By Susil Premalal
A common elite pool needs to be formed if Sri Lanka is to target a medal at the 2024 or 2028 Olympic Games, says Sriyani Kulawansa, president of Sri Lanka Olympians (SLO).
Kulawansa also believes that the Sports Ministry and the National Olympic Committee (NOC) should provide this pool with all necessary facilities considering Sri Lanka’s failure to win a medal at the Olympics after Duncan White (London 1948) and Susanthika Jayasinghe (Sydney 2000).
She attributed the success in 2000 to the foresight of the Athletics Association of Sri Lanka (AASL) to form an Olympic pool in 1995 not just three or six months before the competition, resulting in the country producing super stars such as Susanthika Jayasinghe, Damayanathi Darsha, Sugath Tillekeratne, Rohan Pradeep Kumara and herself who went onto excel at international level for a long period.
In the past apart from athletics, sports like boxing, weight lifting and swimming produced Olympic level performers, but not a single athlete has been able to qualify for the 2021 Tokyo Games.
Kulawansa is a renowned fromer athlete who has represented Sri Lanka in over 70 international competitions competing in the 100 metre hurdles at the South Asian Games (SAG), Asian Games, Asian Athletics Championship, World Athletics Championship and Commonwealth Games.
A product of Ibbagamuwa MMV, she burst into the athletics arena in the 80s and made her international debut in 1989 at the Asian Inter-Cities Schools Athletic Championship held in Hong Kong.
Holder of the Sri Lanka record in the women’s 100m hurdles (12.91 seconds) since 1996 and and SAG record of 13.12 seconds set in Kathmandu in 1999, Kulawansa has represented Sri Lanka in three Olympic Games (1992 Barcelona, 1996 Atlanta and 2000 Sydney). Among the highlights of her career was winning a silver medal at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur.
A school sports project officer attached to the Education Ministry, Kulawansa became the first president of Sri Lanka Olympians in 2017, an organisation which caters to the welfare of Olympians who have represented the country since 1948 and to motivate future Olympic athletes.
“According to the information we have got, Sri Lanka has been represented in only 10 sports at the Olympics to date. We have a total of 96 Olympians out of which 67 are still living while 20 are living abroad. Of the 47 Olympians who are in Sri Lanka, most of them are in dire straits. Only some of them are enjoying a high standard of living. We formed the SLO in 2017 to look into the welfare of Olympians and motivate future athletes to take part in the Olympics. Thanks to the unity of the Olympians we have been carrying out welfare activities and motivating future athletes without government patronage during the past three years,” said Kulawansa.
SLO has been accepted as a member of the World Olympians organization. However, some of the national sports associations and even the NOC do not support our organisation, said Kulawansa.
Except on a few occasions, members of SLO have not been appointed to the National Selection Committee or National Sports Council by the Sports Ministry.
Even South Asian countries like India honours the Olympians and sportsmen and women who have brought credit to the country with special programmes and even provide them with a monthly stipend, according to the SLO president.
Although there is state and private sector patronage to look after artistes in Sri Lanka, she lamented there is no such initiative for Olympians.
“The patronage given for the veteran artistes is quite significant. We don’t have any objection to it. However, it is sportsmen and women who put Sri Lanka’s name in the world map. For instance, the feats of Susanthika Jayasinghe, Sanath Jayasuriya and the World Cup winning team led by Arjuna Ranatunga are still talked about today. Therefore, it is the duty of the State to preserve the honour of veteran sports stars,” said Kulawansa.
The State should promote Olympians and past national sportsmen and women to the present generation of schoolchildren and future representatives of the country by naming stadiums or playgrounds after them (example Sanath Jayasuriya stadium in Matara) or giving them recognition by appointing them as Justice of Peace (JP), said the SLO president.
Pointing out that key office-bearers of national sports associations are people who haven’t a clue about the sport or administration and that Olympians or other reputed sportsmen and women have not held top office in the national sports bodies or the NOC in the recent past, Kulawansa accused a mafia of preventing them from holding office citing as example how Sugath Tillakaratne and Arjuna Ranatunga were kicked out from the athletics and cricket bodies.