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Sunday, 23 August 2015

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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 ceremony.

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 Whale Aquatics.

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 Committee (IOC).

"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 overnight.

"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' status.

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.

 

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