Athletics given no value
Previous government gave me
a house and Rs. 5 million
In the wake of Olympic Silver Medalist sprinter, Susanthika Jayasinghe publicly stating that she may have to resort to auctioning off her crowning achievement in order to ensure the survival of her family, Jayasinghe spoke to Nation regarding the controversy surrounding the predicament of sports, especially athletics, the issues with sports officials involved in sports administration and management, and about the lack of bare essentials for athletes, during which she revealed the bitter, naked truth behind discarded heroes and wasted zeroes.
Below are a few excerpts from the said discussion.
Q : What is the background to the issue?
A: I have no issues with the Minister of Sports. There is no personal animosity. I have not associated with him closely and neither do I have a political connection with him. His is a youth I have met.
During the time of the previous Government, I was appointed a sports advisor and was given a monthly salary, and a vehicle along with a driver. The latter was because I had to attend sportsmeets held in schools and in daham pasals (schools teaching Buddhism), to general affairs and political matters. How I was paid, whether by a foundation or the Ministry or out of the subject Minister’s pocket, I don’t know and neither is it my business.
However, when the Government changed, the job was stopped and I was asked to handover the vehicle within a week. This is because it was a political appointment. There was nothing permanent as such.
Subsequently, I met the Sports Minister numerous times and requested that I be given a position, an opportunity to support the work that should be done with regard to uplifting sports. He requested for some time. I waited, living silently for a year. As a lass that was recognized by the world, as a sportswoman and also as a woman, it is a shame that I have to request for such. We shouldn’t have to ask. It is the responsibility of the Ministry of Sports.
The Sports Minister later obtained Cabinet approval to appoint me as an advisor, the letter pertaining to which I was given in July 2016. I also requested that I be given a place to work from. Even this interview is being conducted in an ambalama (a hut). The Sports Minister wanted to give me a place, yet the ministry secretary and other high officials didn’t do this. When I met the Sports Minister several times at functions and reminded him about this, he even got angry over the officials not seeing this through. Now he says that I have been given room number eight on the third floor. I challenge him to show such if he has indeed given such, without lying to the country. It is not I who will be destroyed but the sports sector, which will in turn go to the dogs.
I subsequently met an additional secretary regarding this matter and also spoke to him by phone regarding such. I also met some officials who told me to do what I could and to look after the sportsmen and sportswomen and to go the universities and train them.
Subsequently, I discussed with the trainers and discussed what was lacking including also with regard to the sportsmen and sportswomen, their problems and about the grounds.
If this is how I am treated, how will everyone else be treated? There is no value given to sports. It is only if the value is there that the talented ones will come out and victories will be achieved.
This should be explained and understood. The value of sports must be managed.
Though I am an Olympian, my medal has no value and I have not been entrusted with a duty. I have not received the cheques for the months of April and May. Subsequently President Maithripala Sirisena intervened. I spoke to the said additional secretary this week, who informed that the cheques would be ready during the week.
My interventions are for the betterment of the sports. I am not ungrateful.
I haven’t blamed anyone. I came to politics to serve the country. I talk of injustice. I don’t need to leave the country. When there were problems and there were shortages I could have left.
Yet if things continue in this fashion, I may have to auction my medal and live abroad.
We too would like a pension. It is not that I am asking for something that cannot be given.
Q : The Sports Minister says that you have been helped on numerous occasions.
A : Stating that an academy would be started or that a helicopter was sent to airlift me to hospital are not answers to the particular question. During the previous government, I was given Rs 5 million and athletes such as Sriyani Kulawansa, Damayanthi Darsha and Sugath Thilakaratne were given Rs 1 million each along with a car permit.
All Ministries and Ministers have done such things. None of such came out of the relevant Minster’s pocket. It was the National Olympics Committee that helped me launch my book, ‘Magey Kathawa’ (My Story). These are things done in general for sports.
Therefore, even though one or two persons may not understand the meaning of giving proper value, others do. It is not that my personal economy and finances have crashed. The Sports Minister is a skilled politician. Yet, the management of sports is not done in a proper manner.
Q : There are allegations that you don’t know how to manage your affairs.
