A ground staffer works in the hot sun as Sri Lanka prepares to host the Third Leg of the Asian Rugby Sevens Series at Race Course in Colombo (Pics by Sassanda Liyanarachchi)

Sri Lanka’s sevens rugby has made remarkable improvement, but the same can’t be said about its referees. The islanders have had the honour of getting Colombo in to the list of venues earmarked for Asian rugby activities. Right now Sri Lanka is hosting the 3rd leg of the Asian Rugby Sevens and the venue is the Race Course in Colombo. These little achievements, whether its players doing well or obtaining hosting rights for a tournament, might not give its rugby crazy citizens an overwhelming feeling because something is missing. Rugby fans also wish, as in the past, to see the country produce more referees in the likes of Dilroy Fernando, Nizam Jamaldeen, Aruna Jayasekare or Roshan Deen to be in charge of the whistle at international tournaments. Organizers of the Asian Rugby Sevens state that this time around, the Sri Lankan referees will be functioning only as assistant referees.

These are times when rugby in this island is embracing change. At this time of the year, there is a lot of talk that the governing body for rugby in the island is to be renamed Sri Lanka Rugby. All this is good, but only if the change brings about progress. We should not copy what the world does. We should adopt changes that will work for us. This is a country where its sport is deep-rooted in history. It is also a country where sport can invite unscrupulous individuals who have the potential to threaten the best values in sport. There is also a lot said about a proposal to extend the duration in office of a sports administrator to four years. One must remember that tradition has that magical power to check rot from setting in, especially when people with stained characters are elected to office. Now there is talk that the SLRFU constitution will be subject to some changes, but they must not be made at the expense of proper management and the spirit of sport. We can’t forget the time when the son of an influential politician was calling the shots in rugby union. During this period a lot of good happened to the sport, but there was damage also done to the spirit of the game.

Hosting of the third leg of the Asian Rugby Sevens has greatly influenced the resetting of the sail of Sri Lanka’s rugby ship. Unlike in past years, Sri Lanka’s rugby players have kept their focus on an overseas rugby assignment which has demanded the channelling of energies for three legs. It’s good to see whether Sri Lanka’s rugby players can keep their attention on national rugby for so long when the highly professional domestic league rugby tournament, scheduled to kick-off in November, is demanding their attention.
We also see the return of some of the best sevens players into Sri Lanka’s sevens team, following a period of recuperation after injury. Players in the likes of Muthuthantri, Jason Dissanayake and Kevin Dixon have shown tremendous ability to recover fast following injuries. This ability to make a comeback to the side during an ongoing rugby series augers well for the future of rugby in Sri Lanka.

The SLRFU has the habit of not cashing in on opportunities when they are the host nation of an international rugby tournament. Last week, SLRFU Vice President Lasitha Guneratne spoke about whom to rope in if financial returns are a top requirement when hosting an international tournament. As pointed out by him, the SLRFU must work closely with the Ministry of Tourism and look at bringing foreign exchange in to the country through sports tourism.

For the record, even Japan Rugby Union (which will host the 2019 Rugby World Cup) has been cautioned by World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper that it should grasp the ‘size and possibility’ that a sporting event of this nature presents. The SLRFU should take a cue from what Gosper has just said. Just a few moons ago, China successfully hosted the GIR Beach Rugby Event at Golden Sands Beach in Qingdao. It highlighted that a country with a fantastic beach can think of taking its rugby activities there and also attract tourists.
China has to take its rugby very seriously because the country’s arch rival Japan is a force in this sport. This makes the Chinese Government pump in money to rugby and bring them up to the level of the land of ‘Cherry blossoms’. India has to think of Pakistan at cricket. As for Sri Lanka it seems they are again hot on the heels of an old Asian rugby fore: Hong Kong. This Asian Rugby Sevens Series has made Sri Lanka think pretty seriously about their future in sevens rugby.