By Ravi Perera –
“Now remember” said the coach “You must always get behind the ball”
“Now, how do I do that?” demanded the young cricketer “Sure it’s the same all the way around!”
To the followers of the local sporting scene the FIFA imposed life ban on Manilal Fernando, the former big man of Sri Lankan soccer, would be distressing news indeed. It is not that we have high expectations of our sports administrators. When everything else around is so rotten to expect superior integrity among a small group of persons vying for office in such bodies will be unrealistic. There is too much bad taste shown in the frenzied campaigning, influence peddling and the fanfare of election in Sri Lankan sporting bodies for there to be anything wholesome in the office itself. But what is more disturbing is the noticeable tendency for the various games to be known today for the various peccadilloes of its administrators than the prowess of its athletes!
If we were to look at the game of Soccer itself it is unbelievable that just a few weeks back the Sri Lankan side lost 10 nil ( 10/0) to the Maldivian team. This is the kind of score we expect to see in a one sided game of Rugby. To lose with such a margin to a tiny country like the Maldives is an abject admission of utter hopelessness at the game. Admittedly there are a few small countries which have done very well in a given sport, a case in point being New Zealand at Rugby. Their famed All Blacks have been on top of that game for decades now. In comparison, Maldives is hardly a team to be reckoned with in world Soccer.
Given the state of this game in Sri Lanka it seems presumptuous on the part of our Soccer administrators to want to involve themselves in the running of the game at an international level. But then perhaps it is a national trait. The number of international conferences addressed by our politicians is amazing, considering that on their personal records they have very little to contribute to an international parley. Perhaps our leaders have hidden wisdom and talents which come to the fore only when they take off from Katunayake. At many international conferences, on subjects varying from widening the scope of democracy to law and order, intellectual property to space law we see them making lengthy submissions. It seems to matter little to them that in their own country the subjects they speak about are on the same level as the score in that unfortunate Soccer encounter with the Maldivian team. In such affairs there is no need to be true to one’s own self apparently.
Where Cricket, the other national obsession is concerned (we have to give the first place to politics here) the unseemly activities of the officials provide at least dark comedy compared to the often lack-lustre show on the field. We are told that the game attracted a lot of funds one time but the cricketing coffers are nearly empty now. Today a typical business career in Sri Lanka, replete with bribes, commissions, crime and political patronage is not complete until Mr. Moneybags holds office in a sporting body. Evidently both on and off the field pirates are the role models. In Sri Lankan Cricket there are no “flannelled fools at the wicket” asking “how you played the game” any longer.
Across the road from our Cricket Headquarters is the Sports Ministry Grounds where several of our leading athletes in track and field train. Our medal tally from international meets is a telling statistic of our standard in these athletic events. When our athletes travel for international meets like the Olympics or the Commonwealth Games it is not the precious few medals that they may bring home that evokes interest but the number of team members ( which is a couple of times more than the actual athletes) that will disappear to join the ranks of illegal immigrants in the host country !
What is happening in our sporting scene is obviously contrary to the accepted idea that sports represent finer aspects of humanity. The fearless endeavor, the triumph of the human spirit, the obvious transparency and the concept of fair play, which ideas are so fundamental to sports seems to be lacking right through our sporting establishment.
In the acme of international Soccer administration they don’t waste precious time in putting their house in order. If there is any wrong doing the wheels of justice move fast to deal with the offenders. The credibility of the sport is far too precious to be sullied by indifference or inaction.
But in Sri Lanka all these things are infected by an atrocious political culture which is endlessly indulgent towards misconduct and misdeeds. Given the questionable moral standards of the average politician it simply cannot be otherwise. For the rest of the countrymen who might want to play with a straight bat, like that young simpleton cricketer , it is impossible to know how to get “behind” a ball which seems the same “all the way around” !