Asanga Seneviratne

Asanga Seneviratne, the president of the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union (SLRFU) justifies the actions of his Association from his attempt to take control of schools rugby and the subsequent withdrawal of CH and FC from the League.

He made the remarks following an article under the headline “Political scrum hits rugby’s unholy ghost” which appeared in The Nation of April 25 highlighting questionable deeds at the SLRFU.

On the subject of CH and FC withdrawing over the change in calendar Seneviratne says: Shifting of the A division club tournament to be held from November to March (from the original April to August) had been discussed and deliberated over the last 10 years by many administrators with none having the courage to make the call. The change was proposed and unanimously agreed by the SLRFU’s Rugby Council which consists of members from all clubs. There were many advantages to the sport and players alike. For example during the months of October to April the weather is more condusive for play with the temperatures averaging in the 25-30 degree mark as opposed to May to September when it is usually five to 10 degrees hotter (30-35). The Asian Rugby Football tournament (ARFU) now conducts an official Sevens series which takes place from August to November and the 15-a-side Rugby Asiad is also contested in the month of May and therefore if the club season runs concurrently with the ARFU organized events then it would end up being a disaster since no club will release their players for national duty.

On the subject of schools rugby Seneviratne said: Schools rugby had to be detached and run separately as opposed to be run concurrently with the club season. The lack of grounds within the country and the challenges faced logistically with the referees and match officials was making it almost impossible to run the schools and clubs tournament smoothly.

There had always been a strain between the Sri Lanka Schools Rugby Football Association (SLSRFA) and the SLRFU over the years an this was clearly witnessed at last year’s Junior Asiad where SLSRFA officials blacked the SLRFU logo on the sleeves of the Junior players’ jerseys which not only proved to be an ugly stance taken by the SLSRFA officials but also incurred the wrath of the IRB for violating a Constitutional law.

There are greater things that needed to be done from grass-root levels. I and the SLRFU have been making every endeavour to get the SLSRFA under the SLRFU banner, but this was stopped dead in its tracks by the power hungry schools officials who pleaded with the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa to keep the SLSRFA and the SLRFU apart.

Despite this the SLRFU had secured Rs. 200 million to be brought in to develop schools rugby with a three to four-year program. The SLRFU offered the schools full autonomy to run the tournament on their own and to manage all the funds collectively with full disclosure and financial audits in place, but the SLSRFA refused this proposal for reasons best known to them and went ahead with their usual sponsorship package of securing less than Rs. 15 million for the year. The financial struggle made the SLSRFA come with the begging bowl to the SLRFU seeking funds to pay the hotel accommodation bill when the Junior Asiad was held in Colombo last year.

The result of poor or no structure at junior level is the reason Sri Lanka is struggling at international level. The players’ priority is only to play for their schools and they don’t have any ambition of continuing and a lot of them suffer serious injury. The conditions they play in are appalling and regrettably no one cares and the (schools) officials are only interested in conducting tournament after tournament.

I strongly believe that Sri Lanka must groom junior rugby players right from the Under-10 to 20 brackets and have a good feeder program to filter and channel them into the senior ranks and if we do not have structures in place similar to countries like Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and England, Sri Lanka would have no hope in hell of competing consistently in the world rugby arena.

On the subject of retaining foreign coaches Seneviratne claimed: This administration has done more to develop the national team than any other Executive Committee in the past. Top coaches were brought in for Sevens rugby and also for the 15-a-side teams. For example Phil Greening the former British Lion was the Sri Lankan coach in 2013 but sadly the SLRFU lost his services as he was offered a lucrative contract to coach the Wales team. The SLRFU had Ben Gollins the English Sevens star who was the coach in 2012 and 2013 and he helped to coach the Sri Lankan 15-a-side team too. He also left because he got a better assignment in the United States of America, but he still continues to help us as and when possible. The Exco has always contracted coaches for the season as and when tournaments are in progress as it is not financially viable to pay them during the off season to do nothing.

On the subject of the exit of marketing expert Alistair Saverimuttu, Seneviratne says: Alistair Saverimuttu was brought in but unfortunately almost all in the Exco did not see eye to eye with him and therefore the SLRFU had no option but to accept his letter of resignation. However he has gone on to praise the current president of the SLRFU as a visionary and for the immense work done by him and support extended by him.

On the subject of funding Seneviratne adds: The SLRFU under the able guidance of its president presented a proper corporate Annual Report to all its stakeholders maintaining transparency with accounts audited for all of the past three years which is an incredible achievement for a sports body in Sri Lanka. The SLRFU coffers stand at a positive Rs.28 million for the first time in its 100-year plus history. The Exco has negotiated a sponsorship deal of Rs.90 million.

After the expenses projected for the year 2015, the SLRFU should have at least Rs.50 million by the end of next season and the SLRFU plans to increase the savings to Rs.100 million by the year end 2016 and invest in Sri Lanka’s first Scientific High Performance Centre built for athletes in this country.

On the subject of development, Seneviratne declared: The SLRFU administration in the last three years has done its best to bring Sri Lanka to be in the third and fourth slots in Asia and it is impossible for Sri Lanka to go any further without scientific training as all top rugby playing countries have these facilities to enhance strength and fitness and skill development.

We may even come down in our rankings if we don’t develop our players professionally. As a result all the hard work done by our National development programs are not yielding the expected results since there are no funds or facilities to scientifically train players or offer them meaningful careers through the sport.

On the subject of his religious conviction Seneviratne affirmed: The biblical scripture adorned on the pavilion of the famous Havelocks Sports Club verse of the Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” is to inspire and proclaim the word of God to all those who visit the venue and it isn’t in any way to create a perception, portray or project an individual character or claim righteousness.

Editor’s Note:
The article referred to by Mr Asanga Seneviratne above in no way intended to harm his reputation. However, we apologize to Mr Seneviratne for any harm or inconvenience caused.