By Yohan Bhasura
President of Sri Lanka Rugby (SLR) Asanga Seneviratne believes that state funds are an essential part if the sport is to reach its peak at international level in the near future.
He made these observations to the Daily Mirror soon after Sri Lanka ended their campaign in the Asian Rugby Championship Division One Tournament worked off in Malaysia recently.
“We started this tournament as Asia’s fourth ranked team but we cannot think of moving further up in the rankings without the backing of the Sports Ministry.”
“The three top Asian teams, Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea have allocated a sum of US $ 4 to 10 million towards their senior team alone,” explained Seneviratne.
“We should initiate a proper structure if we are to compete well against top ranked teams like Japan and other countries. First we should take care of the Under-16, 18, 19 and 20 teams. For this, we need funds”
“We have already handed over our long term plan to the Ministry of Sports. We need Rs. 100 to 150 million to develop the senior team,” added Seneviratne.
“Our juniors should also compete against the best in Asia if we are to make any further progress in the game. Playing against the best at the age of 25 is not going to help our cause at all.”
“If we take cricket, we had only the senior team playing in the beginning. But now we have teams competing at the highest level from the age group of Under-15,” emphasized Seneviratne.
“We should be able to get these funds and have a good 4 to 8 year long term plan and develop the junior teams if we are to beat the three top teams which are above us in the Asian rankings.”
“We had only a sponsorship of Rs. 6.5 million when we took over SLR in 2012. But now the sponsorship has increased to Rs. 100 million. We were able to bring professionalism into the game within these five years. Now we need to take this game into the next level,” commented Seneviratne.
“We have presented our eight year plan to the Ministry of Sports. The prime idea behind this plan is to collect the needed funds along with the Ministry of Sports to sustain the game and to develop the junior rugby teams in collaboration with the Sri Lanka Schools Rugby Football Association.”
Seneviratne also made his observations on the rest of the teams which participated in the Asian Rugby Championship Division One Tournament in Malaysia.
“Although these teams are ranked below us they are pretty strong and take for an instance the Philippines, all 15 players are competing in Australia.”
“There are five Fijians representing the Malaysia team. The Philippines, Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates are all developed countries. We have a history of over 100 years in rugby. But we are still a developing nation,” observed Seneviratne.
The President of SLR also revealed the difficulties and the obstacles they are currently facing.
“We received quite a number of sponsorships when players in the calibre of Namal Rajapaksa and Yoshitha Rajapaksa were representing the country in 2009 and 2010.”
“But we are not lacking in sponsorships just because the government changed a couple of years ago. Minister Malik Samarawickrema and Harin Fernando have continuously supported us,” added Seneviratne.
“We do not have a proper location for our headquarters. Our office and the 24 perch land which we owned were taken over by the previous government.”
“The current location is not sufficient to conduct our activities. We have requested for a suitable office from the authorities,” said Seneviratne.
“We have requested from the government to hand over us the ownership and the management of the Old Race Course. We have also requested for a suitable place to put up our headquarters at this venue.”
“I think almost 90 percent of our requirements would be fulfilled if the government could provide us with residential facilities for the National Team and a playground for training.”
“We are currently spending millions to provide these facilities for the players. I think the government should take care of these facilities. I hope the Minister of Sports Dayasiri Jayasekera will support us,” concluded Seneviratne.