Schools rugby which has acquired a prime status as being the most patronized domestic sport by way of spectator participation is poised for a possible blow-up if not a bloodbath if a warning by hardcore administrators is shoved out.
The season already showed signs of an impending catastrophe when a curtain-raiser match between Wesley College and Trinity College, two schools with almost a clean slate, ended in a free-for-all and made worse by the invasion of bench players.
But behind the scenes a more frightening scenario is taking place and officials of the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union (SLRFU) say the so-called inter-school League is unauthorized as far as they are concerned and fear the worst unless the situation is defused.
“We have not being informed officially of what this tournament is about and have not sanctioned anything. We do not even know what the tournament rules say and there is no guarantee of player safety”, said Lasitha Gunaratne the SLRFU’s vice president and its Tournament Chairman.
Gunaratne said tournament rugby cannot be conducted unless the International Rugby Board or World Rugby authorizes it through the respective local administration which is affiliated to them.
He said that among a woeful list of tournament violations is the deployment of players as young as 16 or 17 years, totally against the accepted declaration that an Under-20 tournament has to be contested by players above the age of 18.
“What guarantee is there that a 16-year-old boy won’t break his neck or sever his spinal cord crashing against a 19 or 20 year old”, Gunaratne asked.
He said the situation was made worse by the absence of what are called Citing Officers who supervise a match from the sidelines and report back to a Judicial Officer who studies video evidence of rule violations by players and then decides on a form of punishment.
The need for a Judicial Officer could not have been projected more when a Royal College player in his team’s opening match against St. Joseph’s College last Saturday was stamped in full view of spectators some of whom were parents of players. He left the field with a bloodied ear and face while the offending player was yellow carded.
The incident was a chilling reminder that player safety was top priority. “We are not policemen. The presence of a Citing Officer is only to ensure that players are discouraged from violating the rules or indulging in dangerous play. It’s a requirement and a deterrent”, said the SLRFU’s Judicial Officer Aruna Jayasekera.
Jayasekera said that a player booked for stamping can even be banned for years depending on the deliberation of the offence while international authorities like the IRB or World Rugby are notified so the offending player can be banned from the field even as a student studying at an overseas university.
School rugby in Sri Lanka is currently run by College masters whose knowledge and workings of the sport they know very little about and come from an organisation called the Sri Lanka Schools Rugby Football Association (SLSRFA).
Its secretary Denzil Darling said they are only answerable to the Education Ministry and not the SLRFU but claimed that the schools tournament is being conducted according to World Rugby rules and no underage player is exposed to dangers.
“We have a tournament committee and a disciplinary committee and we are also seeking advice from the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union. We have asked them to advice us and recommend Citing Officers and are in the process of deploying Citing Officers”, said Darling.
The 2017 season which covers the League, a Knock-Out and a Sevens showpiece had a selling price or market value of Rs.85 million but the SLSRFA settled for Rs.46 million and unlike in past years it was not launched in the presence of the Media for reasons best known to them.
But Darling said they were bound to honour an agreement with their longstanding commercial partner and their relationship with them was working smoothly to their satisfaction and that of the Education Ministry and the funds are well accounted for.