Cricket has provided the less affluent huge opportunities, but the present system also serves as a hunting ground for corrupt sports administrators (File photo)

The problem with most sports ministers is that they make promises without being consciously aware that their terms might finish, sometimes abruptly, before these goals are achieved

Sri Lankans are known to grab any opportunity to show their skills in sport, regardless whether the action takes place on a tarred road or a well maintained strip of grass.

However, what baffles observers is why these islanders aren’t world beaters at sport.
So much has happened in sport since the British left the island in 1948 and independence was granted. Cricket hogged the limelight during post-independence and the elite society used sport as a status symbol. As the years rolled on, Sri Lanka won Test status and more doors were opened to the downtrodden masses to try their luck in the game played by gentlemen.

The less affluent were as good as the rich or even better at cricket. As the sport spread to the rural areas not only cricketers, but coaches and administrators began to surface, thanks to the development of cricket. If the elite looked at cricket as recreation, the poor grabbed the opportunity to play the game as a hungry man would grab a loaf of bread.
When the national team won the World Cup in 1996, it gave a message to the less fortunate that sport, if done seriously, presented them with a ticket to a better life. The same was true with most sports played in this country. Sports blossomed whenever there was a system in place. Sri Lanka’s presence has been strongly felt in cricket, rugby, athletics, weight lifting, badminton, golf and boxing in the international scene whenever the willing sportsmen and women were backed by competent administrators and generous sponsors.

At present the Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekare has promised cash awards to athletes who win medals at the upcoming South Asian Games (SAG). He has also promised to fulfill the needs of every sportsman and woman, so that they can focus on winning medals. The problem with most sports ministers is that they make promises without being consciously aware that their terms might finish, sometimes abruptly, before these goals are achieved. It always irritates sports fans and critics when a new set of administrators scoff at existing sports programs and use power to implement new programs and come under the spotlight.

If a sport’s goal is to better the lives of less affluent men and women it has served its purpose. But Sri Lanka’s sports officials talk about winning medals without getting the infrastructure right. Most nations commence their bids for medals about one-two years in advance. And they dare change any existing plan because most of the systems they adopt in sport are tried and tested. As with the islanders, whether it is sport or economy, Sri Lankan authorities have given little importance to have a five-year-plan for anything they start.

We had Susanthika Jayasinghe, Arjuna Ranatunga, Mahela Jayawardena, Kumar Sangakkara, Chintana Vithanage, Hisham Abdeen, Fazil Marija, M.J.M Lafir, Niluka Karunaratne, Julian Bolling, Nandasena Perera, Damayanthi Darsha, Sriyani Kulawansa and Sriyantha Dissanayake who did Sri Lanka proud by coming through the island’s sports system. But have we bothered to set up a tested system in sport, like a factory churning out Anchor butter? Where is the next generation of sportsmen and women who can take Sri Lanka sports forward?

Critics point out that it is good that sport has opened up opportunities for the less fortunate to consider sport as their profession. But they have expressed their caution about a good number of less affluent individuals taking to sports administration and promoting corruption. The large number of officials accompanying Sri Lankan sportsmen and women on tours underscores the fact that joyrides are now a feature with overseas sports travelling. It is high time that individuals with a sound education and integrity think of taking to sports administration, so that the negativities revolving around corrupt sports administrators can be rooted out from the system permanently.