There was a lot of excitement last Friday at the Ananda College Grounds in Maradana where players representing as many as 16 teams had gathered to exhibit their skills in a seven-a-side rugby tournament. The players were all psyched up; jerseys on and bootlaces tied in a knot. But the sound of studs thumping on the pavilion floor, which is characteristic before the two sets of players get on the field, was absent throughout the day. The scene was similar to a journalist taking call after call, but being unable to write the first sentence to his story. A little inquiry in to why this inaction on this rugby field revealed a sizeable problem. There was speculation that a force was behind a move that was orchestrated to disable the functioning of referees at this tournament. A source in the SLSRFA told Weekend Nation that the SLRFU was making an attempt to show that the schools rugby controlling body was incompetent of even conducting a simple tournament.
Surprisingly, however, these are days when the Sri Lanka Football Union (SLRFU) is showing a keen interest to interact with the Sri Lanka Schools Rugby Football Association (SLSRFA). There is speculation that the SLRFU is having plans to take over the functions of the schools’ rugby association. A source who didn’t wish to be named said that there are moves in progress to enable these two rugby bodies to work together. But some in the SLSRFA are of the opinion that the SLRFU wants to take over the administrative duties of the SLSRFA.
The SLSRFA being incapable of administrating the school rugby affairs is no secret. The school rugby body is managed by school masters, most of whom have not played even junior rugby. Going by the SLSRFA constitution, the only qualification that’s needed to head SLSRFA is to be the principal of a school. Office bearers of the SLSRFA don’t need to have any rugby background to serve as administrators. The source from the SLSRFA acknowledged the fact that outside forces could point fingers at how badly this sports body is functioning due to blunders created by its own officials. An official who has come under heavy criticism by the SLSRFA rugby fraternity is its secretary Denzil Darling. The SLSRFA Secretary is guilty of being, too, democratic in his approach to administration which has led to several admin tasks being incomplete. The other grievance against him is that it is difficult even to reach him on the phone, largely because the school rugby administration is done from Colombo and Darling is based in Bandarawela. There are also reports that several matches last season could not be worked off because a certain official often forgot to book the grounds.
However, despite these errant officials in the SLSRFA, rugby matches among schools have attracted larger crowds compared to club rugby matches. School rugby also enjoys the patronage of sponsors, Singer Sri Lanka PLC and Nestle Lanka PLC, two corporate giants. Apart from these two sponsorships as many as 25 or more schools in the island have their individual sponsors. There is a lot of money involved in school rugby when compared to club rugby, which is struggling to meet its expenses despite functioning in a professional environment.
In the past, there was one occasion (2009) when the SLRFU took over the conducting of schools knockout rugby tournament. Other than that, school rugby has remained at the hands of school masters who have received the blessings of the Ministory of Education. Despite speculation being rife that the SLRFU wants to acquire the SLSRFA, there are many facts that are in favour of the officials serving the schools rugby section to continue being in power. One such fact is that it is more appropriate for the schoolboy rugby players to be under the administration of school masters. The other is that the Education Ministry will never give the consent for the SLSRFA to be dissolved and its affairs to be handed over to the SLRFU. There is one other fact which is the presence of Sunil Jayaweera, the Consultant-Sports & Physical Education, Ministry of Education. He will never allow the SLSRFA to be controlled by the SLRFA. Jayaweera had the thought that the SLSRFA should work independently. He put this thought into practice in 1993.
SLRFU Secretary Nazeem Mohammed said that the SLRFU had no intention to take over the SLSRFA. “All we want to do is work together with the SLRFU and take rugby forward. These two bodies must align their thinking and work towards high level goals. We have formed a committee that’s represented by both parties and we plan to meet regularly in the future,” said Mohammed.