Alex Swedish still has hopes to play in domestic tournaments in the island and manages studies at Kelaniya University and training like a pro
When Romanian teenager Alex Swedish did a google in search of a country to study and play rugby, what nation do you think surfaced as the best place for this endeavour? Sri Lanka!
That’s how Alex and his mother Julia visited Sri Lanka three years ago to set the course to make the former achieve his objective. Back then, the Rajapaksa regime was in power and domestic rugby offered so much opportunities, one was foreigners being allowed to represent local teams.
Back then, Alex tried his luck with Navy SC and befriended expat Samoan player Jeff Macapelu who was a regular with the Navy SC team. Alex trained hard with the Navy team, but he didn’t get to play matches because everyone thought he was under-aged to play club rugby, being a teenager.
Alex was then 16, in love with rugby, but the doors that opened for him at the sea going force didn’t take him beyond the walkway to the Navy’s rugby home and into the living room. That’s when Macapelo invited him to try his luck in rugby by going with him to New Zealand.
Alex flew to New Zealand with the thought in the back of his mind that Sri Lanka was still the best place in the world to study and play rugby. A nasty ankle injury put him out of the sport for some time. Within the next three years, he finished high school where he studies fine arts. In between studying, he played rugby for a Division 1 team in Romania called Dinamo.
Last year he returned to Sri Lanka, but chose Havelock SC as his club. But the face of Sri Lanka rugby had undergone a serious change. “Things seemed bleak with a no-foreigners- policy in place,” said Alex. According to him, the potential Sri Lanka showed to attract foreign players to play here had shrunk.
Alex was kind of desperate to find a rugby ‘home’. He went to Havelock SC, but the Park Club was not in a position to offer him a contact. He was only allowed to train with the team. He took the opportunity to learn and grow as a rugby player. He was alright being the ‘water boy’ on match days.
He worked hard at training, as anyone else. “I liked the approach Havies took to open out training, play touch, do a lot of passes and the runs which all helped to raise the skill levels and make everyone confident. Havelocks went a long way using these training methods and finished as the second best team,” he opined. Alex had all praise for coach Ronnie Ibrahim and said, “He was good and didn’t put pressure on the boys. He gave a lot of freedom for the boys to play their game”.
The domestic season is now over and when Alex looks back he sees that he has gained loads of experience which had also made him more mature and ready for the next rugby season.
Alex’s plans for education are already dotted on the Sri Lanka map that’s visualized in his mind. At present, he is an undergraduate at the University of Keleniya where he studying Russian Language, Western Classical Culture and Linguistics. It was not easy getting enrolled at the university here as both mother and son worked hard at meeting University Grants Commission officials and translating Alex’s diplomas in Fine Arts to meet the entry qualifications.
At the moment, Alex has proceeded some distance in his present goal which is to study and play rugby in Sri Lanka. The plan for education is steadily taking root, but the goal he has for rugby remains stranded like a ship with a broken sail. “If the no foreigner policy continues another year, I will think of representing Kelaniya University in Division C rugby. There are no barriers in this division of rugby, at least,” he said.
He defends his decision to pursue his dream in Sri Lanka despite the obstacles. “I couldn’t have attended University in Romania and played rugby because there are more lecture days and education is a fulltime thing. I wouldn’t have had a problem if I had done a sports degree in Romania, but that’s not what I want,” he said. Alex said that he was anyway looking for this Sri Lankan experience at this stage of his life.
Alex travels quite frequently to observe the beauty of this island when he is not playing rugby and studying. He loves the islanders’ spicy food and regularly drinks king coconut, a drink which he believes contains essential food values. He hopes to scale Adam’s Peak and Sigirya and also make a trip to Jaffna. Alex, who wishes to be a movie director one day, is accompanied on his travels by his Romanian girlfriend.
Alex is an energetic smart teenager who goes where his heart takes him. As a kid, he took to fencing and was good enough to represent the junior national team of Romania. When the rugby bug bit him at the age of 15, some switch within triggered off making him seriously focus on physical outdoor games.
According to his take on Sri Lanka rugby, the outside world can be alien to how popular the sport is here. “You don’t hear much about Sri Lanka rugby globally, but you have to come here to see how large a rugby culture is present in this country,” he opined.
Alex wishes Sri Lanka Rugby (The governing body for rugby in the island) will open the doors for foreigners to play in domestic tournaments. “If foreigners are allowed to play it will help put Sri Lanka on the world map of rugby and raise the skill levels all players,” he said.
The Romanian teen is quite optimistic that the Sri Lankan authorities will share his vision for rugby.