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Tournament Committee Chairman in the 3rd Leg of the Asian Rugby Sevens, Lasitha Guneratne says players must understand the difference between profession and professionalism

Sri Lanka is at present working hard to retain its place as the second best rugby sevens team in Asia, a challenge which SLRFU Vice President Lasitha Guneratne sees as something worthwhile killing yourself for.

Sri Lanka’s rise in the Asian Rugby Sevens Series was swift, but not unthinkable. There was potential for such achievement given the islanders’ structure that suits the abbreviated form of rugby union. “The most important factor that contributed towards this achievement is that the authorities created a passion for sevens rugby. I think that change came about with the Carlton Sevens and most recently with the Super Sevens,” said Guneratne who is expected to play the role of Tournament Committee Chairman at the 3rd Leg of the Asian Sevens Series which Sri Lanka will host on October 14 and 15 in Colombo.

Lasitha Guneratne
Lasitha Guneratne

At the moment the   battle for  the  top spot in Asian rugby is between the fleet-footedness of the Sri Lankans and muscle power of Hong Kong. From another perspective, this is a contest between a professional side made up of islanders against a side that comprises expatriates who have come to Hong Kong with the prime motive of finding employment, not playing rugby. So then why is Hong Kong getting the better of Sri Lanka in sevens rugby? For the record Sri Lanka lost to Hong Kong 22-17 and 36-0 in the two finals played in the series so far.

Guneratne sees a big difference between the words professional and professionalism. “One can play rugby for a living. But the passion you have for rugby and the commitment you show will help others judge whether there is any professionalism in your approach to the sport,” said Guneratne. He said our rugby players must ask themselves whether they live the lifestyles adopted by professionals.

Come October 15, Colombo will be buzzing with the vibes created by the third leg of the Asian Rugby Sevens Series, scheduled in Colombo. Sri Lanka has been one of the venues for this tournament since last year. Guneratne said that Sri Lanka had the facilities plus the experience in hosting a tournament of this magnitude.

According to him, the Race Course in Colombo has the capacity to take in 10,000 plus spectators. The Asian Rugby Football Union is expected to provide referees for the tournament. Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union will provide assistant referees and the judicial officer, whose role will be played by Aruna Jayasekare.

The rugby produced at this tournament is sure going to be of vintage stuff. Teams will go all out because this is the decider, the final outcome showing all teams where they stand in the Asian sevens circuit. But Guneratne sees beyond the boundaries of the rugby stadium. “The host country must cash in on the occasion and rope in the tourism ministry and the health ministry. Rugby tournaments like this can bring in foreign revenue because, if marketed properly, foreigners will come down, which means business for hotels. Also rugby is a sport which can tie up with the health ministry. A healthy nation ensures costs are reduced in keeping a nation away from illness,” he said.

There is concern in the rugby fraternity that there is no government support for the Colombo leg of the Asian Rugby Sevens. The SLRFU has to pay for renting out the ground. As Guneratne sees it, rugby being a little distant from the caring arm of the government authorities has a history to it.

He said that the sport receiving step-motherly treatment is visible from the time one takes to school rugby. “At the time you cut your teeth in the sport you get used to neglect because rugby comes directly under the purview of the Education Ministry, which apparently does nothing for the development of rugby. I think it is high time that school rugby in Sri Lanka comes under the Sports Ministry because then all age groups in rugby will come under the competent authority” he said.

He also underscored the importance of roping in a schools segment for a tournament like the Asian Rugby Sevens Series. That is only if efforts put in to rugby are expected to script a success story. “One can’t run a tournament of this nature without a school rugby segment because this type of tournament (Inter-school rugby) is so popular and the authorities can use the fame of schoolboy players to draw crowds to the venue,” Guneratne said.

He said that the much looked forward to domestic club sevens tournament had to be scrapped to accommodate the 3rd leg of the Asian Rugby Sevens series. Guneratne said that there was opposition for this move.  “We need to change our attitudes and the way we think if we are to move forward in the international rugby scene,” he said.