A : There are issues between me and my husband. I built a good house in Bandaragama on four acres of land. This was through money earned via victories at meets to which I was invited overseas to. My husband stands in the way of me gaining ownership of this house. The Ministry does not take any responsibility for the athletes and does not look after us. I contested elections from the Kalutara District. I understand management. However the management of sports is different from the management of one’s private life. The worse they can do is stop me from getting Rs 60,000. I don’t need money but sports cannot be developed by attacking sportsmen and sportswomen and slinging mud at them and by destroying them.
Q : Why have you made mention of the Olympic medal in these circumstances?
A : Educated and intelligent people can understand this. My biggest victory is the Olympics medal. It has value and is marketable. If not for it, no one would give two hoots about me, including the media, even though there is no one who has won more medals than me locally.
Unfortunately in Sri Lanka, athletics is not given any value. When people are hard up and need a way to live, they pawn jewels or land if they possess such. I have this medal which is of value and can be marketed. Abroad, there have been cases where athletes have had to resort to such.
Q : Have you considered training to become a trainer.
A : Going abroad and doing a training course is good. I have an idea of doing so. For over 25 years, I have practical experience of sports. I would like to propose and suggest to the Sports Minister and President Sirisena that I be sent to the United States of America in order to become a specialist in short distance sprinting. A pension fund and insurance scheme is a common issue for all sportsmen and sportswomen. This is a fair decision that the Minister in charge of the relevant subject should take.
Susanthika is trying to extort bribes
Govt denies holding her salary
Q : What do you make of this problem?
A : This problem is not something only I face but all previous Sports Ministries and Sports Ministers have faced. If this was a problem that had arisen with regard to sports, a solution could have somehow been given. Yet, this is akin to an attempt to hold one’s medal to ransom and extort bribes. We are not underestimating Susanthika Jayasinghe. She came from a poor family and showed her talents. Because she was coached and trained properly she fell into the correct track. To achieve this fortune, coaches and Governments did all what they could. The first Sri Lankan Olympic medalist, Duncan White became disillusioned about the country and the sport and left the country. Governments have borne a large expense (in the range of millions of Sri Lankan rupees) on Jayasinghe even before she won the medal and also afterwards. She cannot say that we haven’t done anything. It is extremely sad that she lacks gratefulness. As of now, we have given her a job in the Ministry.
Her work involves training small children in 316 schools. The Government has allocated monies to continue this programme till 2028. Jayasinghe and Sugath Thilakaratne have been brought in and it has been formulated. Aside to this, she has to present her monthly programme to the Ministry Secretary at the beginning of a month and obtain his approval and present a report at the end of a month. She absconded on giving the reports saying that she was ill.
Q : She is alleging that a proper job hasn’t been given. What is the Government proposing as a solution to this issue?
A : Neither her appointment as an advisor nor her salary in this regard have been cancelled. We have no need to remove her from her position.
When this Government was elected in 2015, she didn’t have a job. It was an opportunity which she had previously lost in 2014 that was granted to her. In 2016, I spoke on her behalf and recruited her as an advisor to the Ministry and gave her a salary of Rs 60,000 and an allowance of Rs 15,000. I even brought a Cabinet paper to ensure that she gets such till she is 60.
I have approved the salary and allowance till 2020. There is nothing stopping us from giving such to her even afterwards. Previously, we gave her a house in Narahenpita and Rs 5 million. There is nothing we can do about her not being able to manage these properly. Instead of giving thanks, she has taken to the streets and is shouting.
The letter in question requesting her to kindly submit certain reports was sent in April by the Ministry Secretary. Now it is June. It is now that she is shouting. She has yet to submit the said reports. She is not doing her duty. Yet we paid her. However, if she continues to neglect her job, we will have to be answerable for audit expenses. That is why we tell her to come and work.
Q : She further alleges that you had reprimanded her publicly.
A : She is saying that I had told her at an award ceremony that “Thamuse enawako labana maase padiya ganna (Lets see when you come to collect next month’s salary)”. I vehemently deny saying such. At that award ceremony she publicly in front of me said that the Ministry had done nothing for her. As the Minister I felt sad. That is why I met and told her to not forget that it was the Ministry that paid her.
Because she is someone who came to this position through much suffering, we wanted to use her strength to help bring other such children from poor backgrounds to a similar position. Yet her petty mindedness doesn’t allow her to let anyone come to the fore. The reality is that she doesn’t like to help anyone. She wants to say that she is the country’s only Olympic medalist.
