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Sunday, 24 May 2009

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Elimination of LTTE - all can breathe a sigh of relief - Sports Minister


Gamini Lokuge - Minister of Sports and Public Recreation. Dilan Perera - Minister of Port Development and President of Volleyball Federation of Sri Lanka.

SPORTS TO PROSPER: A jubilant Minister of Sports and Recreation Gamini Lokuge said that with the elimination of terrorists, all could breathe a sigh of relief, and each and everyone, may be sportsmen or ordinary citizens could now walk on the street without fear.

“We should be thankful to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and the Armed Forces for their indefatigable combine effort in eradicating terrorism in Sri Lanka.

An year ago, Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle was a victim of a suicide bomber at Weliveriya while attending a Sinhala Avurudu Festival. Among the others who sacrificed their lives were former national athletic coach Lakshman de Alwis and marathon specialist K.A.Karunaratne.

Minister Lokuge emphasised that in the near future sports activities in the North and East could be brought back to normalcy.

Sri Lanka, which has been in the throes of terrorism for the past three-decades, heaved a sigh of relief early this week, when the gallant security forces under the steadfast leadership of Commander-in-Chief President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the three forces Commanders (General Sarath Fonseka, Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda, Air Chief Marshall Roshan Gunathilake and IGP Jayantha Wickremarathne), liberated the North from the claws of the now vanquished LTTE terrorists.

Thus, the eradication of terrorism from the face of this land, no doubt signals the commencement of an era free from terror and fear in every imaginable strata of the society.

Kiran Atapattu - Secretary - Interim Committee SLASU. Hemasiri Fernando - President of National Olympic Committee. Rohan Fernando - President Amateur Rowing Association of Sri Lanka. Dian  Gomez - Former President of ABA of Sri Lanka.
Janaka Bogollagama - President of Sri Lanka Tennis Association. Susanthika Jayasinghe - Olympic Games Bronze Medallist. D. Somachandra de Silva Chairman of the Interim Committee of Sri Lanka Cricket Major General Palitha Fernando - President of Sri Lanka AAA

The field of sports, was well and truly gripped by the terrorists for well-nigh 30-years, with the rest of the world blacklisting Sri Lanka as a `no go zone’ in lieu of the raging North-East conflict in this country.

Going down memory lane, we could recall that the very first-time or the instance, of a sports team being rattled by the North-East separatist war, was when in 1987 the New Zealand Cricket team, prematurely ended their tour of the island, as a result of the LTTE exploding a bomb in the heart of the metropolis in Pettah.

The Kiwis without hesitation packed up their luggage and headed home, curtailing their three Test series after the completion of the first-Test match.

That only Test-match of the tour was memorable for then wicket-keeper opening batsman Brendon Kuruppu (currently Sri Lanka team manager) scoring the maiden double-hundred for his country, in Test cricket, but the euphoric celebrations lasted for only mere days, as the LTTE terrorists had other ideas of getting the spotlight for their cause by setting a bomb off in the capital. Nine-years later, with the North-East war raging, security fears in the country prompted Australia and West Indies to withdraw from playing their World Cup games in Sri Lanka even after being guaranteed VVIP security, and again it further highlighted the country, as a unsafe part of the world in the Indian sub-continent.

However, it must be recorded that both neighbouring giants India and Pakistan were prompt in extending their


Chrysantha Perera - Chief Executive Officer of Football Federation of Sri Lanka

solidarity by travelling here to feature in an exhibition match, and it was a true morale-booster for the host-nation.

Being boosted by that gesture of goodwill of both India and Pakistan, the islanders who were rank outsiders for the sport’s showpiece tournament at the start of it, cocked a snook at their detractors going on to lift the most prestigious title in cricketing history under the astute and no-nonsense leadership of Arjuna Ranatunga.

Despite winning the World Cup as one of the least-fancied teams in the tournament, the rest of the world sporting wise, refused outright to either brand or look at Sri Lanka as a safe place to indulge in any kind of sport, and the country continued to be blighted by the scourge of terrorism from a sports perspective till the year 2006.

The most recent draw-back took place in year 2006, when South Africa pulled out mid-way through a cricket tour here, due to a terrorist attack in downtown Colombo (Kollupitiya).

That bomb blast well and truly disrupted a tri-series Sri Lanka was hosting with the participation of India, and the latter agreed to remain in Sri Lanka, notwithstanding the blast, but fickle weather prevailing at the time, put paid to any chances of a bi-lateral series between Sri Lanka and India.

