Sri Lankan swimmers exiled in Russia
Sri Lankan swimmers, who took part at the 16th FINA World
Championships held in Kazan, Russia were treated as virtual exiles or
"independent athletes" to the organisers thereby creating a slur in the
country's aquatic sports history.
Following the suspension of the Sri Lanka Aquatic Sports Union (SLASU)
by the world governing body FINA over a Constitutional issue in the
island, the swimming quartet of Matthew Abeysinghe, Kimiko Raheem,
Machiko Raheem and Cherantha de Silva could not represent their country
or carry the Lion Flag.
Kimiko Raheem, Machiko Raheem, Matthew Abeysinghe and
Cherantha de Silva at the FINA World meet
The representation of the four swimmers were denoted by the acronym 'FINA'
instead of the standard 'SRI' in all the events they took part in and
were introduced as 'independent athletes' of FINA in the opening
The Kazan Universiade Village, the official residence of all
athletes, flew the FINA flag next to the South African flag in place of
the Sri Lanka flag.
During the championship Matthew Abeysinghe, the finest Sri Lanka
freestyle swimmer who created history as the first aquatic exponent to
participate as a qualified athlete on FINA points for the World
Championships, missed the Olympic qualifying standard by a narrow margin
in the 100 metres.
Abeysinghe clocked 50.93 seconds in his pet event, missing the
Olympic 'B' time of 50.70 seconds during the 190-nation championship.
Abeysinghe's 100m freestyle national record is 50.83.
However, Kimiko Raheem, the youngest sister of South Asian Games Gold
medalist Mayumi, who is currently training in Thailand under a FINA
scholarship programme, bettered her own national record to set a new
time of 2:21.18 in the 200m Backstroke, erasing the previous record of
2:22.65 set in last year's national championship representing Killer
SLASU was suspended in June this year when part of its membership
conducted an election defying a directive by FINA to postpone elections
as the current sports regulations had not been revised by the Sports
Ministry, according to a road map agreed with the International Olympic
"Although we were the only suspended National federation at this
championships our swimmers' promise won the attention of the FINA
development team. FINA Vice President Dale Neuburger informed me that
Matthew is among a shortlist of athletes close to Olympic qualification
that FINA proposes to help achieve qualification through participation
and training opportunities and will shortly make their proposal", said
Akhry Ameer, the General Secretary of the former SLASU Committee who is
now the only Sri Lankan official recognised by FINA
Asked how FINA regards Sri Lanka after the suspension Ameer said:
"They (FINA) are keen to lift the suspension as soon as possible but
much of this responsibility rests on what the government does to revise
the Sports Law.
This was not given adequate attention in the first half of this year.
We hope that this will be the priority of the Sports Minister now that
the (Parliamentary) election is over". He added that the mixed
performance of the local athletes at the championships was because FINA-scholarship
athletes Kimiko Raheem and Cherantha de Silva started intensive
full-time one-year training under a FINA programme at Thanyapura in
Phuket, Thailand only a month ago and results cannot be expected
"As for Matthew and Machiko, they are attempting qualification in
short distance events so we will be seeing the fluctuation of the
sprints from meet to meet.
They have time till May next year and I am sure they are working on
their goals of qualifying for Rio (2016 Olympics)," Ameer explained.
Killer Whale Aquatics head coach Manoj Abeysinghe participated as the
coach and Akhry Ameer as the national representative with 'observer'
The championship with around 2,400 participants was hosted by the
Russian state of Tatarstan in its capital Kazan from July 24 to August
9, while FINA celebrated its status as the top-tier highest revenue
earning Olympic sport.