The best example for this is the countless times she has said that Rumeshika Ratnayake, currently the fastest in South Asia, cannot run. There are others who have won medals at the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games.
There are others like her such as Sriyani Kulawansa, Damayanthi Darsha and Thilakaratne who have brought glory to the country. Kulawansa is working at the Education Ministry for Rs 15,000. Others haven’t asked for anything; not even five cents worth. The country has problems. Jayasinghe has problems. While we pay her Rs 60,000, the Army too pays her the same.
Q : Are you saying that her criticisms and grievances are not valid?
A : Several months ago she made a statement that sportsmen and sportswomen weren’t being looked after and treated properly and that they didn’t have sufficient food to eat.
This statement was made subsequent to her appointment to the said post. It was precisely to look into such including about the food and nutrition, training, and health and injuries of sportsmen and sportswomen that the said task was handed over to her.
Yet, instead of looking into such, which is her responsibility, and getting involved in such, she is making such statements on whatever the platforms she gets. She as an advisor to the Ministry of Sports is drawing a salary from the Ministry and criticizing the Ministry. Is this right?
In actuality, what she is criticizing is her duty. This is what the people of the country should understand.
She should stop talking and start working. Anyone doubting such should come to room number eight on the third floor of the Ministry premises. We are being criticized for and after doing the right thing.
Q : What about the proposed sale of her medal?
A : She is saying that she is going to sell the medal for Rs 250 million. She cannot do so and even if she does, she will spend it all in six months. Afterwards, she will ask us for money again. After she sells it, she will be the only sportswoman or sportsman for that matter who sold a medal. This is juvenile talk. This is merely to scare us. Neither I nor anyone from the Ministry will talk about Jayasinghe any further.
There is no use in such. Someone or other is directing her to do this. We have no fear. She cannot be satisfied no matter what is given. This will only result in the loss of her self-pride. How much did we try to help her to become a coach and trainer? She doesn’t have any interest in such. I have given her Rs 1.1 million to start her academy.
Former Sports Minister S.B. Dissanayake too helped her. There is no use. No matter what one does this is all there is. First, she has to learn the basic quality of sportsmen and sportswomen, which is discipline. Her problem is over. The Ministry will take the medal into the custody of the Ministry.
Akila Nadeeshani Bandara and Ruwan Laknath Jayakody
Country not indebted to us – Sugath
Former President of the Sri Lanka Athletes Association, Sugath Thilakaratne calls on the government to establish a pension fund and an insurance scheme.
Following are excerpts
Q : As a friend and one time colleague of Jayasinghe and also as a former sports administrator, having been on both sides of the issue, how do you view the present situation?
A : When we were engaged in sports, all facilities required for us were provided by the Government at the time and this included a house, a vehicle and employment. In addition, sportsmen and sportswomen, once they retire from sports, have a responsibility to build up one’s economy and finances by engaging in a job and thereby build up one’s life and future privately, and take it forward, in a manner similar to which we adopted when striving for success on the sports front.
True, we have done something for the country but this does not mean that the country is forever indebted to us or that we can blame the incumbent Government or the Minister of Sports for our state of affairs when we are no longer active in sports.
We must know how to create an environment which is required for us to live. We must manage our life and finances. If we live simply, in a simple fashion, problems are less. We must know and learn how to live in a society. This is our responsibility. Governments too must fulfill their responsibility in this regard. The said duties must continue on both sides.
I believe that Governments don’t neglect sportsmen and sportswomen. Jayasinghe too has been helped. Also, I am her friend and former colleague. I cannot blame either party or point the finger at one. We must look at these problems and issues intelligently.
: The fact remains that there are no pension funds and insurance schemes in place for sportsmen and sportswomen, especially athletes who have a short shelf life in terms of the duration of their sporting careers, due in no small part to the bodily, physical circumstances and wear and tear they encounter in their endeavours.
A : There is no pension or insurance scheme for sportsmen and sportswomen. These should be there. This can only be done by a Government. I however don’t think that one has to at once shout about these things in order to obtain them. Proposals regarding pension and insurance schemes have been put forward. These may be implemented or not. For an example, to establish a pension scheme, is a lengthy process. For an example, the sports personnel have to be categorized.