The National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka (NOCSL) will see its first change in leadership since 1997 at the NOCSL Elections on Friday (23) at the Olympic House.
Contesting the President’s post is Royalist Suresh Subramaniam, the Vice President of the Sri Lanka Tennis Association, and Thomian Rohan Fernando, who has served as the President of the Sri Lanka Rowing Association – a Royal-Thomian battle that will see a change in one of the country’s most crucial posts in sports administration after 21 long years.
The inaugural AGM was staged in 1937 as the Ceylon Olympic Committee and Dr. V. R. Schokman was elected as the first President.
Hemasiri Fernando has held office for 21 years since winning the elections in 1997, having since been re-elected without contest. spoke to both aspirants in the lead up to the elections – each sharing their own vision for the NOC going forward. Following are the excerpts from their interviews.
Q Tell us a little about yourself
I’m Anthony Rohan Harsha Fernando, but I am known as Rohan Fernando. I am from Nainamadama, Wennappuwa and I schooled at Lunuwila MV in my home town. After that I schooled at S. Thomas’ College Guruthalawa and then at S. Thomas’ College Mount Lavinia.
Q What is your background in sports?
I have a strong background in sports. When I was in school I took up rowing and I went on to captain the Sri Lankan rowing team in 1976. I also played hockey, tennis, golf, volleyball and water polo. I have served as a long time sports administrator. I am currently the President of the Rowing Association. I have also served on the Executive Committee of the National Olympic Committee since 1996.
Q What is your career outside of sports administration?
I started out as a tea taster in 1975, which was my first job. Since then I have served as Chairman and Managing Director for several leading companies in the island, which I do to date.
Q What are your intentions in contesting for the NOC Presidency?
I am not someone who runs behind titles. I already have enough of titles. The National Olympic Committee has run like a dictatorship and many national associations have asked me to step in to arrest this. They have asked me to save the NOC from this situation.
Q In 2013, you came forward with the backing of the NOC members to contest its Presidency. But now you seem to have moved from that faction, and are contesting with the backing of associations that want a change at the NOC.
I am not aligned to any group. I never was, and even now, I am not. I came forward in 2013 because I was requested to by NOC President Hemasiri Fernando, because he was not coming forward to contest for the post.
Q But it seems like you have moved from one faction – backed by Hemasiri Fernando – to the other faction, because you like to become the President of the NOC…
That’s a wrong idea. The NOC election is usually held after the end of each Olympic Games, every four years. But, the NOC has not conducted elections from 2012 till now. The elections should have been held two years ago. There have brought out various problems and somehow continued in power even though they should have given up two years ago. This is an underhand thing that has been done, and that is what I, and those who are backing me, have seen. 11 sports associations, including the rowing association, wrote to the International Olympic Committee about this, and it is a result of that action that we are seeing an election today. This is a big victory for us. And it is because of this that several associations convinced me that I should contest the presidency.
Q What has been your involvement with the NOC in the recent past?
From 1996 (under the Presidency of the Late Roy de Silva) to date, I have been a member of the Executive Committee. From 2010 to 2013 I was the Chairman of the NOC Finance Committee. But after 2013, I was not allowed to properly carry out my duties in this role. There was no issues with the auditing process or report during my tenure as Chairman of the Finance Committee. I ensured I carried out my duties with transparency. There were no allegations leveled against me.
Q What are your thoughts, looking back at the administration of the NOC?
Till 2012 there were no issues with the administration of the NOC. Everything functioned as per NOC regulations. After that the administrators in the more crucial positions, started working towards securing their long term places at the NOC. They changed the NOC regulations, that limited terms of office to two periods of four years, to a lifetime membership. It is because of the change in those regulations that the NOC has come to this state. They have been running the NOC like a dictatorship through those changes. Those regulations have since been changed back, as per the Sports Law. The administration of any sports association must be done in a transparent manner. But we haven’t seen that in the NOC. There hasn’t been a functioning Executive Committee at the NOC for the last four years. There have been no proper office bearers either. They have caused various problems with the Sports Ministry and ensured that the elections are continuously postponed. This issue with the Sports Ministry is a ruse created by them to continue in office. The NOC can do great things for sports in any country. However, in Sri Lanka we don’t see such a thing happening.
Q What are the shortcomings that you have noticed in the NOC?
There are a lot of shortcomings. The NOC is like a national corporation, and they can do a lot of service to sports. But it has been administrated poorly. This is because the NOC is being administrated according to the whims and fancies of the Secretary General. This has really hindered the administration of sports in the country. If I become the President, my first action would be to appoint a Chief Operations Manager, who will be paid a salary. Previously there was an Administration Officer, the late Michael Karunathilake, and it is since his demise that the Secretary General has monopolized the NOC operations. There isn’t a proper internal audit system that is used at the NOC. If I am elected, I will implement a proper audit internal system. An internal audit system will help clear the accounts, and then we can pass it on to auditors for their approval. The finances of the NOC have been handled without proper approval from the Executive Committee. Also, there has to be cooperation between the Sports Ministry, the IOC, the NOC and sports associations. There are 31 national associations affiliated to the NOC and we need to strengthen their administration. If I become the President of the NOC, I will ensure that each association is given Rs. 5 lakhs (Rs. 500,000) a year just for administration purposes.
Q Should the NOC come under the Sports Law or the IOC Charter?
The NOC should come under the IOC Charter. But, there are certain aspects, such as the allocation of funds and the distribution of sponsorships for foreign tours which should come under the national and sports laws.
Q Sri Lankan Olympians, an organization for athletes who have represented the island at the Olympic Games, was formed recently. What is your view on that organization and how will you support it?
