S. Thomas’ College Mount Lavinia, led by Pandula de Silva (third from left), was one of the teams favoured to win Milo President’s Trophy Knockout Tournament | (Pic by Kelum C Nelumdeniya)

S. Thomas’ College Mount Lavinia making protests requesting a venue change for their semi-final match in schools rugby knockout tournament and the Sri Lanka Schools Rugby Football Association (SLSRFA) denying them a neutral venue has opened the doors for critics to question the competency of the schools rugby officials.

The Royal Sports Complex served as the official venue for the knockout tournament and an SLSRFA official told this writer at the start of the tournament that if Royal College Colombo featured in the semis or finals a neutral venue will be provided for these matches. However, what is sad is that the SLSRFA didn’t stick to this word.

S. Thomas’ College made it to the semi-final and played Royal College under protest because their request for a change of venue was turned down by the schools rugby body. The Old Thomians Rugby Football Union (OTRFU) President Thariq Munna told Nation that the OTRFU had backed a protest made by S. Thomas’ Warden demanding a neutral venue with their letter, but the SLSRFA had not provided them with a favourable response.
He went on to state that S. Thomas’ College believed in conducting themselves in a gentlemanly manner and played the semi-final without considering a boycott as an option. Royal College entered the final after beating S. Thomas’ in this controversial semi-final match.

However, what has made the Thomians exasperated is the SLSRFA notifying both the finalists of the tournament-Royal College and Isipathana College- under a directive of the Education Ministry to play the decider at a neutral venue. “We are asking the SLSRFA why is there such double standards,” Munna said.

Warden S. Thomas’ College Rev. Marc Billimoria
Warden S. Thomas’ College Rev. Marc Billimoria

It came as a slap in the face of the SLSRFA when the Warden of S. Thomas’ College Rev. Marc Billimoria resigned from his post as one of the Vice Presidents of the SLSRFA over this issue. Informed sources said that Billimoria chose to quit the SLSRFA because the schools rugby body gave incorrect reasons regarding its inability to change the venue for the semi-final, citing that the sponsor would be unhappy if a neutral venue was named. Munna confirmed Warden Billimoria had stepped down from his post held at the SLSRFA.
The picture that the SLSRFA painted regarding how the sponsor of the tournament-Nestle Lanka PC- would have responded to a venue change has proved to be unsatisfactory.
It is reliably learnt that Nestle Lanka PLC had only made a humble request from the SLSRFA to play all matches of the knockout tournament at the  Royal College Sport Complex citing security reasons. The sponsor had made this request before the tournament kicked-off. They (sponsor) had in no way insisted that the SLSRFA comply with their request.

Several attempts made by Nation throughout the week to contact officials of the SLSRFA proved futile.

It is apt at a time like this to mention that there have been more competent officials who ran the affairs of the SLSRFA in the past. The worth of an official or leader can be judged at a time of crisis. The present set of school rugby officials have shown in no uncertain terms their incompetency in handling rugby affairs during a time when the journey has to be made on rough sea. Past rugby officials like Ranjith Chandrasekara and Susantha Mendis did a wonderful job in administering the affairs of rugby in the past and encountered the least problems.

It might not come as a surprise if some of the leading rugby playing schools boycott the under-20 Inter-schools knockout tournament next year. The SLSRFA made a mess of a decision taken to suspend senior rugby teams of three academic institutes this season, following disciplinary hearings. This decision proved ineffective because the three schools and their players will be out of action during the off-season.

It is the wish the schools rugby fraternity that the SLSRFA has as its office bearers neutral individuals too. This year the SLSRFA is headed by B.A. Abeyratne who also happens to be the Principal of Royal College.