By Susil Premalal
Sri Lanka have emerged Asian netball champions on five occasions but they should be looking at winning titles beyond the region, said former national captain Somitha de Alwis.
Since the Senior Asian Netball Championship was inaugurated in 1985, Sri Lanka have won the title in 1989, 1997, 2001, 2009 and 2018 while finishing as runners-up on four occasions in 1985, 2012, 2014 and 2016, in addition to clinching third spot in 1993 and 2005.
Sri Lanka should have been looking to win titles beyond Asian competitions but the netball administrators from the past to present have only targeted winning the Asian title to show that the sport has developed, de Alwis claimed.
“The standard of netball has not improved just because Sri Lanka has won the Asian title several times. There is no change in their style of play. Therefore, we cannot win international events other than the Asian tournament,” said de Alwis.
A junior executive at Hatton National Bank, de Alwis was one of the most outstanding netball players in the country, going on to captain the national team and is emerging as one of the leading netball coaches having produced good results at national level.
Having made her netball debut for the under 13 team of her school Dharmaloka National School Kelaniya, de Alwis made her mark at national level after joining HNB in 1995. A regular member of the Sri Lanka netball team for eight years, she was vice-captain of the side in 1998 and 1999 and was captain of the team in 2004 and 2005.
She is one of the country’s most experienced players, having represented Sri Lanka in three Netball World Cup tournaments in 1995 (England), 1999 (New Zealand) and 2003 (Jamaica), being vice-captain of the team in New Zealand and captaining the side in Jamaica. She was also a member of the national team at the 1998 Commonwealth Games held in Malaysia.
“There is no doubt that Sri Lanka is the number one netball team in Asia. But when we take part in the World Cup we end up as the bottom team on most occasions. Sri Lanka also failed to make an impact at the Commonwealth Games. The reason is because the best netball players are in action in these events making it difficult for Sri Lanka and other Asian countries to make an impression. We should focus on closing the gap when we play matches in the World Cup or Commonwealth Games,” said Somitha de Alwis.
She was of the opinion that Sri Lanka should aim to become champions or runner-up at the Nation’s Cup tournament organized by Netball Singapore because it attracts some of the best players from outside Asia, which will prove that the national team has progressed beyond winning Asian titles.
Since the Nation’s Cup began in 2006, Sri Lanka have been able to secure fourth position in 2007, 2008, 2012 and 2013. However, Singapore and Malaysia have been able to win the event on a couple of occasions. Sri Lanka could also improve its world ranking in netball by playing Test matches against countries at least once in three months, opined de Alwis who was senior national coach at the Nation’s Cup in 2003.
De Alwis coached HNB for 12 years when they emerged national champions from 2000 to 2007 while they were runners-up from 2008 to 2013. She is coach of Navy SC who won the national tournament in 2016 and 2017 and were runners-up in 2019.
“It was when I was coach of HNB that they managed to win many national titles. Navy team have won a few titles and were runners-up under my coaching. I believe I have been a success as a national player, captain and coach. But I have never got the chance of being national coach of the Sri Lanka team. I applied for the position a few times but never got the job. The reason is because the administrators at the time laid down criteria to select their favourites. Thus, those whom they favoured got the requisite marks to be selected,” said de Alwis.
“Although there are many former national players who have plenty of experience to function as administrators, they have been denied the opportunity because the same group of officials are elected to govern over and over again. Going by the number of active netball leagues in the country and tournaments conducted in districts, there is no sign of the sport developing unless the right people are in office,” she said.