I have heard about this organization. But it’s sad to say that since 1948, when Duncan White won a silver medal at the Olympics, we were only able to win another medal in 2000, when Susanthika Jayasinghe won silver. She’s the only living Sri Lankan Olympic medalist alive. But she is not in that organization. I will ensure that she is treated with respect even by the NOC. I say this, because once Susanthika had said, “even though I have won an Olympic medal, the NOC didn’t even joyfully welcome me with a cup of tea.” I have also noticed that there isn’t a single picture of either White or Susanthika at the NOC. It’s good that Olympians have got together and formed this kind of an organization. I will welcome those in that organization and utilize their expertise at the NOC.
Q The nominations put forward by the national associations for Judo, Hockey, Badminton and Wrestling have been objected by you and those who are backing you, and those objections were rejected by the NOC Election Committee.
That was an unfortunate incident. But, we’re not going to challenge that decision. We welcome the decision by the NOC Election Committee to reject the two votes given to the Athletes’ Commission. That was a good decision.
Q There have been allegations in the past that the same NOC officials have gone on foreign tours, even though there was no requirement for them to.
That’s true. If I come into power, I will put an end to that and send only the most suitable officials on tours. The same way, we have seen several members of the media also going on tours unnecessarily through the NOC. I will stop that as well. I will form a media committee and send only those approved by that committee.
Q Do you think you can win?
I am 100 per cent sure of my victory. Out of the 31 associations, 22 associations are with me.
Q There is an allegation that you have used political pressure on associations in the hopes of securing their votes at the election.
I refute that. I have no need to use political pressure or to throw money at associations to get their votes. If they are sure that I can do a good job, they will vote for me.
INTERVIEW WITH SURESH SUBRAMANIAM
Q Could you give us a brief description about yourself?
My name is Surendran Subramaniam but I am more popularly known as Suresh Subramaniam. I was born in Dehiwala and started school at St. Lawrence’s. Thereafter, I moved to Hindu College Bambalapitiya and joined Royal College Colombo for my higher studies.
Q What is your experience as a sportsman and as a sports administrator?
I am a genuine national and international former athlete and sports administrator. I was presented with an International Tennis Federation (ITF) Award for services to the game. I was the Secretary General of the Asian Tennis Federation (ATF) since 2006. I was presented the ATF Hardin Grant Award in recognition of my services to the game. I received the ATF Award for achieving excellence in tennis. I re-initiated wheelchair tennis for war victims in 2001. I was the uncontested President of the Sri Lanka Tennis Association (SLTA) for five years from 2002 to 2007. The SLTA was recognised by the ITF as the best run in the world during my tenure. Under my guidance the Sri Lanka Davis Cup Team were elevated from Level 4 to Level 3 in 2002 to 2007 and to Level 2 in June 2007. The ITF also gave SLTA an award during the Centenary Celebrations in 2015. I was the National Doubles champion from 1981 to 1982 and was ranked number one in Sri Lanka in singles and doubles in 1981. I was the Davis Cup Captain (2002), Coach (1989-90) and a pool member (1980-1983). I also introduced tennis for hearing impaired children at the school for the Deaf and Blind Ratmalana (2006). I played junior cricket, table tennis, Interschool level football at Royal College.
Q What is your profession?
I have a fine track record demonstrating my competence not only as a tennis player but more importantly as an effective administrator who has made a difference in performance wherever I have held a position of responsibility. I am the Chief Executive Officer and Director of Arrow International (Pvt) Limited. Before that I was the Head of the Foreign Exchange Department of Forbes and Walker.
Q Why did you decide to contest for the post of President?
Actually, I did not have any idea of contesting the NOC elections and it was the incumbent President Hemasiri Fernando who invited me to contest during a NOC Constitution Meeting held last year. He promised to provide me all the encouragement to contest the elections. So, I accepted the invitation at that stage. I think with the amount of experience I have, I should be able to carry out my duties as President of the NOC quite smoothly.
Q What are your thoughts on the current NOC administration?
Actually, I was not aware of the current NOC administration as I was not associated with any matters related to the NOC. I was more involved with tennis and the SLTA administration. I think, the current administration headed by President Hemasiri Fernando and Secretary Maxwell de Silva have performed their role honestly. The NOC is a vital link in sports administration for both local and international events. There could be a couple of lapses from their part occasionally. So, we cannot blame the entire NOC for a minor mistake of one of their members. Maxwell de Silva who is contesting for the post of Secretary, is an honest person and with my team we could form a great committee. I believe in hard work and I perform my task to perfection.
Q What are some of your goals, if you are elected?
I must appreciate the work of Hemasiri Fernando who has given us the Olympic House for our headquarters. Today there are only a handful of sports which has their own headquarters including rugby, cricket, tennis and football. All other sports do not have their own headquarters. My idea is to provide accommodation for the other sports as well at the Olympic House. I do not hope to put any burden on the Sports Ministry as I have plenty of sponsors. Everybody knows that Suresh Subramaniam is capable of finding sponsors for NOC events.
Q Are you confident of winning the NOC election?
Yes, definitely. My victory is already assured.
Q What is your vision for the future?
My ambitious vision is to nurture and nourish this flame of passion for the sport of choice, the framework and support must come from the federations. Federations have to be made stronger for sports to prosper. They should aggressively support the National Federations to help Sri Lankan athletes to qualify and win medals at the Commonwealth and Asian Games. We will support National Federations by helping them hire foreign coaches and sending deserving athletes for overseas training to the world’s best training centres.