By Susil Premalal
Veteran coach Thilaka Jinadasa has decided to quit as Sri Lanka’s national netball coach.
She will officially convey her decision to the Netball Federation of Sri Lanka (NFSL) once the prevailing situation in the country eases, Jinadasa disclosed yesterday.
A top level netball coach in the Asian region having guided Sri Lanka to triumph in the Asian Championships twice in 2009 and 2018, Jinadasa was preparing the national team for the 2020 event scheduled to be held in June before it was postponed indefinitely because of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Sri Lanka have emerged Asian netball champions five times in 1989, 1997, 2001, 2009 and 2018 since the competition began in 1985. In addition, Sri Lanka have emerged runner-up on four occasions in 1985, 2012, 2014 and 2016, while clinching third position twice in 1993 and 2005 in the Asian competition.
Jinadasa holds the singular distinction of being the only coach to spearhead Sri Lanka’s triumph twice in the history of the championship.
“I took charge as national netball coach for the first time during the year 2008 and 2009. Sri Lanka had not been able to win the Asian title for a period of eight years since 2001. But we were able to win the Asian Championship in 2009 when I was national coach. Thereafter Sri Lanka could not win the Asian Championship for another nine years. On a request made by NFSL president Trixie Nanayakkara and the Sports Minister Faiszer Mustapha, I agreed to take over as national netball coach again after quitting my job as a special consultant in Brunei for five years. The immediate result was Sri Lanka winning the Asian Championship in 2018,” said Jinadasa, whose contract with the Sports Ministry was to run until the conclusion of the 2020 Asian Netball Championship.
“However this competition which was scheduled to be held from June 20 to 24 in South Korea was postponed indefinitely because of the coronavirus and is unlikely to be this year according to my knowledge. I am not sure whether it will be held in 2021 as well,” she said.
“The reason is because the World Junior Netball Championship and the Asian Junior Netball Championship is also scheduled to be held next year. There is no way three major international netball competitions will be held in one year which means this year’s postponed Asian Championships is likely to be cancelled,” she explained.
“I was confident of steering Sri Lanka to a title triumph for the third time if it had been held in South Korea as scheduled. The reason being I had been preparing the national netball pool with high-intensity training continuously,” she said.
However, in her interview with the Daily Mirror, Jinadasa revealed she was at odds with the netball administration.
“It is difficult for me to work in harmony with the present administration of the Netball Federation. Some people in the netball administration are not 100 per cent happy with the position I hold. It is difficult to work with them. They don’t cooperate at all with me. That is why I decided to resign from the position of national netball coach which I had been appointed to in 2018. Now they have an opportunity to appoint a national coach of their choice,” she said.
“Hereafter, I will never accept the post of national netball coach in Sri Lanka. I have received inquiries and offers from several countries. Since my only source of income is from coaching, I will make a decision regarding this in the near future,” Jinadasa, an Olympic athlete, said.
A double international who excelled both in athletics and netball, bespectacled Jinadasa burst into the national limelight as an outstanding sprinter in the 80s, making her mark in the 100m and 400m hurdles, and 4x100m and 4x400m relay events. She won a bagful of gold, silver and bronze medals representing Sri Lanka at every South Asian Games from 1984 in Kathmandu to 1991 in Colombo, equaling the feat of swimming legend Julian Bolling who also holds the honour for having featuring in five Games.
Holder of the Sri Lanka women’s 100m hurdles record for five consecutive years, she renewed the record no less than nine times during the 12-month period from 1986 to 1987. Jinadasa erased Selva Gauri’s record of 15.1 secs in the 100m hurdles by clocking 14.1 secs to own the record herself. When the 100m women’s hurdles event was introduced for the first time at the National Sports Festival in 1986, the honour of winning the maiden title went to Jinadasa.
Asked whether she had any regrets because she was trying to move away from netball just as she had retired from athletics several years ago, she said: “No. I achieved my targets in both sports. In athletics, I went from the South Asian Games to the Olympics in addition to representing Sri Lanka at many international competitions. I was the first woman to represent Sri Lanka in the Olympics at the 1988 Seoul Games. I was honoured with the Deshabandu award for the services I rendered to the sport as a sportswoman. This is the highest honour I got in my sports career. In addition, to mark International Women’s Day in 1998, I got a special award from then President J.R. Jayewardene.”
In netball, she has taken part in international competitions both as a player and coach.
“I first represented Sri Lanka at the Asian Championship in 1993 and was vice-captain of the national team at this event in 1997. I was appointed Consultant Coach of the Maldivian netball team in 1998 and served as Consultant Netball Coach in Brunei from 2011 to 2017. Apart from promoting netball in Brunei, I helped in developing their national team to take part in international competitions. I was awarded a certificate of appreciation by Brunei’s Ministry of Sports in recognition for developing netball in the country. As national coach, I helped Sri Lanka regain the Asian title in 2009 and 2018. My aim was for Sri Lanka to become Asian champions again in the 2020 event. However, the coronavirus dashed my hopes. Nevertheless, I achieved my objectives in both athletics and netball and I am satisfied with what I have achieved as an athlete and as a netball coach.”