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Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam (Fourth from left) accepts the sponsorship documents from Singer Sri Lanka PLC Asoka Peiris at the launching ceremony of the 2017 Singer Sri Lanka League Rugby Tournament which was held at Water’s Edge in Battaramulla. Also in the picture are From left: SLSRFA Secretary N. Jayasuriya, Special Adviser to Education Minister Sunil Jayaweera, Education Ministry Secretary Sunil Hettiarachchi, SLSRFA President B.A Abeyratne and Singer Sri Lanka PLC Director Marketing Kumar Samarasinghe (Pic by Kasun Fernando)

This is a time of the year when most rugby players are either celebrating or ruing the results they’ve obtained after sitting for the Ordinary Level Examination. Minister of Education Akila Viraj Kariyawasam speaking at the launch of the Singer Schools Rugby League boasted that the results out this year underscored that they are the best in the history associated with this examination. But he also had disturbing news for everyone. The minister said that there were reports of three failed suicide attempts by students when the results were announced. Minister Kariyawasam went on to state that engaging in a sport like rugby will help children deal better with the stress they are experiencing due to the present education system which is heavily lopsided towards examinations.

Rugby in Sri Lanka even at school level calls for a huge commitment from players. The game has moved on from an era when it was played by elite schools to the present where most of the schools in the running are backed by corporate companies which are playing the role of sponsor. Singer Sri Lanka PLC could be termed as the first sponsor of a rugby event on the merits of sponsoring the Bradby Shield (Between Royal and Trinity) back in 1987. Singer’s commitment to rugby expanded over the years as they came on board to sponsor of the league rugby tournament.
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Singer Sri Lanka PLC Director Marketing Kumar Samarasinghe speaking at the occasion said that this will be Singer’s 15th year as the sponsor of the league tournament which is now on to the final week in round one. Rugby without argument is the most popular sport among schools, but apart from the fame players receive there are also expectations that they (players) will grow in stature as individuals. “I hope to see this sport mould the character of rugby players,” Samarasinghe said.

At present, matches are held in 3 divisions and had attracted entries from 97 schools. School rugby is a growing thing with more less affluent academic institutes taking to the game each year. Singer Sri Lanka PLC CEO Asoka Peiris recalled how Singer came into ‘bail out’ the Sri Lanka Schools Rugby Football Association (SLSRFA) in the years 2008, 2009 and 2012 when there was a severe need for finances to conduct the tournament.

Some of the lesser known schools also got a shot in the arm in terms of finances with Singers’ continued commitment to rugby.
The tournament thus far has produced some upsets and even a debate as to why Segment 2 A has to play a lesser number of matches compared to Segment 1A which has seven teams in the running, one more than the other group. A SLSRFA official told The Nation that no one should worry about the discrepancy in the number of teams in the two groups as the qualifiers for the second round will be done using an average that’s favourable to all.

The schools league tournament has over the years been marred several times due to court cases being filed by grieved parties. Special Adviser to the Education Minister Sunil Jayaweera said that schools should focus on promoting camaraderie among each other and the thought of competition should come later.
This year, as in the past, the attraction will be the Division 1 Tournament where 13 teams have been pooled into two segments. Royal, Isipathana, St. Joseph’s, St. Peter’s, St. Anthony’s, D.S Senanayake and Dharmaraja battle for honours in Segment 1 A while S. Thomas’, Science, Trinity, Zahira, Wesley and Prince of Wales lock horns in Segment 2A. Last year Isipathana College won the tournament with S. Thomas’ College Mount Lavinia finishing a close second. But this season so far, there have been no favourites with the team playing the best rugby on match day emerging the victor.

Education Ministry Secretary Sunil Hettiarachchi endorsed the fact that inter-school rugby is without argument the most popular discipline that kids engage in. As much as sponsors, parents of players are also concerned about the huge amount of finances that’s pumped into keep the sport alive. This segment of rugby is big business and there have been times when the school rugby bubble has burst when the mounting pressure takes a toll on everyone. Last year’s violence marred match between St. Joseph’s and Dharmaraja is a good example.

It is worth reiterating the message that most of the speakers at the launch chose to voice; ‘rugby should help build character and promote camaraderie’. Living up to these expectations is as challenging as taking the glittering Singer League Cup Championships Trophy home.