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Best Member of the Rugby Referees Society Jeffrey Sahid (left) receives his Dialog award from Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera in the presence of Society president Nizam Jamaldeen (second from left), Digital Telecommunications Minister Harin Fernando and Amali Nanayakkara, Dialog’s Group Chief Marketing Officer

Promoters of justice and fair-play could find themselves groping for answers over the premature ending of a ban on Dharmaraja College whose inter-school rugby match against St. Joseph’s College was disrupted by violence last July, Weekend Nation learns.
Seven players from Dharmaraja, according to the Sri Lanka Schools Rugby Football Association (SLSRFA), were guilty of playing a part in the violence that left nine players of St. Joseph’s College hospitalized, resulting in the termination of the careers of three of them.

The ban was a nine month imposition set to lapse on March 30 this year but will now end on January 31.

Dharmaraja’s Level-Two qualified coach and former Sri Lanka fullback Radhika Hettiarachchi was also banned from playing any part, and he too is now free to coach a team other than his former school which he groomed to become League champions in 2013.

An official of the SLSRFA said no player involved in the violence will be allowed to play if they are eligible to be in school.

The ban if allowed to take its course would have prevented Dharmaraja from contesting three of their nine matches in the high profile League this year.

At a function to honour referees, Digital Telecommunications Minister Harin Fernando rued the violent incident that took place in Kandy last year and vowed to press for a secure inter school season in 2017.

Most Promising Young Referee Prenith Weeranga (left) with his army mate Ajith Kumara who was also awarded a trophy
Most Promising Young Referee Prenith Weeranga (left) with his army mate Ajith Kumara who was also awarded a trophy

“It was very unfortunate that a school rugby match had to end in violence and nine players from St. Joseph’s College taken to the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) and three payers having to end their careers. We have to do whatever is possible to stop this and the (Sports) Ministry will step in to play its part,” said Fernando, a one-time St. Joseph’s College centre.

He was speaking at the annual Referees’ Awards Night at the Galadari Hotel in Colombo in the presence of his close buddy, Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, himself a staunch rugby follower.

Fernando noted that the inter-school rugby season is far from what it was during his playing days in the 1990s and referees now hold more responsibility to take charge of situations.

“Today the referees are at a professional level and this event (Awards Night) takes them to a new level. What players need to understand is that they have to respect the referee and his ruling,”said Fernando.

One of the referees who stole the limelight was a former scrum half from the less privileged Eheliyagoda Central College in Ratnapura, Prenith Weeranga, who picked up the award for the best up-and-coming referee.

Weeranga, now an army corporal, told Weekend Nation he was honoured by the award and looked forward to refereeing at the demanding schools League.

He may not be far from his next dream after officiating in a schools tournament in Singapore and is touted by seniors as the future of refereeing in Sri Lanka.

Another referee, Jeffrey Sahid, turned many heads when he picked up the most coveted award for the Best Member of the Referees Society.

Most attendees at last week’s ceremony were confused to figure out the criteria followed to select Sahid ahead of the rest, but referees’ chief Nizam Jamaldeen a former international referee said Sahid was the most deserving.

“What we had to take into account was the commitment, discipline, punctuality and keenness to attend seminars among other factors that put Sahid up there”, said Jamaldeen.

The upcoming schools season is expected to bring out the unseen in Sahid and Weeranga among the referees who will sport new badges of identity in the form of bio-electronic cards provided by the Sports Ministry under the direction of Minister Jayasekera.

Jayasekera said referees can no longer be a segment with less recognition.

“You have been rewarded for your hardwork, so follow seminars and develop yourselves”, Jayasekera told them.