It is a tragedy for Sri Lanka rugby that an elite club like the Colombo Football & Hockey Club (CH&FC) are struggling to compete in local club tournaments run by Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union (SLRFU) due to the local controlling body making a change to the season which is now clashing with the cricket season.
The change of dates from November to March (from the previous April to September) for the local rugby inter-club season by the SLRFU has virtually spelt the death knell of rugby at CH&FC.
CH&FC comes under the aegis of the Colombo Gymkhana Club which also encompasses the Colombo Cricket Club (CCC) and the Queen’s Club. It is the only club that uses one ground for its cricket and rugby. As long as the cricket and rugby seasons didn’t clash with each other it was fine. But with SLRFU changing the dates has led to both sports overlapping each other and sadly rugby has turned out to be the loser having to give in to cricket. CH&FC is the only division I rugby playing club that also plays division I Premier cricket as well.
Undoubtedly the turn of events had a telling effect on CH&FC’s rugby which suffered a lot during last season. They began on a high note finishing runner-up in the inter-club Sevens but as the season progressed their performances gradually eroded.
With no proper home grounds for training and practices the CH&FC found to their dismay that players were starting to drift towards other clubs which had better facilities for rugby. This resulted in CH&FC going through one of their worst seasons in their long history. At the end of the Dialog rugby league first round where they won only one game out of eight, they were forced to withdraw from the rest of the season due to the high expenditure incurred in paying for grounds for their practices and matches.
Shammi Silva, the Colombo Gymkhana Club president said that the club had to pocket out Rs. 9 million for the first round games alone and if they were to continue for the rest of the season it would have cost the club a further Rs. 11 million.
“Unlike in cricket the SLRFU does not pay any money to the participating clubs. We have to find the funds to run rugby,” said Silva. “We had to pay from the club funds the Rs. 9 million. It’s not practical.”
For cricket the club receives revenue of Rs. 5-6 million each season for its expenses from Sri Lanka Cricket.
However Silva confirmed that rugby would be kept alive at CH&FC and they would participate at the upcoming 2015-16 rugby season.
CH&FC’s rugby committee chairman Iqbal Hassan said the SLRFU council had made arrangements for them to practice and play their matches at the Race Course at minimal cost.
“The problem for us is finding the players and most importantly the sponsors. Without a home ground the sponsors are reluctant to come forward,” said Hassan.
The CH&FC has an enriched history dating back to 1896 when the Colombo Football Club (established 1879) and Colombo Hockey (established 1892) combined to form the Colombo Hockey and Football Club (CH&FC).
They have been league champions six times the first in 1982 and the last in 2000, and won the Clifford Cup knockout title seven times between 1957 and 1994.
Primarily a club totally made up of European expatriates over a passage of time it became wholly Sri Lankan by the sixties. The first rugby captain in 1971 was Brian Baptist and the first hockey captain in 1972 was Col Gajendran. Travis Fernando was the first cricket captain in 1971.
CH&FC was at the zenith of its powers during the time businessman and rugby promoter Kishin Butani was at the helm of affairs at the club during the late eighties and early nineties. It was during this period that foreign players started to appear for clubs at local tournaments – Fijian Apisai Nagata being one of the pioneers.
Outstanding players like Chandrishan Perera, Saman Jayasinghe, Bharatha Hegoda, Sudath Sampath, Nazim Mohamed, Rohan Perera and Rohan Abeykoon to name a few have donned the red and white CH&FC jersey before making their mark in the national team.
The SLRFU may have made the switch to overcome the domestic season clashing with the international calendar but having the domestic matches clash with the school and club cricket seasons has left a huge impact on rugby as spectators who are forced to make a choice are likely to go in for the more popular school cricket which reaches its peak with the annual big matches in February and March.
“If this change was made during the time of Asanga Seneviratne he wouldn’t have been able to represent the club at both cricket and rugby,” said Silva sarcastically. Seneviratne was the head of SLRFU when the decision to change the dates was taken. He played division I cricket for CCC and division I rugby for CH&FC.
Would SLRFU reconsider their decision and switch the club season back to its former dates or is it too much to ask for the sake of one club amidst so many who have hardly raised a voice of protest over the change.