NOC and the overall sporting potential of Sri Lanka
By The Line Judge
Schools are the cradle of any sport and the development of talented juniors is essential if the country is to progress in the international arena.
Sri Lanka cricket and rugby once upon a time boasted of a healthy school structure serving as a feeder base to the national team. This solid pathway has however dwindled over the past decade for different reasons, one of which is commercialization of sport. It is not due to a dearth of talent but a lack of resource management and failure on the path of authorities to nurture the nursery brimming with a wealth of talent.
There have also been many conflicts between the education ministry which regulates school sports and the sports ministry which is the guardian of national sports associations. Then there is the apex body controlling Olympic disciplines – the National Olympic Committee (NOC) – which determines who has the right to represent the country at major international events such as the Olympic, Commonwealth and Asian Games.
Just over a year ago there was a cold war between the sports ministry and NOC before the Sri Lanka contingent landed in Kathmandu for the 2019 South Asian Games (SAG). Although Sri Lanka reaped a harvest of over 250 medals off all shades, an inquiry was launched into the administrative blunders and allegations of throwing matches. The findings of the committee headed by Gregory de Silva were swept under the carpet with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nonetheless, the NOC headed by Suresh Subramaniam went about their task of gearing up for the Tokyo Olympics, which was postponed and came up with a great initiative of finding the next Olympic champ in partnership with Crysbro last year. More recently they launched www.NextOlympicHope.com, a novel digital funding portal that enabled the public to financially sponsor rural athletes, school sports associations, and sports clubs and chambers across the island.
The requests published on the portal are pre-reviewed thoroughly, and can range from sponsoring a pair of new shoes for a needy athlete with potential to secure international victories or contributing towards a new sports complex at a rural school unable to provide this facility to their children. At the end of the day, the principal goal for this initiative is to ensure the overall sporting potential of Sri Lanka is enhanced and elevated to Olympian levels by reducing some of the financial burden that can often create great barriers to achievement.
The NOC has gone a step further by teaming up with the Ministries of Sports and Education to launch a Junior Development Program targeting the upcoming Youth Olympics. Through this program, the NOC Junior Development committee intends to overlook the selected athletes’ performances and their needs up until the age of 18. They will be looking at athletes targeting the next three Youth Olympic Games and also who have the potential to develop into medal winners in the future. The three-tier time frame of 4, 8 and 12 years will be focusing on all Games and Championships falling within the stipulated time period.
This is a great pathway to nurture and foster talented junior athletes who were caught between the devil and deep blue sea when it came to national representation. School boys and girls are at the mercy of education ministry officials even when they get selected for internationals because they have to grant approval for them to take part in age group tournaments. Sri Lanka Rugby (SLR) for instance has been carrying over a deficit balance spent on junior age group tours in the past with the schools rugby body finally relenting to be aligned with the sponsor of the parent body. Even the Boxing Association of Sri Lanka invests a lot on junior boxing talent but the Schools Boxing Association is in sync with their mother association. Football has also drawn up a blueprint for the development of junior talent by conducting coaches and referees education programs and supporting academies. The way forward for development is by focusing on grassroots talent.
Schools sports associations should in fact function under the umbrella of their national sports association in order for talented athletes to benefit. The committee will discuss in detail how to provide financial support, look at nutrition, coaching assistance (physical, technical and mental), overseas coaching consultancy and sending athletes for world ranking tournaments. Can this function be performed by the school body?
The NOC president must be lauded for bringing together 34 federations related to Olympic disciplines in which Sri Lanka have the potential to win medals at future Youth Olympic Games. “We don’t want to bypass federations. We have to work with federations,” said Subramaniam.
This is another feather in the cap for Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa who has been pro-actively engaging with Education Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris to bring school sports under one roof. The change in the political landscape may have helped. It is believed that through this strategic program and limited resources available for sports, it would prudently manage to achieve the greater objective on the international medal podium.