The Sri Lanka contingent for the Olympic Games pose for a photo with President Maithripala Sirisena and Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekare

Athletes from a developing country like Sri Lanka will have to focus on bettering their personal best performances when they set foot in Rio de Janeiro for the 31st edition of the Olympic Games.

Sri Lanka’s nine-member team will have an opportunity to check where they stand in professional sport when they compare themselves with other athletes. Going for the Olympic Games is the dream of any athlete, but an event of this magnitude helps everybody quickly realize that those underprepared will fall by the wayside.

Sri Lanka’s team for the Games comprises Indrajith Cooray (Marathon/Captain), Chamara Dharmawardene (Judo), Sumedha Ranasinghe (Athletics), Sudesh Peiris (Weightlifting), Niluka Karunaratne (Badminton), Kimico Raheem (Swimming), Geethani Rajasekere (Marathon), Mangala Ramanayake (Shooting) and Mathew Abeysinghe (Swimming).

It goes without saying that one has to be extra- ordinary to get selected for the Olympics on merit. Those who make the grade this way are known as true ‘Olympians’. These are the athletes who don’t use short cuts and make huge sacrifices in life to make it to the Games. However, all this can’t be said about athletes who get selected thanks to the wildcard system.

mascotThe Olympic Games buzzes with the spirit of sport. Events are competitive no doubt, but there are enough stories we hear each year about the rich and the powerful watching with all smiles how the not so affluent athletes throw in everything, just to be competitive. During the Games the competition is fierce, but outside the Games’ venues there is a sense of sharing and wanting to get a feel of other cultures. Olympic Games officials making provisions to accommodate a refugees team underscores the warmth and courtesy the event extends, something which is possible because everybody believes they belong to a global sporting family.

The crisis in Syria deepened some years ago, but still there were athletes like swimmer Yusra Mardini who believe the discipline they chose will give them a better ticket to life. Not very long ago, Sri Lanka was engaged in a bitter battle against a rebel terrorist outfit. During the height of this civil war, sprinter Susanthika Jayasinghe achieved a rare feat when she bagged a silver medal at the Sydney Olympics.

Athletes like Jayasinghe have sprung from villages which produce natural runners. But with an athlete like Jayasinghe, an Olympic medal was possible because skill was backed by the proper support for her. This feat still stands as the one to remember for Sri Lankans and is a great example for sport providing a passage out of poverty.

Swimmer Mathew Abeysinghe has the genes to be a top athlete, but the journey ahead of him was so strenuous and demanding because he chose to qualify rather than hitch a ride for the Games through a wildcard. Sri Lanka’s sports are stagnated at national level.

There is hardly any athlete who makes the world sit up and take note by improving his or her performances. However, Abeysinghe did just that. And what is creditable is that after arriving in Sri Lanka he excelled under a Sri Lankan coach and under the conditions available to all other island sportsmen and women.

We have heard of so many negativities about how the host nation has struggled to get the facilities ready for the Games, which will be held from August 5 to 21. From issues related to sanitation, hotels and security, Rio de Janeiro has battled its problems like any other nation meets its own challenges head on.

But Rio’s problems are similar to what most developing countries are experiencing. The labour force of a country like Rio might not be geared to meet the demands of sophisticated sporting nations. The challenge of setting up both the games village and the facilities at the stadiums may look like herculean tasks, but it’s quite possible to achieve, in the end. But when one considers the drug (Performance enhancing) problem in the world of sport, what Rio is struggling with as host nation amounts to a minute problem.

Let the people of Rio get on with the work needed to host this magnificent sporting event. Let’s worry about the rampant usage of drugs in sport. There seems little hope in eradicating this drug menace from sport. The President of the ICC Thomas Bach said a mouthful when he said, “Certain parts of the drug detecting system need revision.” The Olympics now is not about closing the gap between the rich and poor. It’s about closing the gap between the honest athletes and the cheats!