An interesting story, relating to Sri Lankan sports, as to how filthy politicians and crooked officials disgraced the sport and denied us an Olympic Medal unfolded as way back in 1976. It was probably the best chance for Sri Lanka to break a 52-year-long drought sans an Olympic medal. That gloomy past was shared in social media recently. In 1976 we were sure of an Olympic medal from long distance runner Lucien Benedict Rosa; and it could probably have been the second Olympic medal after Duncan White won ‘Silver’ in the 400m hurdles event at the London Olympics in 1948. White’s feat came before Susanthika Jayasinghe’s Silver in the 200m event at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. The story is vividly described in Lalith Gunawardena’s book in 2004 titled ‘Visikala Olympic Padakkama Rosa’ (Thrown away Olympic Medal of Rosa).
Sellappuliyage Lucian Benedict Rosa or better known as SLB Rosa represented Sri Lanka at the 1972 Summer Olympics held in Munich, Germany. He won a number of Asian Games medals including the 10,000m event with an Asian Games Record in 1970 in Bangkok, Thailand. Rosa was internationally renowned and was synonymous for running barefoot and winning medals. Born in Nawalapitiya he had a difficult childhood because of an abusive step father. Rosa ran away from the house at the age of 16 for good. Nobody could stop the start he had or beat this legend as he reached the zenith of world sport, the Olympics. His personal best was 29.18 minutes in the 10,000m on May 13, 1975 at Arkansas in the United States. It has also stood as an unbeaten Sri Lankan record for the past 45 years.
However this courageous giant in Sri Lankan sports was defeated by a combined effort of politicians in the likes of then Sports Minister and sport officials who denied Rosa-who was even feared by the Gold Medallist Frank Shooter who was to run with him at 1976 Olympics. Rosa was snared with a blatant administrative lie. A medal at the 1976 Olympics was sure for Rosa who had practiced in the USA and placed fourth at the Boston Marathon. By then he was ranked 11th in the world. His set goal looked easier to achieve because nine out of 11 runners didn’t contest as Africa decided to boycott the Olympics. As Rosa was waiting to bring an Olympic medal home, the officials informed him not to run the race as Sri Lanka had joined the African nations to boycott the Olympics.
Heartbroken Rosa’s dreams were shattered. Going all the way from Sri Lanka to Canada he watched the race with tears in his eyes from the dressing room. But it didn’t take long for Rosa to realise that he and the country were cheated by the politicians and officials who wanted to take personal revenge on him. The truth was that officially Sri Lanka didn’t boycott 1976 Olympics or prevented athletes from participating. Though Rosa was denied the chance to run, Sri Lanka did took part in the games. Even the ‘lion’ flag was raised at both the stadium and at the Olympic Village.
The incident reminds us of the recent farce where former Sports Minister and Sri Lanka Podujana Party (SLPP) candidate Mahindananda Aluthgamage who is embroiled in a match fixing hoax. The issue sees world renowned and much respected cricketers and selectors including World Cup winning teammate Aravinda de Silva being questioned. The hoax has spread like wildfire in world media.
If it is proved that Sri Lanka ‘threw away’ the 2011 World Cup to make India the winner, it would become one of the biggest match fixing incidents in world cricket. However an investigative team, which extensively questioned former cricketers Aravinda de Silva, Kumar Sangakkara and Upul Tharanga, concluded that there was no evidence of match-fixing by players. Additionally the International Cricket Council (ICC), which also probed the allegations, had stated that it found no reason to doubt the integrity of the 2011 cricket final.
So in other words Mahindananda Aluthgamage has uttered a blatant lie and tarnished the image of Sri Lanka cricket, its players and on the entire country. As a country many spheres of the society are stinking due to corrupt politics. If there is one thing that the country can be proud of there are major achievements in sports despite the nation being comparatively smaller to other countries with just 21 million people. So like what happened to Rosa, Aluthgamge’s lie was aimed at taking revenge on someone or was just another jabbering to obtain cheap popularity. It put the country’s image at stake. However this is not the first time that the good will of cricket and the country’s image have been tarnished by politicians who have ulterior motives.
If Lalith Gunawardena had to write a book on what happened to Sri Lankan cricket he would sure to name it ‘Visikala Lankawe Nambuwa ....... (Sri Lanka’s glory thrown away....)