Sri Lanka Rugby blows final whistle | Sunday Observer

Sri Lanka Rugby blows final whistle

File photo of a rugby match between Army and CH and FC
File photo of a rugby match between Army and CH and FC

Conflicts of interests, inside politics and poor refereeing standards are threatening to spoil Sri Lanka’s domestic rugby League in an anti-climax after so much had been expected in the build-up to a tournament that is patronized by the country’s powerful elite and commoners alike.

The sparks of a possible disruption to the tournament initially came in the form of one club CH and FC taking rugby to court instead of the playing field objecting to one foreign player in the less fancied teams.

Early this month Kandy Sports Club walked out of a decisive Tournament Committee meeting intended to thrash out refereeing concerns after an assistant referee was set upon by men said to be off-duty Air Force personnel who were infuriated after he influenced the on-field referee to disallow a try scored by their team in a match at a airbase in Ratmalana.

The grouse by the assailants against the assistant referee Anil Mangala was that he exceeded his mark by intervening to have the try overturned after the on-field referee had no doubts and awarded the try.

While the incident remains under intricate investigation and the venue blacklisted, the referees, some of whom are mere amateurs in a professional set-up, are fast losing out on their credentials that has forced tournament organizers Sri Lanka Rugby to enlist a foreigner to officiate Sunday’s blockbuster match between defending champions Kandy and hot contenders Havelocks.

“There is something happening in the (refereeing) system that has to be revamped. In reality it is we who are worried and not the clubs and we don’t need anyone’s permission to bring down foreign referees”, said tournament committee chief Rizly Illyas who weathered many a storm before the League’s commencement.

Kandy are against the presence of a foreign referee but the tough talking maverick Illyas and his tournament committee decided that enough was enough and called for the enlistment of a foreign referee at the meeting where representatives from the eight teams in the fray were present.

But despite assurances given by Illyas, two of the club representatives, one from Kandy and the other from CH and FC walked out claiming they had no faith in the changes with the former objecting to the presence of a foreign referee.

Illyas slammed both Kandy and CH and FC for what he called “un-sportsmanship against the spirit”.

Sri Lanka Rugby has even contemplated taking over the administration of referees some of whom are grappling for an acceptable public identity while others who are members of the Referees’ Society have interests that could overshadow justice on the field of play that have only reinforced calls for the deployment of foreign referees who are viewed as impartial.

Players are also aware that their club officials who attend referee meetings receive unsavoury apologies from referees for blunders they make on the field of play some of which may have decided the outcome of the match.

A good majority of rugby fans often complain that some local referees are sub-standard in their blowing and incompetent to handle matches and teams which have come under immense pressure due to the tournament’s high financial stakes and corporate sector patronage.

Already the tournament which is just six week’s into its five-month course has lost some of its expected glamour as six of the eight teams in the running have suffered knock-out blows with only Kandy and Havelocks able to stay in the hunt.

One of the teams that have fallen by the wayside is CH and FC which boasted they had what was needed to subdue Kandy, only to end up with three defeats.

Their fans now blame boardroom politics for the club’s downward slide while some of their officials were preoccupied with taking on the Tournament Committee over their opposition to four un-fancied rival teams allowed to field a foreign player.

But even playing against local players CH and FC came up with very little to supplement the pompous boast of one of their officials, Tanesh Dias, the general secretary of the club who in a preseason Press interview declared they’ll ensure Kandy’s reign is over.