Assault on school rugby player exposes Sri Lanka | Sunday Observer

Assault on school rugby player exposes Sri Lanka

In an age when nearly everyone, group or organisation is screaming that their rights have been violated and are seeking redress even after so many years, a physical attack on a schoolboy at his favourite passion, rugby, has ignited a public debate whether it is the right way to train youngsters or is it the frustrations of a coach on display when things go wrong.

Thanks to social media which has often covered up for the lapses of the mainstream media, sports followers in the country and rugby fans outside Sri Lanka saw the incident and the dreaded question now being raised is how many boys and girls in other sports all over the island are abused or struck in their changing rooms by their coaches or masters away from the public eye.

If an investigation has to be done, the biggest can of worms could be opened in the country. One former 400 metres athlete from a school in Kandy told the Sunday Observer on condition that he not be named, that he was assaulted by his coach that he dropped to the ground and a parent of a swimmer in a Colombo school said his daughter was fondled by his coach after all other swimmers had left their locker rooms.

Very recently the Sunday Observer was witness to a young basketball player being dealt a severe blow on the court during a practice session by his coach who used a piece of firewood. More often some of the words used by coaches on their learners are too much even for the ears of grown-ups.

Analysts now contend that one of the biggest scandals was taking place under the very noses of the powers that be as Sri Lanka’s sports set-up has been engulfed by a “coach syndrome” that has snowballed into alarming proportions unchecked. An investigation by the Sunday Observer has also revealed that 99 per cent of abuse victims don’t utter a word for fear of being stigmatised or knocked out from the team.

In the case of prized mentor and rugby coach Sanath Martis who grabbed an offer to coach one of the most attractive schools, St. Peter’s College, his reaction to slap a boy not once but repeatedly for on-field misconduct has sent shivers down most parents countrywide who now believe some of their off-spring could be hiding something from them.

But what really prompted a coach as Martis to do what he did can baffle the purists. One former player who was coached by Martis at Wesley College in the late 1990s and whose son now plays for the same school said he did not see Martis as different from the rest.

“I am not going to say that striking a player is the right way to go about things,” he said. “But if you pay Martis and want him to produce results you then have to put up with this. He has succeeded where several foreign coaches have failed.”

But the Martis video is only the tip of the iceberg as some coaches in various sports around the country have become a law unto themselves and behave like bulls in a china shop when they come under intense pressure to produce favourable results. Some of them are all-knowing, all-powerful and take the easy way out by abusing someone’s son or daughter that they are supposed to protect and nurture.

It is also an open secret that some coaches of junior teams exploit the situation of desperate mothers who want their sons in the team. The frolic was rampant in school cricket in the 1980s and 90s and continues to this day as sport today is no longer about who-won-the match, but about life itself.

School sport today is big business, bigger than many other industries in the country that coaches cash in to exploit the appeal of schoolboys but the Code of Conduct for coaches, if ever there was one, has been dumped into the trash can.

Sri Lanka Rugby said striking a schoolboy or player was totally against the norms and spirit of any sport.

Present day coaches in cricket, rugby, athletics, basketball and swimming enjoy a kind of immunity that their predecessors of the past did not even smell and are sometimes able to get away with anything as they come armed with grading certificates from one to hundred knowing that desperate teams will snap them up. Some of them administer pain killing injections to make players, whom they cannot replace, play with injury.

A cricket coach who identified himself as Ajith told the Sunday Observer that the time was appropriate for “decent coaches” to band together in a Union to pressurize schools and clubs to screen coaches more than their certificates before recruitment.

As for Martis he was perhaps in the wrong place at the wrong time doing the wrong thing in the wrong sport as World Rugby officials are unlike any other and have come down hard on him by directing Sri Lanka Rugby to suspend him that could cost him much more.