Sri Lanka’s sporting cradle is being rocked by sadistic elements and if not brought under control could spell doom on an unprecedented scale for youth sports in the country before long.
The red alert was made by the principal of Trinity College as he launched his school’s 100th big match annual cricket encounter against St. Anthony’s College which both schools bragged was the only sports encounter in the country that offered a platform for decency and fair-play.
“Trinity College and St. Anthony’s College have never played to win at any cost but sadly this is not the case with others where winning at all costs has become very dangerous and if not checked school sports will suffer a terminal decline”, Trinity College’s principal Andrew Fowler-Watt declared.
But what was more strident about the perception of his warning was that he unleashed a firm message for anyone who cared that schoolboys are being used as pawns to satisfy the egos of responsible adults.
“At the end of the day these are games played by children to enjoy and no one should get in the way of that”, said Fowler-Watt who heads a school that has one of the richest sporting traditions dating back to 1893.
He did not single out any school or youth institution that is guilty of degrading sportsmanship, but Fowler-Watt, a British national, is no alien to a fearful arena where violence and abuse have become synonymous with schoolboy sports in the country especially rugby with corporate companies having financial stakes running into millions of rupees and coaches paid unprecedented amounts to make teams deliver on the field.
Some rugby players are even forced against their wishes to take pain-killing tablets or injections to overcome their injured or aching bodies against medical advice.
Only last year did the so-called schools rugby League end in tragedy when nine players of St. Joseph’s College were brutalised and taken to hospital as their match against Dharmaraja College came to a violent end in Kandy.
But Trinity and St. Anthony’s College are not just passionate about ensuring violence-free conduct in sports in Kandy, but in the entire country as they have branded their 100th cricket big match “A Century of Friendly Rivalry”.
“It is not just hundred years of cricket between us”, said the principal of St. Anthony’s College Fr. Henry Wijeratne. “It’s about friendship and the spirit of sportsmanship and we have never played to win at any cost. It is an inspiration that we have set”.
Perhaps the best known example of sportsmanship in recent history was enacted last year when at their annual big match the rector of St. Joseph’s College Fr. Travis Gabriel awarded the result to St. Peter’s College after the contest was deliberately disrupted as the latter was poised for victory.
Fr. Travis’ deed came in for high praise from international cricket scribes who saw it as a hallmark of graciousness.
Unlike some of Colombo’s other big matches that have been scarred by unruliness and violence over the years, the Trinity-Antonian match has been the least affected by hooliganism if not the cleanest according to the purists.
Both schools can also claim credit for shaping the careers of several Sri Lankan cricketers who rose to become international stars, among them batsman Kumar Sangakkara from Trinity College and iconic spin bowler Muttiah Muralitharan from St. Anthony’s College who perhaps has an unbreakable record of 800 Test wickets.
With an overwhelming emphasis on virtues and fair-play both schools insist they will not move the 100-year contest into a three-day affair for better results on the lines of another big match played between Royal College and S. Thomas’ College whose centenary encounter marked a switch-over from two days to three days.
As many as 64 Trinity-Antonian games have ended in stalemates with the former posting 23 wins as against 12 by the latter.
To further underline their stance both schools have lined up several off-field fellowships in the run-up to the match scheduled for March 10 and 11 at the Pallekele International Stadium.