It must also be mentioned that when South Africa attempted to leave the country upon the news reaching them of the blast, even after the Government and Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) assured the tourists of VVIP and Presidential level security, the Daily News’ carried a banner headline ‘Proteas Chickens Out’ in its main sports page, written by our veteran colleague Elmo Rodrigopulle.

Numerous have been the times and occasions, the country has lost opportunities of hosting several sporting events due to terrorists calling the shots in this country, as most visiting teams did not want to take a chance, with widespread acts of terror taking place even in the often-perceived safe South of the country.

Then in 2007, Sri Lanka had to experience many disappointments before securing the Rugby Asiad, but yet most top-ranked countries such as Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and Chinese Taipei expressed their fear in travelling to the country.

They all point-blank refused to be here, saying it was unsafe to indulge in rugby in Sri Lanka while bombs kept on exploding every now and then in Colombo and its suburbs, but to the credit of the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union - the sport’s main controlling body managed to stage the tournament, in which the hosts emerged runners-up to eventual champs Kazakhstan. Even, the local rugby calendar’s most popular International Sevens Tournament - the Singer SriLankan Rugby Sevens staged in Nittawela, Kandy was constantly dogged by the security fears in the country, during the tournament’s 11-year unbroken run.

Most countries conveniently pointed to terror attacks in the island, as reasons for failing to take part, even when assured of the highest possible security in the land, but to the credit of the organisers it must be stated that they have done a creditable job in hosting the popular tournament, by enticing several other foreign countries unhindered upto now.

Looking at the brighter side of things, sky would be the limit for Sri Lanka, if officials and players market the country as a safe heaven for international sports events in the wake of the liberation of the North from the clutches of the terrorists.

It would also without doubt pave the way for our skilled sportsmen and women in many disciplines to pit their talents against international opposition in their own backyard, sans the fear of terror hanging over them like the Sword of Damocles.

It is also high-time, that local sports officials put their differences aside and draw future plans and attract sponsors for all sports without any segregation so that all sports could derive the best use of the elimination of terrorism from this land.

Market Sri Lanka

An onerous task facing many sports bodies, namely cricket and rugby in particular, would be to market Sri Lanka, as a country free to tour for international sports teams once more with the end of the 30-year war for good last week.

Especially, cricket being the country’s most popular team sport, by a long yardstick, Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC), will have to speed up its efforts to invite more in-bound tours to the country, from other ICC Test-nations, if the eradication of terrorism, is to have any kind of meaning, as far as sports is concerned.

The SLRFU which governs the country’s second most popular team sport, Rugby Football, too, has to make diligent efforts in trying to procure more tours to the country from the region, and allay the fears of Asian giants Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan to name a few.

Hence the SLC and SLRFU has a real challenge ahead of them in liaising closely with their two world bodies ICC and IRB to promote Sri Lanka as a free destination, devoid of terrorism for all future sporting activities.The Ministry of Sports under the stewardship of Minister of Sports Gamini Lokuge must soon discuss with the respective NSA’s and draw a masterplan for sports to be spread throughout the country.

That should also be done with the consultation of the National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka (NOC).

The time has come for the country, to make the best use of the latest developments to invest on the future of Sri Lanka, in a terrorism free atmosphere and environment. On behalf of all sportsmen and women, officials, coaches and fans countrywide, ‘Sunday Observer’ takes this opportunity at this moment of national freedom, to express our gratitude and humbly thank one and all who made the ultimate sacrifices to eradicate the scourge of terrorism from the face of this historic land.

We also salute President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the three armed forces commanders and IG for the courageous and valiant steps taken during the gruelling journey to wipe out this threat from our shores for once and for all and all sports and its countless followers in this country and outside, will forever be indebted to all those personalities who were actively involved in bringing peace back to the country.

Major General Palitha Fernando: President of Sri Lanka AAA, said that the future for athletics is bright and larger participation could be expected. Earlier the parents were reluctant to send their children to participate due to terrorist activities. Now there is no war and it’s a plus point.

Road running, marathons which were very popular during the past could now be revived in the North and East without any worry.

Janaka Bogollagama: the President of the Sri Lanka Tennis Association said that tennis was played in the North and East from the old days in Jaffna and Batticaloa.

Even during the recent past, with the turmoil going on SLTA helped Jaffna once it was liberated to continue tennis in the schools and also Batticaloa with the assistance of the SLTA.

