Cricket has prospered in Sri Lanka probably because it has a professional structure in place

There often arises the question in many a mind whether Sri Lankans are hard enough in sport? Apart from the cricket team’s frolics at international tournaments, MJM Lafir’s achievements in cue sport, Susanthika’s Olympic feat and racing car driver Dilantha Malagamuwa’s trailblazing runs with his vehicles, others who competed at international events have been termed as ‘those who also ran’.

Kids start sport early in Sri Lanka when they are five or six. We see toddlers in swimming pools, kids running after the oval-shaped ball and sun-baked kids playing cricket on the road. This is good enough reason to be happy that sport is a part of the average kid growing up Sri Lanka. But do we see that aggressiveness of a bully, determination of a thief and the smartness of a genius when kids take to sport?

There are only a few with such potential in most disciplines. They are hardly enough to form a team. But if nurtured properly each one of them can play the role of motivator and inspire others.

Coaches love to see a Susanthika, Arjuna, Abdeen, Darsha or a Lalith Priyantha among their chargers because any one of them will suffice to carry the message ‘talent alone isn’t enough, so you have to work hard at it’.

Cheerleader Percy Abeysinghe has chosen to back the national cricket team for obvious reasons
Cheerleader Percy Abeysinghe has chosen to back the national cricket team for obvious reasons

The biggest challenge coaches face is to convince parents to retain children in the sport. Parental influence in sports in Sri Lanka is immense. The irony is that even past national players don’t want their children to continue in sport. Parents promote the idea that life should have that safety net. This is best provided by education and not sport. This is because only a minority is able to excel at sport, while the majority can quite easily succeed at studies.

But what most parents don’t get into their heads is that sport, like some of the best businesses, involves risk. We see some of the wealthiest sports personalities in the discipline of football. Most of these stars have been injured during some stage of their careers. But they learned to deal with risk and had complete faith that the sport would look after them.

In this context, it is only right to mention that the sports set up at three institutions: Kandy Sports Club (rugby) the Football Federation of Sri Lanka (During the reign of Manilal Fernando) and Sri Lanka Cricket. Those who entered the doors at these three institutions not only achieved their goals but were also taught to think like professionals.
It’s the lack of professionalism which has been the stumbling block in Sri Lanka sport. We see many sportsmen and women being paid to do sport, but is there professionalism in their approach to sport?

There is one good thing that happens in rural areas though. There is an unofficial system which operates where talented sportsmen and women are spotted by those who operate as talent scouts. Skilled athletes get an opportunity to join Colombo schools or gain employment in commercial establishments. But there is nothing official about these talent scouts and most of them are not properly trained to do this job. A talent scout of properly trained should keep an eye on their ‘finds’ and see to their welfare. In some countries these talent scouts often take on the role of being a player’s manager. Some of them go on to become sports promoters.

If you look around closely at the Sri Lankan employment sector, most graduates wish to be employees of state institutes. This is because of security and you don’t have to kill yourself at work like in the mercantile sector.  This is how the cream of the educated public in Sri Lanka thinks.

Unfortunately in Sri Lanka, professionalism in sport shares the same sentiments. When a sports professional thinks long term he might take less  risks on the field. Most young sportsmen and women on this island are ‘raw’, unspoiled and unsophisticated. There is this hidden tendency in most Sri Lankans to relax and enjoy the island life. The worst thing that can happen is if this tendency surfaces at a young age or in early teenage years!