By Harsha Amarasinghe
A stubborn decision by Lasitha Gunaratne, President - Sri Lanka Rugby (SLR) has left some senior office-bearers of SLR scratching their heads after the former Royal College Captain forcefully opted to support Japan in the battle for the Asia Rugby Presidency at a time ‘18 out of the 28 countries eligible to vote had already signed to support’ UAE’s Qais Al-Dhalai who eventually became the President during the Ex-co and Council Meeting in Bali, Indonesia yesterday (17).
SLR has traditionally been a close ally of United Arab Emirates (UAE) Rugby Federation and was on course to strengthen that relationship by extending its support to Al-Dhalai in his pursuit to become the President of Asia Rugby.
UAE were to return the favour by supporting former SLR President Asanga Seneviratne to become one of the Vice-President’s of the Asia Rugby, only for Gunaratne to make an absolute mess.
Al-Dhalai, in a letter dated November 11, 2019 addressed to Harin Fernando - the Sports Minister [who resigned from his post yesterday] - warned that the decision to support his direct rival from Japan ‘would bring (Sri Lanka) no benefits whatsoever.’
“This is to bring to your kind notice and attention of the present unfortunate situation that has suddenly arisen due to an extremely short sighted decision taken by the President of Sri Lanka Rugby.”
“UAE Rugby Federation has been maintaining and extremely close, loyal friendship and partnership with SLR, and has contributed immensely to the development of regional rugby, as one family and team.”
“The former President of Sri Lanka Rugby , Asanga Seneviratne who served as General Secretary and on the Committee of Asia Rugby from 2013 - 2018 worked tirelessly to develop Rugby in the region and we supported each other and worked together at all times to take the game in the region forward.”
“His honestly, expertise and commitment is invaluable to us, and we are extremely surprised and perturb by the unfortunate events that have taken place recently.”
“I took over from him as General Secretary of Asia Rigby and I am now contesting for the post of President Asia Rugby at the forthcoming election.”
“Our team that is nominated for all posts, has 18 countries out of the 28 who are eligible to vote already signed to support us.”
“The entire team and the countries that support us endorsed Seneviratne to be nominated as the Vice-President of Asia Rugby. Sri Lanka Rugby too sent in an application before the deadline with his name nominated as Vice-President.”
“Sri Lanka Rugby had also sent another application nominating the President Lasitha Gunaratne for the same post. Subsequently Lasitha has sent a letter withdrawing Seneviratne’s name.”
“Before Seneviratne’s name was supported and nominated by my team we received copies of approval granted by your Legal Officer and also from your Secretary, Ministry of Sports approving his nomination.”
“UAE rugby has an extremely close relationship with SLR and it is unfortunate to see your President now calling and canvassing openly for my rival. I really have no idea why he is doing this and although we have tried to speak with him he isn’t responding.”
“We have hosted many of your National Teams, supported tour officials’ development programmes and helped in numerous other ways to develop rugby in Sri Lanka and always stood side by side.”
“The Sri Lankan expatriate community is actively involved in rugby in Dubai and just last month I personally got approval for yet another team to play in the prestigious Emirates Airline Dubai Sevens Tournament this year.”
“I am in close contact with Deputy President Rizly Illiyas and although he has always been positive and assured me of Sri Lanka Rugby’s support at this crucial election he doesn’t seem to be able to deliver on that promise. He is well aware of the situation of stagnation and deterioration in Asia Rugby and the need to move away from the same old leadership that has been a disaster.”
“Asia Rugby has no sponsor for over six years now and has no plan whatsoever of helping our regional teams develop. The present leadership is only interested in maintaining the status quo and controlling rugby in the region.”
“I have set out a clear plan and our team will not allow this sad state of affairs to continue.”
“I humbly ask you now to intervene in this urgent matter as the Asia Rugby AGM (sic) is scheduled for 17-11-2019 in Bali and give me a hearing at your earliest convenience, since it is not in Sri Lanka Rugby’s interest to continue on the path taken by your President.”
“This will bring no benefits what so ever to your country or to Asia Rugby,” Al-Dhalai stated in his letter.
The Daily Mirror made a few attempts to contact SLR President Lasitha Gunaratne who is currently overseas but the former Sri Lanka prop forward opted to stay away from answering questions despite clearly having the opportunity to communicate through WhatsApp.
While Al-Dhalai was elected as the President, Pakistan’s Fawzi Khawaja and Malaysia’s Velayuthan Tan became the Vice-Presidents, and it has been reported that Sri Lanka’s Lasitha Gunaratne got just three votes.
The New Executive Committee of Asia Rugby:
President: Qais Al-Dhalai - (UAE)
Vice-Presidents: Fawzi Khawaja - (Pakistan)
Velayuthan Tan - (Malaysia), Treasurer: Mike Haynes - (Hong Kong)
World Rugby Council Members: Terence Khoo - (Singapore), Ada Milby.
Members: Natapol Hemyoo - (Thailand), Makoto Nishiki - (Japan), Kakhramon Djalilov - (Uzbekistan), Herman Huang - (Chinese Taipei), Gondo Radityo Gambiro - (Indonesia), Tanka Lal Ghising - (Nepal).