapore that they would be available for the Olympic qualifiers in South Korea.

"Otherwise we will be back to square one. We have to inform clubs. We can’t force them. They are also going through lot of difficulties. We have to solve this issue practically without fighting. Players are in a dilemma mentally whether to play for club or Sri Lanka. Their concern is who will look after them if they get injured. Players are not enjoying the game,” said Weerakkody who lauded Kandy SC winger Dansha Dayan for stepping up to the leadership with aplomb while CR and FC’s Kevin Dixon filled in as playmaker in the absence of former skipper Srinath Sooriyabandara during the last two legs because of injury.


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