Sports Educationist wins another prestigious award | Sunday Observer

Sports Educationist wins another prestigious award

Dr. Samantha Nanayakkara receiving her award
Dr. Samantha Nanayakkara receiving her award

The first ever Sri Lankan woman to obtain a doctoral degree in Sports Science, was awarded the Independent Television Network’s “Liya Waruna Abhiman 2019” last month, for her silent, but immense service to the field of sports.

Though Sri Lanka has had women shining in its sports arena, such as Susanthika Jayasinghe, Damayanthi Darsha, Sriyani Kulawansha and more recently Parami Vasanthi Maristella and Tharjini Sivalingam, it hasn’t had many females being recognised for their yeomen service ‘behind the scenes.’ Dr. Samantha Nanayakkara is such an unheard of character who silently serves the sports field in this country selflessly. Though many are not aware, her experience and research in the field has gained not only national but also international fame.

The start of her sports career was at Girls’ High School, Kandy says Dr. Nanayakkara. “It was Sriyalatha Stephen who was our school Game’s Captain at the time, who saw my sporting talents and encouraged me to play basketball. Later, I was selected to school netball team as well. Also my mom who is a principal and my father who is a civil engineer supported my sports activities when I was at school. This is how I gained sporting achievements to the university levels”.

As a person who is enthusiastic about learning new subjects, she pursued Physical Education as an area of specialisation for the Postgraduate Diploma. Even though there were no professors for that subject, Prof. Asoka Jayasena at the University of Peradeniya supported her immensely to study that subject after seeing her dedication for learning. Later on, she pursued the MPhil degree in Sociology of Sports under her guidance at the University of Peradeniya and it became the first ever research degree in Sports carried out in a Sri Lankan University. Her achievements led her to win a government scholarship to read for an MSc in Sports Science in Northern Ireland. Dr. Samantha said, “I worked very hard at the University of Ulster, and published research articles and completed a thesis with commendable results. Consequently, I was invited to the University of Canterbury with a full scholarship to read for a PhD in Sports. My PhD thesis was basically on the Social- psychology of sports. This was the world’s first study that combined the concept of Olympism and Conflict Resolution. I experimented on how to mitigate the Sri Lankan ethnic animosity through the infiltration of Olympism values in sports”.

This academic achievement led her to become the first Asian woman to win the Jury’s Diploma of Honour of the Pierre de Coubertin Academic World Prize for the outstanding PhD thesis in Sports Science in 2014. In 2017 she won the Award for the Most Outstanding Research Works in Sports from the Central Province Ministry of Sports and Women Affairs. She holds an unbeatable record for being the first ever Sri Lankan sports academic to obtain a Presidential Award 2015/16 at the Sri Lanka Presidential Sports Awards.

Physical education

Dr. Samantha Nanayakkara has served many young sports men and woman in the country who are struggling to bring victory to the country She is a leading sport psychologist for the Sri Lankan Junior Netball Team (Winners of the Asian Netball Championship in 2016) and has contributed to various psychological programs to the participants of SAG, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games from 1999 up to now. Currently, Dr. Samantha Nanayakkara is Vice President of the Sri Lanka Basketball Federation and the Chairperson of the Women’s Basketball Development Committee.

“In an era where women are given less opportunities and recognition, people like us have a greater responsibility in changing this situation. Women should definitely pursue higher education as it opens opportunities and experience which empowers the future self.

On the other hand, an educated woman is a great resource for generations to come and a role model to others. In the sports field female coaches and lecturers are essential to speak of the difficulties, harassments, injustices faced by the young female players. Women can create a lifetime career if she pursues higher education from sports science. I see sports as a universal subject which allows women to showcase their courage, endurance, confidence, talent, potential and personality. Also I perceive it as a powerful weapon that has the ability to change the stereotypical mindsets about women” said Dr. Samantha Nanayakkara.

While working as a lecturer at the University of Colombo, she serves as a sports psychologist. Her subject areas mainly related to psychology and sociology of sports, women and sport, and physical education.

Low scientific development

Dr. Nanayakkara said that though the Sri Lanka’s sports field is plagued with many ailments, most could be cured easily, with methodological research studies, application of the data and by applying simple, inexpensive solutions. However, the right decisions at policy making level could contribute largely to the development of the sports field in the country, she said.

“In Sri Lanka, development in scientific methods in sports is very low. Still, we are in the early stage of teaching sports science in our universities. We have no academic stream in Sports for the GCE Advanced Level. Therefore, universities have to teach sports from the beginning. For example, we are teaching how to play netball, basketball, rugby, athletics and many more games in the university. But we should reach to teach beyond basic levels. In a university we need to teach students, for example, how to use scientific methods to enhance an athlete’s performance, or advance performance techniques in netball or any other game. But still we spend more time to introduce games to university students. This is why we are far away from using scientific methods in sports.

Also we have forgotten our great sports history in which women made a significant difference. To create a stable platform for this field the responsible parties should come up with specific strategies that enables every child to engage in it.

For years I have been motivating and encouraging students to pursue this subject as it brings many more benefits. Sports boosts memory, most importantly it improves mental health. It also teaches time management, life skills and character and social education. So, I suggest the government should take steps to improve sports science starting from the A/Ls.

A great problem we face today is the dearth of sports academic professionals in the universities. The Ministry of Higher Education must pay special attention on this issue in the first place.

Many Sri Lankan universities offer Sport Management degrees but it is debatable whether there will be adequate job opportunities for those graduates. Conversely, there is a great demand for sports psychologists, physiotherapists, masseurs, physical education teachers, coaches, nutritionists, sports medical practitioners, technicians, sporting goods manufacturers and sports officers in local and foreign job markets. That’s why we need to develop these areas. Another issue that we are currently facing is the large gap in distribution of resources among urban and rural areas which result in unequal opportunities in sports participation including in particular, sports education.

Most of the students are under - privileged and don’t get chances to score a higher Z scores to enter a university. Therefore, I suggest that they must be given special chances to enter state universities or the state universities should create opportunities for external sports degrees .

Strong physical skills

“Many female athletes have been able to break a glass ceiling showing strong physical skills by evenin male dominated sports events Dr Samantha Nanayakkara said. Jayanthi Kuru-Utumpala (the first Sri Lankan to summit Mount Everest), Anusha Kodithuwakku (Boxer), Dulanjali Subasinghe (Bodybuilder), Parami Wasanthi Maristella (Steeple Chaser) have broken gender stereotypes in sports. We ought to encourage more female participation of this kind of sports events. The Government introduce reforms to have a long term sustainable increase in female participation in male dominated sports.

Another issue is the lack of female role models in sports said Dr Nanayakkara. “I’m conversely asking you a question, tell me five former female athletes who are genuinely dedicated to increase female sport participation in our country at present? Actually, this is not their inefficiency, but the fault of the system in which women are inaccurately viewed as incapable of contributing to the sports governance equally with men.

Therefore, reforms should be introduced to change this situation. Participation in decision making ensures women’s access to leadership opportunities in sport.”