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Sunday, 16 January 2011

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Manilal Fernando's rise to the helm

An 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 contest ahead.

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 Fernando.

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 crusade.

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 St.Benedict's College.

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 round.

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 classmate.

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.

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