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I shall be a crusader in the fight for justice in sports administration - Rohan Fernando

07 Dec 2021

      [caption id="attachment_178009" align="alignleft" width="453"] Rohan Fernando addresses the gathering at the second Sabuddhi Sports Literature Awards Ceremony, held at the Duncan White Auditorium of the Ministry of Sports on Friday (3)[/caption]  

Rohan Fernando is the current Chairman of Sri Lanka Telecom. Former Head of the Rowing Association of Sri Lanka, he contested for the Presidency of the National Olympic Committee (NAC) in its last Annual General Meeting in February 2018. In this keynote address of the second Sabuddhi Sports Literature Awards Ceremony, held at the Duncan White Auditorium of the Ministry of Sports on Friday (3), Fernando highlights many controversial areas in present local sports administration that hinder sports development in the island and also, his willingness to fight evil.

Today we are gathered at this iconic hall of fame to recognise and honour journalists of sports literature. It is pertinent today than ever before for sports journalists to play a crucial role in writing sports history and the ethics that have strengthened the character of a sportsman so that all sportspersons, young and mature, will embrace the principles of fair play and justice which are sadly lacking today, not only in Sri Lanka but globally.

Today, sports in general have become “winning by hook or by crook” for money, and even lose when money demands so. It is a cancer spreading across all areas of sports and even sports administration.

As the keynote speaker, I would like to make my speech carry a message of goodwill, sportsmanship, and, above all, an appeal to conduct all sports affairs without corruption or manipulation. When I attended the first-ever sports journalist’s awards ceremony (last year), I was elated to speak in the presence of the new minister in charge (Namal Rajapaksa, Minister of Youth and Sports) where he had started his tenure by example of non-interference.

Country of great legends

The newly-elected National Sports Council (NSC) contained many respected sportsmen of excellent quality, led by Mahela Jayewardene. The NSC was given full authority to prepare operating procedures for disbursement of funds to sports federations and high-performance programmes with accountability and transparency.

This was never the case before. I still believe the Honourable Minister will focus on his mission in the same spirit as he started, despite many distressing issues of complacency and delays in punitive action against wrongdoers who are operating within the sports federations with personal agendas.

We are a country of great sports people, staring from the legendary Duncan White, our first medal winner at the Empire Games and in whose name this auditorium has been dedicated to. Later in our times, there emerged the fastest woman in Asia, the great Susanthika Jayasinghe bagging a silver medal in Olympics, and, of course, the evergreen Arjuna Ranatunga under whose captaincy Sri Lanka emerged world beaters in cricket.

Where has gone wrong

That’s our history, sadly but also our national sports DNA. When you look around, talent is aplenty but there appears to be a big gap in harnessing talent and get these young people mobilised for the development of their skills to win medals.

Would you believe under a previous sports administration, a project was started to build swimming pools and a vast number of pools were built island-wide at exorbitant costs. Today we have more swimming pools than good swimmers! Most pools are abandoned and todate, none has been held responsible for this colossal waste of national funds. You can obtain details from the Ministry of Sports, on what I just mentioned.

It should be deeply analysed by you, the sports journalists, as to what has gone wrong in our sporting capabilities and why we haven’t maintained the momentum created by our legends and produced sporting greats whilst countries much smaller than us have taken up that task.

Lack of discipline in administration

Perhaps our focus is more on cricket where the administrators regularly get bashed for irregularities. Our national sport volleyball and other widely indulged sports such as athletics, soccer, hockey, and badminton have not made sufficient progress to make a mark in the Olympics or world games.

What we found at the NSC is lack of focus on training for winning and lack of discipline in adhering to diligent training protocols. The NSC, together with the Ministry of Sports (MoS), is identifying the gaps for financial support and we sincerely hope these funds will be used for its real purpose, not like the way funds were utilised for those swimming pool projects, where a good number of pools are left to be still waiting for water and the swimmers!

We send large contingents of competitors, support staff, officials, reporters, and friends of the NOC to major international events at colossal expenses to the state. Now it has become a mostly used practice that you try to be included and accredited in a national contingent for an international sporting event primarily to get a joyride. They do so with scant respect for their national duty.

Corrupt at the top?

The accrediting authority for most international sporting events is the NOC and they pass on the costs to the MoS but take no responsibility for any failure. NOC does so whilst maintaining the position of an NGO (Non Governmental Organisation) that is limited only for accreditation. This is one of the reasons for large contingents of “joy-riders” and some others even go abroad for other personal businesses too, as was reported in the media recently.

Isn’t this part of a corrupt and manipulative system involving the apex bodies of sports and the very bodies professing to eradicate all forms of manipulations in sports? It is interesting to note that the NOC, at the recently held Annual General Meeting, passed into law a clause to eradicate all forms of manipulation in sports.

Why and how did they realise that there is manipulation only on the eve of declaring elections to the NOC. If you look at the last NOC election, you the sports investigative journalist would understand why. Do you think this piece of legislature would be revered by the ‘top cats’ of world’s topmost sporting body? The Constitution also prohibits anyone from seeking redress from a court of law in Sri Lanka. It is further advanced now to ban federations and individuals even from criticising the apex body with total disrespect to our judiciary.

Double standards

Honourable Minister and the officials of the Ministry, our sports federations have appealed time and again to you against ‘miscarriage of justice’ in elections conducted for sports federations. You the investigative journalists have regularly highlighted these issues but, unfortunately, no credible action has been taken to correct these grave injustices.

Today the office-bearers of three prominent federations -- swimming, handball, and cycling -- elected under an independent election committee, under the supervision of the MoS which is the statutory body for all sports as enshrined in an act of parliament, are disregarded by the NOC, allegedly citing political interference.

In the same vein, several other federations taking the same path of electing office-bearers under the supervision of the MoS are accepted. We can only conclude that the latter federations’ office-bearers are ‘inclusive’ whilst the others are ‘excluded’. Why haven’t the MoS taken objections as the statutory body which is separate from politics?

Rio Olympics funds case

Then again, the fraudulent ‘double draw of funds’ related to 2016 Rio Olympics, as highlighted by the Auditor General in his report in 2019 and given wide publicity, appears to have been swept under the carpet whilst the top decision-makers of the apex body have been given a clean bill. We are puzzled Mister Minister!

I have often spoken of the removal of Mr. Dian Gomes on the pretext of coaching whilst the NOC accommodates several professionals of sports goods importers and coaches in their midst. The icing of the cake is the current President of the NOC, being desirous of contesting another term, electing the independent election commission by himself violating the basic principles of independence and accountability, which are clearly stated in the NOC Constitution.

Mister Minister, I would like to state here for record that the Patron of the NOC is His Excellency the President and these violations in operation by the NOC needs deep consideration and actions deem necessary for prompt corrections, come what may from the veiled threat of IOC being flagged.

I shall be the crusader

Unless and until the cleaning of the stables are done, I cannot see hope for the free spirit of the sportsmen to reach their objectives unhindered.

I shall be a crusader from now on in the fight for justice and fair play in sports administration. I may be the lone wolf, but I will be more potent from outside than from within.

You may interpret my statement anyway you like dear sports journalists but there is a strong group of dedicated people who will take the fight to the epicentre for a resounding victory, whilst being either assisted or not by persons we believed to be the guardians.

I thank the organisers of this event led by Mr. Sirinama Rajapaksa and also the Ministry of Sports, and the main sponsors SLT-Mobitel.

My congratulations to the award winners! Thank you and have a pleasant evening.


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