Rohan Fernando: President Amateur Rowing Association of Sri Lanka, said that we have much better chance to propagate the sport with the assistance of Service personnel. We have already discussed the blue print for the intake of quality rowers for the national squad and also to set rowing facilities all over the country specially in Sri Lanka waterways. Sri Lanka Navy could play a big role for the promotion of rowing now that the war has ended.

Kiran Atapattu: The Secretary Interim Committee of Sri Lanka Aquatic Sports Union said that It’s fantastic as President Mahinda Rajapaksa has wiped out terrorism from our country after 30 long years.

We will start developing aquatic sports, swimming, synchronised swimming, diving, waterpolo in the North and East in a big way as one of our developing projects.

Dian Gomes (former President ABA): With the dawning of peace in Sri Lanka, the ABA is perfectly placed to expand its development initiatives to a wider base across the country. One major area of focus will be within the armed forces which has traditionally been the breeding ground for Sri Lanka’s boxing talent over the years.

We also expect an influx of new talent coming through from the North and East and steps are already under way to promote the sport and drive development initiatives within these regions.

In addition, the current Vice President of the ABA, Maj. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya the security forces commander who spearheaded the Wanni offensive will take his place at the helm as President of the ABA next year. His leadership will augment our strategic plan for the 2012 London Olympics.

Hemasiri Fernando: President, National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka, said that we have been talking of national sports bodies. Are they responsible for developing the sport not only in Colombo or North and East, for the last 25 years.

Now it is the time for the Ministry of Sports, Sport Development Department and Education Department to combine and embark on proper designed project on talent identification in the North and East.

Cricket in a Big way

D. Somachandra de Silva former Sri Lanka Test allrounder and now the Chairman of the Interim Committee of Sri Lanka Cricket said that thanks to President Mahinda Rajapaksa terrorist activity has been wiped out and the North and East has been liberated.

Cricket will be re-introduced in a big way from now onwards in the North and East. The parents of young cricketers were not prepared to send their young ones for participation in cricket due to security reasons.

The new scenario would result in a new influx of talent and higher participation at junior level from the ages of under-12. There was no representation to national cricket teams from the North and East for the last 30 years.

New scenario will produce new players in the same manner the national team representation had enlarged to other provinces during the past few years with lesser concentration from around Colombo and suburbs.

Cricket is a spectator game. In the past, many foreign players were not happy to visit Sri Lanka due to security constraints and now more foreign teams would visit Sri Lanka in future.

Olympic Medallist and famed athlete Susanthika Jayasinghe said that she is confident that we could find future medal winning athletes from the North and East very soon.

If the Sri Lanka Athletic Association who can follow our forces who fought bravely and wiped out terrorism, must now concentrate fully to send out qualified coaches to North and East and find the hidden talent and give proper training and guidance. Surely then stars will emerge from those areas who will one-day bring honour to Sri Lanka.

Chrysantha Perera: Chief Executive Officer of Football Federation of Sri Lanka said that Football is a common man’s game, caste, creed are not taken into account. The FFSL will make every endeavour to popularise the game of football in the North and East.

Dilan Perera Minister of Ports Development: President of the Sri Lanka Volleyball Federation said that it is an ideal time for all sports bodies to rally round and promote and develop sports in the North and East.

I think through sports we can bring communal harmony. Through sports unity could be strengthened. Even the Volleyball Federation of Sri Lanka Motto is Unity through Sports. “I am proud to state that even before this victory, Sri Lanka Volleyball Federation made several attempts and took steps to promote volleyball in the North and East.

It should be mentioned at the last Volleyball National Championships there were well over 60 teams from the North and East.It is planned to have volleyball academies in the North and East in the near future.

Rugby gains

Chairman of the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union (SLRFU) Interim Committee Dr. Maiya Gunasekera hailed the liberation of the North from the LTTE terrorists by the astounding commitment of the security forces along with the unwavering leadership of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, `unprecedented’ in the annals of this country since gaining independence from Britain in 1948.He said the closely-knit family of President Rajapaksa and his government, combatting the LTTE terrorists that the latter had found it difficult to buy any of them with the kind of money they had amassed over the years.

Dr. Gunasekera added that from a rugby perspective, the end of terrorism will stand in good stead as sponsors and various other firms and companies will come forward to invest in sports in a big way.

He noted that with the country being devoid of terrorism, the SLRFU will be able to bid for more international tournaments and even invite countries like Japan, Korea and Hong Kong to travel to Sri Lanka so that they could freely engage in world class sports events sans the fear of terror hovering around them.

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