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Sunday, 17 October 2010

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Sri Lanka's crowning glory

Sri Lanka shot into prominence when boxer Manju Wanniarachchi won a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games which concluded on Thursday in New Delhi.

He eloquently rewrote Sri Lanka's sports history on Wednesday afternoon by winning the men's 56kg bantamweight gold medal at the Talkatora Indoor Stadium in the Indian capital. The final was a keenly contested tussle for supremacy and the Lankan lad eventually out-pointed Sean McGoldrick of Wales 16-14 to open a new chapter in Sri Lanka boxing.

Sri Lanka last won a gold medal in boxing at the Commonwealth Games, then known as the Empire Games, in Sydney way back in 1938. It took Sri Lanka 72 years to win its next gold medal at the Commonwealth Games until Wanniarachchi broke the hoodoo.

Sri Lanka had set high hopes in boxing at the last Olympic Games in Beijing, 2008 but unfortunately lady luck was not on the side of the local lads. There was strong criticism, most of it sans any weight and loaded with malice. Nevertheless, the man who has been playing the role of Godfather in Sri Lanka boxing for many years - Dian Gomes, Sri Lanka's former boxing chief, as a true sportsman, was determined in defeat.

He vowed to bounce back in a couple of years and today, all the hard work of Sri Lanka's boxers, coaches and boxing officials has borne fruit. Wanniarachchi's win would pave the way for a new era in Sri Lanka boxing. His win would no doubt inspire more and more youngsters to take to the ring sport and Sri Lanka's chances at the Olympic level in future too would be much brighter.

Wanniarachi's golden feat would add more weight to Sri Lanka's bid to host the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Hambantota, which has already been selected as a venue for next year's ICC cricket World Cup.

Hosting a top level international sporting event of this magnitude could soon be a reality with the infrastructure development in the South, especially in the Hambantota District. With Sri Lanka reaping the dividends of peace and marching towards new economic horizons, sports is one area which could be effectively used to strengthen ethnic harmony and national reconciliation.

It is indeed heartening to see the keen interest taken by young parliamentarian and former Sri Lanka Youth rugby captain Namal Rajapaksa to promote Sri Lanka as an international sporting destination. Due to his indefatigable efforts the next edition of the ICC Cricket World Cup will go to Hambantota and similarly, Sri Lanka could be successful in its bid to host the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

A few years ago, barely anybody in their wildest dreams would have guessed that World Cup cricket would ever come to a remote hamlet such as Hambantota. But young Rajapaksa was convinced that Sri Lanka could make it if there was a will and commitment. The newly constructed Sooriyawewa International Cricket Stadium, which has been ratified as a host ground of the 2011 ICC World Cup was a result of his courageous effort.

The Maagampura International Harbour will be commissioned mid next month and construction work on the new Mattala International Airport is already under way. With such a high level of infrastructure development, Hambantota will have more credentials to become a host city for the Commonwealth Games.

High profile sports events such as the ICC World Cup and the Commonwealth Games would definitely attract more tourists to the country. Already, there has been an unprecedented increase in the number of tourist arrivals and this would hit an all-time high this year. The resplendent beaches in the South and those in the Eastern and Western coasts are now attracting a record number of tourists.

This would pave the way for big fortunes for those engaged in the travel industry, which suffered a setback when LTTE terrorism was at its peak. Empty tourist hotels are now a thing of the past as many travel guides and tourist promotion organisations have strongly recommended Sri Lanka not only as one of the most sought-after tourist destinations but also as an ideal film location against the backdrop of a natural heritage.

Apart from the tourist industry, international sports activities also came to a virtual standstill due to LTTE terror. Teams from New Zealand were obliged to call off their cricket tours to Sri Lanka midway. Even Australia and the West Indies refused to honour their 1996 World Cup matches in Sri Lanka due to security concerns.

Gone are the days when tourists fled the country leaving even their personal belongings and sports teams abandoned their tours to Sri Lanka due to bomb explosions in Colombo and elsewhere in the island.

All Sri Lanka's achievements have been made possible due to the untiring efforts of our Security Forces. They beat all insurmountable odds at great sacrifice to vanquish Velupillai Prabhakaran and his blood-thirsty terror outfit. Above all, the Security Forces had the right political leadership, which had been a tower of strength at all times.

Had it not been for President Mahinda Rajapaksa's far-sighted political vision and his sincere desire to liberate Sri Lanka from the plague of terrorism, the freedom one enjoys today would not have been a reality. President Rajapaksa spared no pains to beat all overwhelming odds in Sri Lanka's relentless battle against terrorism. He proved to be a true father and an inspiring leader to the soldiers in the battlefront.

Thanks to his exemplary leadership and laudable international relationships, Sri Lanka accomplished its battle against terror. At a time when most cities the world over, especially those in Europe and South Asia, face the risk of terror attacks, people in Sri Lanka are enjoying the dividends of peace to the optimum.

This jubilation is evident not only in tourism or sport but also in all other spheres. Mega development projects are being implemented at a rapid pace and the country's economy is thriving with all-time high foreign reserves apart from the per capita income doubling during the past five years.

The time is opportune for all Sri Lankans, irrespective of caste, creed or political affiliations, both here and abroad, to make whatever contribution they could towards the nation's forward march.

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