Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa claimed that he would not be bullied into selecting players to fulfil personal satisfactions and arrogance following the Daily Mirror article on Friday (15) titled ‘SLR Made to look like Puppets.’
The article discussed how several top players in the form of Srinath Sooriyabandara, Jason Dissanayake, Kavindu Perera and Danush Dayan could miss out on representing Sri Lanka in the upcoming Asia Rugby Seven Series.
“I know these players and what they have done for the country and how well they have performed, they have my absolute respect for that. But that was two years ago. How could you logically pick a squad upon what they did two years ago? This is why there is a tournament where all the clubs have been given the chance to send out their players and if these clubs have failed to do so, how could the Ministry of Sports or Sri Lanka Rugby (SLR) take the blame for that?” the former Sri Lanka rugby captain questioned.
Kandy Sports Club opted not send their players to the tournament organised by Police SC, stating that they have a policy which demands players to be trained for at least three months before they take part in a high-profile tournament.
“We have always maintained that a minimum three months is required for training after a 19-month complete layoff. We don’t know about other clubs but we strictly adhered to the health guidelines issued by the government and closed the gym and none of the players trained during these 19 months,” Kandy SC said in a statement.
Sports Minister Rajapaksa however, does not agree with Kandy’s explanation on why they would not send the players for the tournament.
“The clubs were allowed to start training months ago. If you look at a club like CH, they ensured the individual training of the players were carried out without interruption, so the players would be prepared for tournaments,” former Sri Lanka forward said.
When contacted by Daily Mirror, President Kandy SC stated that the players needed proper training.
“We are a very professional club. As we all know rugby is one of the most physical games and injuries happen often and we have spent so much on injuries of our players because we deeply care about our players. What the squad needed was proper training and without that we were not willing to risk our players,” Mahesh Weerasinghe told Daily Mirror.
Kandy SC also sent a letter dated October 6 to the SLR questioning when the fifteens rugby tournaments were going to start claiming that they need particular information in order to prepare their players.
“Since the players have not been in training for over 19 months, we would need a minimum of three months to prepare a team to participate in a Tournament. To expose the players without proper strengthening and training would mean risking injuries. Therefore, in order for us to prepare our team we would like you to kindly advise, Whether SLR has finalized any plans to conduct a 15-A-side League Tournament and if so when would the matches commence? As indicated by us, please ensure that at least 3 months' notice is given to the participating Clubs. Whether SLR has decided to conduct a Sevens Tournament in December and if so kindly let us know the dates as soon as possible,” Kandy questioned.
Sports Minister Rajapaksa however believes that SLR should have been able to plan these events properly.
“I think SLR is one of the most inactive sports bodies in Sri Lanka. If you look at even sports like Kabaddi, they are working extremely hard and carrying out their duties very well. I have to commend cricket as well. I think people like Pramodya (Wickramasinghe), Murali (Muttiah Muralitharan) and Aravinda (de Silva) have done a tremendous job,” the Minister concluded.
SLR President Rizly Illyas in response claimed he was surprised by the statement.
“As we all know, the Sports Minister played rugby and has great knowledge about the game, so I am a bit surprised by this statement and I think he has probably been misled. We should not forget that rugby is level four sports under the Covid guidelines, so it is not as easy as other sports. There was the High Performance Committee appointed by the Sports Ministry to monitor rugby (comprising Sanjeewa Wickramanayake – Chairman, Julian Bolling, Yaswath Muttettuwegama, Asanga Seneviratna, Mahela Jayawardena and Ronnie Ibrahim) appointed by the Sports Ministry that has given a master plan in December 2020. We only started meeting in March 2021 and met over Zoom on over five occasions, maybe this committee has not mentioned to the Minister our progress, and how planned and organized SLR’s HP committee under Chairman Rear Admiral Hettiarchichi and Secretary Jude Dimithri has been. I personally attended the last meeting in August in the Ministry premises during the Japan Olympics period and the ministry committee said they would discuss our matters with Minister and get back to us and up to date we have sent several messages and received no response from them. SLR has all the meeting minutes and zoom meeting records on this matter. We should all get together and support each other so we make sure rugby reaches the next level,” Illyas said.