Manilal Fernando's rise to the helm
individual who made headline news in Sri Lanka, Asia, and the world of
sport, especially football was that man with a winsome smile and a man
for all seasons Vernon Manilal Fernando.
It's great that we have leaders in football administration of the
calibre of Manil who bring distinction by holding office in the Asia
Football Confederation or the world controlling body for the sport FIFA.
That great honour of entering those evasive, elusive and
exclusive portals has fallen on the broad shoulders and burly body of
Fernando who was rightly overjoyed by the honour bestowed on him on
Sri Lanka. But the honour sits lightly on his shoulders given the
humility that is so characteristic of him.
No easy task
Manilal Fernando - a man for all seasons
Speaking to 'SPORTSCOPE' Fernando said that it was no easy task when
he was nominated for election serve in the FIFA ExCo. There was a tough
When the final result was announced, Fernando who was in prayer,
dedicated his victory to Sri Lanka. Fittingly President Mahinda
Rajapaksa who when he heard of Fernando's arrival promptly called him to
offer his congratulations and best wishes.
"The sport loving President while congratulating me, wanted me to
join the team that has been appointed to bid for the 2018 Commonwealth
Games to be held at Hambantota. I consider this a priviledge', said
With his administrative ability and penchant for delivery,
negotiating skill, Fernando will use the good rapport that he has with
top notchers in the AFC and FIFA and endeavour to make President Mahinda
Rajapaksa's dream of holding the C'wealth Games in Hambantota a reality.
First Sri Lankan
Fernando was the first Sri Lankan to hold office as Vice
President in the AFC. He also served in the Legal Committee of FIFA
and is also in its Status Committee. He is also Development Officer for
the game in Central and South Asia.
Fernando's rise to fame, not surprisingly, brought with it his share
of critics. His critics at every turn attempted to pick holes, sling mud
at him and belittle him.
But he persisted as his conscience was clear and the Game's interest
was paramount. He kicked aside the unfair criticism, took to heart
constructive suggestions and dedicated himself to his task. He was
vindicated when some of his virulent detractors have realised the true
quality of the man and have relented. Fernando from the time he wore the
boots of President of the Football Federation of Sri Lanka nearly three
decades ago has displayed honesty. He is a glutton for work that made
him rise in the soccer world and be what he is today. Regrettably
however we have not, in recent time, being able to attain the standards
that Sri Lanka Soccer should achieve to be a force to reckon with in
Asia. Fernando considers this his next challenge.
Moment of glory
Going down memory lane it's interesting to recount how Fernando came
into football administration. One fine day my friend J.S.N. Anandaraja -
God bless his soul-who had been in the swing of things in football
administration was lamenting the deterioration of the sport. So one day
he said tho this column:"there is a lawyer from Kalutara who is doing
things for the game in that district and I am convinced that he is the
one we should bring into the administration. He will address the issues
the game faces squarely". And from that moment began the life and times
of Vernon Manilal Fernando. When the date of the AGM of the Federation
was announced, his name was submitted for the post of President.
Victory for Fernando
Once his nomination was accepted, a battle began but one that finally
ended in victory for Fernando. It was not an easy ride. Obstacles were
strewn right along his path.
Knowing Anandaraja's ability to organize and win an election, his
detractors even took him to the fabled "fourth floor" making wild
allegations. But truth prevailed and Anandaraja was free to continue his
With Fernando in the driving seat and Anandaraja as his navigator
began a drive that was akin to the Dakar Rally. Fernando's opponent was
D.I.G. Herbert Weerasinghe, a former soccerite from my school
Weerasinghe had the backing of V.K. Arumugam, who was also a former
policeman and who was known as the king maker of that era.
Anybody that Arumugam threw his weight with won. But not this time
A little anecdote. On Anandaraja's request I too threw my weight
behind Fernando's team. My Editor in the 'Times Group' of that time was
another Old Ben Felician Fernando who happened to be Weerasinghe's
From my school
My Editor called me and asked me as to why I had chosen to support
Fernando and not Weerasinghe considering that he was from my school. I
gave my reasons stating that the best man should be supported.
My Editor who was a man of integrity left it at that. And that was
it. Fernando's support team was Anandaraja, Donald Bastianpillai, G.A.K.
Abeysekera, Edward Jayewardena and some others whose names do not come
to mind. And our first port of call was Jaffna where we convinced a king
maker of football in Jaffna Dr. Philips and that was a good omen.
To cut a long story short, our campaign had a fairy tale finish with
Fernando triumphing by four votes after a no holds bared, bitterly
contested election with threats to Fernando's likely voters.
Fernando's team contested the election in the true spirit of the game
and in the end truth was the victor and the rest is history now. It was
a honour to have been a part of that history making event.