bitter story behind the glitter
It was a defining moment for Sri Lankan cricket fans. A day they
will never forget: the magical moment when the unfancied cricketers
from the emerald isle overcame the mighty Aussies to lift cricket's
greatest prize, the World Cup at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore.
of Sri Lanka rejoiced. It was a rare unifying moment for a war-torn
country which desperately needed the kind of balm that this team
of courageous cricketers who dared to defy the odds administered;
hope that the country could hold its head up with pride.
was March 17, 1996. Exactly ten years later, on March 17, 2006,
came news of an unexpected moment of glory. Of how, a young village
lad from the rural heartlands of Polonnaruwa had won Gold at the
Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia. In weightlifting of
all sports! It was a Gold after 12 years at these Games.
story of Chinthana Geethal Vitanage that has emerged this past week
is inspiring. It is again a story of courage, self-belief and iron-willed
determination. How else would this lad, who lost his father at a
young age and who never had the benefit of a 'big school' education
go for Gold? He earned the money to travel to Kandy to train at
the YMCA by working in the paddy-fields as a labourer and lacking
the money to buy the powder that weightlifters use on their palms,
smeared cement dust instead.
the cricketers who had the prayers and hopes of the nation to spur
them on, Chinthana faced the competition sans support, with the
Lankan officials who accompanied the competitors to the Games conspicuously
absent. Yet we have no doubt, that when Chinthana returns home,
there will be a mass of politicians and Sports Ministry officials,
jockeying to be photographed with him and claim credit for his triumph.
sad fact is that whatever success Sri Lanka's sportsmen and women
have achieved from the days of Duncan White's historic Olympic silver
medal in the 400 metres hurdles at the London Olympics in 1948 to
Susanthika Jayasinghe's bronze-medal winning dash in the women's
100 metres in Sydney 2000, it has largely been by their own efforts.
seems to happen is that with each sporting moment of history begins
a circus of corruption. With money flowing in and sponsorships galore,
there is ample opportunity for unscrupulous officials to dive into
the kitty and exploit the sportsman or woman, as was the case with
Susanthika Jayasinghe whose prowess on the track was dogged by problems
in her personal life. This may have prompted the Secretary to the
Sports Ministry's unfortunate remark that people should not go overboard
we now hear, qualified for international events in 2000, 2002 and
2003 in Korea, in Greece, Tonga and China. But there was no backing
for this young man. Who knows what he may have achieved had his
potential been spotted and nurtured earlier.
those who meet the stringent standards set by international bodies
deserve the chance to represent their country? More often than not
we see bloated contingents of officials greedy for foreign trips
travel at the expense of competitors. But then who's accountable?
Sports Ministry under whose purview come the various sporting bodies
that administer sports from cricket to football to athletics and
swimming has been glaringly exposed in recent times. Shameful stories
that emerged recently of forged visas issued with the alleged connivance
of Sports Ministry officials to hapless job seekers with even the
Minister of Sports being dragged into the scandal have left the
travails of each sporting body are a sorry litany of power-hungry
officials and mafia-like operations. Take athletics, where two warring
camps, have dragged the Athletic Association of Sri Lanka into the
headlines for all the wrong reasons. The goings-on at the Football
Federation of Sri Lanka are equally questionable. In cricket, the
country's most famous sport, the constant changes in the Board of
Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka, -- with interim administrations
being appointed and selectors' boards being shuffled -- have reflected
in some measure on the players' performance, pundits would argue.
is money in sport and power aplenty to wield which is why so many
officials are loath to relinquish office and those honest individuals
who could contribute so much, reluctant to enter the fray. Despite
the sports law that was put in place for the betterment of sport,
ministerial discretion has been grossly abused and political favourites
have ruled the roost.
government have seemed powerless to right the blatant misdoings
exposed by the media. But through it all, the ordinary Sri Lankan
has stood soundly behind the sportsman. When Sanath Jayasuriya blazes
yet another century, schoolboys from Matara to Jaffna dream of taking
Sri Lanka to World Cup glory again and who knows how many rural
youth have been uplifted by Vithanage's feat. The sportsmen and
women of this country have dared to conquer. But will any politician
be brave enough to stop the rot in the sporting establishment?