Chintaka Fernando | (Pic by Mushtaq Thasleem)

Sri Lanka Badminton (SLB) President, Suraj Dandeniya’s statement to the print media that only players under 25 will be drafted into the national pool in future has attracted both praise and criticism.

Former Sri Lanka junior badminton coach, Chintaka Fernando praised the decision taken by SLB to draft youngsters to the national pool but warned that playing standards of national teams should be maintained.

“If you see the players from other countries, there is hardly anyone between the ages 30-35 who is performing well. The sport needs youngsters, but if the new system shuts the door on seniors who have performed well, then Sri Lanka’s badminton will be in hot water,” said Fernando in an interview with Weekend Nation.

Strangely, however, SLB has decided to make an exception and retain Olympian Niluka Karunaratne when national pools are formed in the future. The 31-year-old Karunaratne is a player who made it to the Olympics despite not winning the singles crown in any international tournament even at Asian level.

Fernando hailed the present move, but said that SLB should conduct programmes to unearth talent. The SLB seems to have young adults in mind, but most parents are disgruntled with how officials are administering the sport. It is known that most parents don’t fancy their children to play full time badminton anymore because they see a bleak future for the sport in Sri Lanka.

Two of the most promising up-and-coming players, Sachin Dias and Buwaneka Gunatilake were backed by the SLB, but eventually they showed loyalty to the firms that employed them and not the badminton federation. Sources say that these players played their hearts out for the firms that employ when contesting the mercantile tournament, something which they quite really didn’t do at the nationals.

Coming back to the fact that SLB prefers youngsters over seniors, Dias and Gunatilake tried their best, but couldn’t beat Niluka Karunaratne during the past few years. “It would be ridiculous if the national champion is over 25 years, but gets no place in the national pool,” affirmed Fernando.

The former junior national coach said that SLB should focus on players falling between the ages 12-18. He said that schools should have a solid program for children and scrap the system where the coaches’ services are obtained just twice a week. “Any badminton coach’s services should be obtained full time,” he said.

For the record, the schools badminton championships, held concurrently with the national championships, was conducted poorly with the officials messing up with the draw. This was because players’ rankings weren’t maintained in keeping with the modern ranking system. If this is the manner in which the schools badminton officials conduct affairs, what is the future of youth players?

In most Asian counties, its youngsters who   carry a nation’s hope at international badminton tournaments. Fernando said that India didn’t have top caliber players 15 years ago. “Now they have a whole bunch of players,” he affirmed.

Badminton is a sport which demands stamina, power and endurance. The shuttle travels at a speed of 130km per hour during a smash. Fernando said that the SLB should have a two year program at the bare minimum if they have difficulties in planning for the future. According to him, nothing much can be accomplished without sufficient finances in the SLB kitty and no national pool in operation. “You can’t expect to beat the best in the world without a solid programme in place,” he said.

Fernando pointed out that the courts at the SLB and the hostel at the premises should be refurbished. There are eight rooms at the SLB hostel at Maitland Crescent. In the past these rooms had been rented out to serve requirements in sports like cricket. Fernando pointed out its only just to recall the name of Dr. Vigneshwaran who took the initiative to build the hostel.

The manner in which the last national championship was conducted came under fire by the badminton fraternity. This is the result when people with no background in badminton ‘parachute’ into positions in the executive committee. The present officials of the SLB show no interest in obtaining the services of accomplished past national players. The SLB shows a great aversion to invite badminton stalwarts to serve the sport. Their only ambition is find ways to be in power and administer the sport according to their whims and fancies.

Niluka Karunaratne
Niluka Karunaratne