Sports Opinion

FROM HERO TO ZERO! – Winning the Collision by Shanaka Amarasinghe

Police SC continued their purple patch clinching their fourth consecutive game of the 2019/20 Dialog Rugby League at Police Park last Sunday as CR & FC forfeited the game in the 67th minute in an unprecedented move after leading 20-06 at half time. The Cops finished the game 27-16 with a bonus point too. Photo SLR

With schools rugby kicking off in earnest this week, the focus has shifted from the Dialog Rugby League to the Dialog Schools Rugby League. Hopefully, the common sponsor will be able to sort out scheduling issues and maybe even some double bills to get the footfall back into the grounds. Small issues like gate revenue can certainly be ironed out, but those are administrative issues for other days.

It’s incredible and sometimes scary how long a week is in sport. Last week, we spoke of how well CR had used the existing process to overcome a perceived injustice. In the end, objectivity reigned and Sharo Fernando, who was hard done by, was cleared to play for his Club. We said, without any uncertainty, that there was only one way to resolve these issues and that is by subscribing to processes.

‘Sore eyes’ and CR walkout

Unfortunately, in order that words be eaten, CR went from being victors to villains in seven days, over their now infamous walkout. The reasons given by CR for their walk-off in the 67th minute of their away game against Police was that skipper Omalka Gunaratne, among others, were not allowed to enter the field of play by the Match Commissioner, who gave the reason that the players were infected by, or recovering from, conjunctivitis (‘sore eyes’). CR have admitted that their players did have sore eyes, but had recovered from the previous week. The Match Commissioner seemed to have accepted this, and bar one player – Kevin Dixon – allowed the others to take their places on the team sheet, including Gunaratne, who even came on in the first quarter as a blood-bin replacement.

Subsequently, Police had submitted a complaint against the players with the contagious condition being allowed to play. The Match Commissioner upheld their objection, not allowing skipper Gunaratne onto the ground in the second half. CR then protested that they had no players to send on and forfeited the game.

Timing of CR’s protest

It was an ugly sight, and one that we have seen before in schools when Royal trudged off against Isipathana some years ago, but it was a first in the Club scene, at least for many years. Justifications being what they were, CR with many lawyers in their Advisory Committee, should have known well enough to comply and complain.

Even finishing the game with 12 players would have been an accomplishment in a match where they were second best for 78 minutes of the game. Being outplayed by Police and choosing to walk off twice in the second half (permanently the second time) did them no favours, largely because it appeared at the time that they were walking off to protest the referee’s decisions.

Both retreats to the sideline happened immediately after two calls by referee Weranga. The first a 50/50 decision against Rahul De Silva at the breakdown and the second a high-tackle call against Murshid Zubair after which the match was called off. All the while, Gunaratne was arguing his case with the Match Commissioner on the sidelines, but the optics won the visiting team few friends.

‘Process’ important

The inquiry into what fate shall befall CR is now in the balance with the Disciplinary Committee yet to reach a decision. Whether the Red Shirts will suffer a suspension or not is, as yet, unclear.

What is clear, however, is that “process” is vitally important. If the players were cleared to play by the Match Commissioner, they should have been allowed to play. However, was that clearance obtained with the Match Doctor being consulted? If he was, perhaps he would have not allowed them to play and CR could have entered other players onto the team sheet.

Were they deprived of the opportunity? Probably yes. Conversely, the Match Commissioner will argue that he was well within his rights not to allow the infected players to play. Contagious diseases should not be tolerated on the pitch. However, even that decision involves correct processes taking place. There can be little said that absolves the Match Commissioner completely of blame.

Walking off, the last resort

Regardless of that however, even if the Match Commissioner was in grave error, the values of the game of rugby are larger than any one team and certainly more than any one player. CR certainly would have been in a good position if they abided by the equitable rule of coming to court with ‘clean hands’.

However, they have, by walking off and taking the law into their own hands, as it were, lost their ability to argue credibly. Walking off a sports pitch in protest of any decision is a last resort. It is a statement which cannot be made lightly, or recklessly. In a game that CR had conceded a bonus point and played till nearly the 70th minute, what could they possibly achieve by walking out at that moment in time?

It smacked of bad sportsmanship, and in the court of public opinion at least, the Red Shirts have a mountain to climb, and goodwill to win back. It was unfortunate that Police could not celebrate their win in the deserved way, after reaching second spot in the table, behind the indomitable Kandy SC. Sportsmanship dictates that defeat is conceded graciously.

‘It won’t happen again, sir!’

It was an unfortunate show of petulance in a society where throwing toys out of the pram, is seen as a legitimate response to things not going your way. With horror stories of parenting interference and administrative pettiness, the last thing we need is examples like this being set to children. Club rugby’s following is sparse enough without more people putting off the game.

That processes weren’t followed on either side is fairly obvious. But reactions have to always be proportionate, especially if the medical situation had not been properly assessed. What punishment will be meted out is yet to be seen, but hopefully sanity will prevail and hands will be shaken with apologies and ‘it won’t happen again, Sir’ being the lasting outcome. Rugby is a game that demands that its values be upheld at all costs. Its very existence depends on it.

The School League

In the schools league, St. Peter’s and Wesley have laid down early markers with convincing wins, and Trinity suffered first game blues against STC but came through for a lucky win. Kingswood were the bonanza team, scoring some excellent tries against St. Joseph’s.

At the time of writing Isipathana and Royal are still to come out this season, but there will be plenty of unpredictability with some evenly matched teams who seem –prima facie at least– to possess very different skill sets. It should be an interesting couple of months.