Niroshan Wijekoon (Pic by Sassanda Liyanarachchi)

Former nine-time national badminton champion Niroshan Wijekoon believes that the present generation of players receives the best of opportunities when compared to his time when playing the sport boiled down to sheer hard work and commitment.

When Wijekoon quit badminton in the early 1990s, the sport came under the spotlight due to player achievement, contrary to now, where newspaper headlines highlight blunders by administrators. Airing his views on the three ongoing badminton tournaments in an interview with Nation, Wijekoon had this to say, “Never in the history of badminton have administrators organized three major events like the Senior Nationals, Junior Nationals and the Mercantile Championships within the same period of time.”

He went on to state that promising junior players are robbed of the chances of performing well at the senior nationals because the scheduling of matches this year is taxing the players. For the record, players who contest the finals of the Senior Nationals in Kurunegala (On October 29) have to be in Colombo the following day to play in the finals of the Mercantile Badminton Championships.

The badminton fraternity, especially the clubs and provincial associations, had a hand in the present day badminton officials coming into power. These administrators gave assurances that they’ll attract sponsors to boost the coffers at the Sri Lanka Badminton Federation (SLBF). But what has happened now is that the SLBF is complaining that it doesn’t have the finances to conduct tournaments. “There are so many companies that have employed badminton players. The sport is not distant from potential sponsors if you observe. What needs to be done is to approach these companies with a proper plan in hand,” said Wijekoon.

At present there is a huge interest to take badminton to Kurunegala. Critics point out that the Badminton Nationals was scheduled in Kurunegala with the view of getting the sports minister (who also hails from this village) to attend the finals. There are some sports in this country which don’t get enough attention from the sports ministry. There is speculation that a junior badminton team was recently given air tickets to contest an international tournament in Indonesia. As many as 32 players accompanied by four officials returned home empty handed. “Badminton should attract attention for a good reason,” said Wijekoon who added that money should not be wasted on tours which give players little benefit. He prefers if authorities use the limited finances in the possession of the SLBF for development instead.

He stressed the importance of looking after the welfare of players. The former champion said that courts should have a protective carpet because playing on uneven and hard surfaces can be injurious to joints. He also underscored the importance of hiring the services of a foreign coach and said, “When I was playing I had the opportunity of training under a foreign coach. I improved a lot under this coach. I believe a foreign coach can contribute a lot and even make the necessary changes in this set-up.”

He hailed Niluka Karunaratne for making it to the Olympics in Rio. “I think this player had the vision and the commitment to realize his dream of playing in the Olympics. Another Sri Lankan might make it to the Olympics in the future. If a country like India can make it internationally in badminton why can’t Sri Lanka?” queried Wijekoon who represented Sri Lanka at the 1992 Olympics in Spain.

Wijekoon served the national badminton selection committee and is also involved in the Badminton Foundation which is now headed by Amanda Weerasinghe. This foundation sees to player interest and funds badminton projects.

He said that the people who voted for the election of the present badminton officials have their concerns regarding how they are serving the sport. Wijekoon added by reading the pulse of the badminton fraternity, he has figured out that everybody wants a change in how the sport is administered in the country. He hinted that individuals who love the sport have earmarked a person who can attract sponsors to the sport. “We are in the process of approaching him and inviting him to consider contesting the SLBF AGM in the future,” Wijekoon said.