By Naushad Amit reporting from Nepal
The 13th South Asian Games (SAG) are already underway in Kathmandu, Pokhara and Janakpur in Nepal and finally the majority of teams representing Sri Lanka, who had to eat the bitter pills, have decided to ignore all that and focus on winning medals for the country.
After India decided to field their athletes in only a selected number of sports (17 out of a total of 28), Sri Lanka stands the chance of topping the medals tally.
But the greatest contributors of the country’s medals at multi-sport events, athletics, have been mostly at the receiving end during this mission.
Firstly, they had to wait outside the hotel they are booked at after a logistical mishap, nearly three hours before they were provided lodging.
It was understood that officials in-charge of technical and logistic aspects of the SAG 2019, have not booked rooms for a squad of 68 but upon arrival only the athletic squad was made to understand that the facility had accommodation for 34 persons only.
Eventually the athletic team management decided to place the Women’s team at the place of booking and the Men’s team had to wait for nearly three hours before the officials hunted down for rooms.
Then, they were relocated to another hotel before the entire athletic squad was reunited on Sunday afternoon at the first place they were booked into at.
However, the saddest part of this episode is the way the Sri Lankan officials treated their own ilk.
It is a clear fact that the responsibility of the athletes of any sport is to perform up to their potential, qualify justifiably, and then focus on their performances and that only.
Sadly, the Director General (DG) of the Ministry of Sports seems to have misunderstood that fact. Rather than standing behind Sri Lanka’s own representatives on the field, he has been a busy bee, holding media conferences to rationalise what some of the teams, mainly athletics, had to experience while on the way to Nepal, and upon arriving in Kathmandu.
Even at the time the DG was holding a media conference to Sri Lankan journalists on Sunday morning, the Men’s athletics team was shifting to the fourth and final location, carrying their own baggage, on busy and dusty roads of Kathmandu.
The DG had told the journalists that at any sports it is the athletic squad that always becomes the ‘headache’, perhaps not knowing that these athletes are the contributors to bulk of the medals in the final tally and that booking hotel rooms and looking into other matters are not in their hands.
The DG had also told the media that the Ministry of Sports have even become the ‘laundrymen’ of the athletic team and ridiculed their behaviour by justifying his end.
He had comfortably told the journalists that staying outside a hotel for few hours and carrying their own baggage are not a matter to be shamed, comparing to the efforts of the Ministry of Sports, to put all matters together.
But from the very point of putting the blueprint for the SAG, the Ministry of Sports probably, overestimated themselves as the sole authority, even sidelining the National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka (NOCSL), who are thoroughbreds in conducting behind-the-curtain work, such as technical and logistic, ahead of any multi-sports event, be it the SAG, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and even the Olympics.
Had the Ministry of Sports taken the expertise of the NOC, in organising, liaison and coordinating all matters prior to any game, rather than let matters get out of hands, athletes would not have be in the receiving end.
If the DG at least had the common sense of studying the incidents before making statements to the media, the athletes would not feel dejected and unwanted, as to what is obviously visible in their faces.
The bottom-line – the DG could easily have looked into the matter and genuinely apologised for the inconvenience caused for the athletes, which were actually not their ‘mistakes’ at first place.
What continuous to occur in Kathmandu that began in Sri Lanka, is the ego of a few upper-hand authorities, who are only focussed on probably their own well-being.
If Sri Lanka somehow manages to top the medals tally, it would be obviously because of the grit and determination of those sportsmen and sportswomen, who looks to have fired-up to prove critics wrong.