Former national singles champion states that if juniors are trained properly, Sri Lanka can perform in the Asian scene
This is a time when the sport of badminton is screaming for the attention of a capable leader. The racquet sport is in the doldrums, and the opposition voiced to highlight the unprofessional way in which things happen today has fallen on deaf ears. Past national players like Udaya Weerakoon wish to see badminton come out of this mess. This is why accomplished past players like Weerakoon stress that all administrators must support one common goal.
Weerakoon in an interview with Weekend Nation said that Sri Lanka has the potential to excel at the Asian level. But he stressed that success doesn’t come easy. “During my time national players trained twice a day, two hours in the morning and three hours in the evening. Now there isn’t even a national pool,” he said.
Right now, the country boasts of sending a male player for the Olympics. But does Weerakoon see any progress in the sport? “Niluka must be commended for having a goal and vision to make it to the Olympics. But this player having not been beaten in Sri Lanka for more than 14 years speaks poorly of both development and the efforts that other players are putting into the sport,” he said.
The former national singles champion is of the opinion that Sri Lanka needs the services of a foreign coach. He said that Sri Lankan coaches don’t have the capacity to train their players when preparing for international tournaments. “Coaching is not merely feeding shuttlecocks to players. Coaches must encourage players to adopt variations when playing shots. At present, players are being taught to stick to some of the very basic shots,” said Weerakoon who is employed as a pilot with a leading airline.
Weerakoon learned the rudiments of badminton at St. Anthony’s College Katugastota where he came under the spotlight as a promising player as early as age 14. He was already in the national pool by this time. This is why he said that the country’s focus must be on juniors whose ages range between 14 and 17.
He was one of the stars in the late 80s and beat Niroshan Wijekoon in the Men’s Open Singles at the Nationals in 1988. He said that though badminton, unlike now, was a reputed sport back then, he had no option but to choose on a white collar job instead of pursuing a career as a badminton player. However, all the years spent on badminton brought him a reward. The badminton background he had helped him immensely to find employment. Though he stepped out of the competitive badminton scene, he continued to follow the sport and also dabble in it when mercantile tournaments were in progress. For the record he went on to win the singles crown at the World Airline Badminton Championships many times.
Two years ago he got a call to serve as an administrator. Former Sports minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage wanted past players to serve the sport. He was elected as a vice president at the SLB and even served as a member of the national selection committee. But he finished his term in sports administration in disappointment because a certain individual who promised to bring in loads of finances to the SLB coffers failed miserably.
According to Weerakoon as much as 1.8 to 2 million is needed to have the national pools functioning. The SLB has come under heavy fire for squandering some of its finances by funding certain junior tours where the participants from Sri Lanka have had no chance of excelling.
He recalled the times when the SLB (SLBF then) was headed by astute leaders like Lalith Athulathmudai. “Administrators like Athulathmudali had focus and envisioned a future for the sport,” he said. Weerakoon took this opportunity to talk about the selfless nature of past administrators. According to him, Dr. Vigneswaran, who was in charge of the national pool training, had the misfortune of seeing his house being burnt down during the 1983 riots. When the government officials wanted to give him a house he refused to take it. Vigneswaran, instead, requested the government to provide the SLB with a land in Colombo. The present SLB headquarters and badminton courts have been built on this premise.
Weerakoon concluded the interview by saying that there are many people who are willing to support badminton by providing funds. “Infighting and poor administration have blocked this,” he said.