Responding to comments made by the Minister of Sports Mahindananda Aluthgamage, the president of the Football Federation of Sri Lanka (FFSL) Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera said that as the governing body of the sport ‘they’ too have a responsible role in updating the country with development. Minister Aluthgamage raised his concerns on the form of the national football team while pointing the finger towards the FFSL officials whom he held responsible for the dismal setback.
|“The time has come to seek assistance from the government”
– Sarath Weerasekera.
(Pic by Hasitha Kulasekara)
“We met the minister and he asked us for explanations on the recent performances of our national team. We understand his concern as the relevant minister because end of the day he is answerable to the top. Therefore he has the right to make any comment based on his stand. But on our part we also have our side of the story,” Weerasekera told the Sunday Times.
“We can understand the Sports Minister’s concern on football. But I don’t agree with the fact that the standard of football has gone down or the administration is not doing anything to promote the sport in Sri Lanka. As the FFSL we are doing all we can to uplift the standards,” he refuted.
Weerasekera who took the helm of football in Sri Lanka last year further went on to say that one of the main reasons behind the sport’s set back in recent times was mainly due to the lack of a professional mechanism for its players.
“I should say that more than our standards, the standards of other countries in our region have improved simply because they have turned professional. However we are not in a position to match the staggering amounts being paid to international stars but at least we can try to offer a substantial amount to our players. We have players coming in from different walks of life and they practice an hour or more per day. We offer some players in the national pool an amount of US $150 per month and we have to admit that players earn more than that from their incomes. Unless we professionalize our football structure we are not in a position to do wonders even in the South Asian region. We are planning on that at the moment we are working on to make turn our players to least semi-professionals. If we succeed there is a better chance of doing well in the international circuit,” explained Weerasekera who went on to say that the administration of FFSL has been operating at a pleasing level.
|Sri Lankan footballers have been not at their best in the international arena. Their string of defeats began against the Philippines in Colombo.
- Pic by Mangala Weerasekera.
According to Weerasekera the FFSL has laid the network throughout the country to popularise football, though it was well known as the most popular game of the poor during an era. The FFSL along with the officials of its schools wing has worked hard to spread football to 400 schools from just over 160 in a matter of years. The FFSL has an affiliate of 46 leagues around the country but according to officials some of them are inactive.
“We must admit that our leagues are not competitive due to financial snags. Last year we had to suspend a few leagues due to this. But the respective leagues have the responsible to generate its finances. Sometimes tournaments are not held and this has indirectly hampered the process of unearthing players to the national level where it affects our stand internationally. Then again the need of professionalizing players rises as a major aspect. It’s like a boomerang and goes around while some hitches remain,” elaborated Weerasekera.
However soon after the dismal performances of the Sri Lanka team in the South Asian Football Federation Cup, the local authorities have had an alarming call to wake up. The FFSL ended the service of the Korean national coach Jang Jung and appointed Sampath Perera to prepare the national teams for the upcoming international assignments. In addition the football officials have approached the ambassadors of Germany and Brazil for technical assistance in their venture to strengthen the national teams.
“Our immediate target is to enhance our chances in the AFC Under-22 Challenge Cup. We also have an Under-23 SAG competition. The national team will play in the SAG Championship in December. We are planning on having pools for senior and junior nationals and camps for them to train. We also have plans to give these players international exposure by having friendly fixtures with countries from our region. We expect to find them employment in the private sector so these players will get a monthly income while being engaged in football. If these plans work out well we will be able to form a formidable national team.”
Though football officials make attempts with a positive frame of mind, the sport in the whole has failed to draw the public interest and more importantly the attention of the private sector, the potential supporters of the game. Failure to produce results in the international arena has only left a blunt affect on the potential stakeholders of football, be it the general public or big companies.
“Earlier football was very popular and Sri Lanka was in the top of our region. But with time our standard came down internationally as we failed to turn professional while other countries did. This has been a big setback what needs to be addressed very fast. And we hope to rectify it very soon. In addition we have made plans to play bilateral test matches with other countries in the region so it will gather momentum gradually to generate public interest and attract more sponsors. There are some misconceptions among the public that we are getting millions from the global body and these monies are spent unwillingly which is totally wrong.”
“We do get funds from FIFA and AFC but they pump money on certain projects such as youth development, women’s football, coaching courses, and technical training. We as the FFSL cannot divert these finances for any other purposes than what is indicated. We are answerable to the FIFA and AFC. They don’t give money to maintain a national team. Generally in other countries the government looks after the national team. For us there are few companies from the private sector who continued to sponsor football all these years. There are many countries that reserve a good portion of their GDP (Gross Domestic Production) for football. But we have never bothered our governments so far. In a way there is no meaning in making wrong allegations without looking into the matter clearly,” Weerasekera clarified.