Shocking revelations | Sunday Observer

Shocking revelations

Sriyan Cooray: CR’s president and day dreamer
Sriyan Cooray: CR’s president and day dreamer

The transfer season in Sri Lanka rugby may not even be a fraction of the record fees splashed for football players in Europe, but clubs in the island are struggling for survival with even schoolboys demanding money.

“You will be shocked at the amount schoolboys are asking us. Those days not only schoolboys, even Sri Lanka players played for free,” said Sriyan Cooray, the president of CR and FC who now battling to merely stay afloat.

“We are not the richest club. For the first time last year we ran our rugby budget without a principal sponsor. Even Corporates are also finding it difficult. Those days you had ruggerites in top positions. Today even if you have a person like that, it is rupees and cents, you know.

“We were fourth and fifth in the league during the last two years. If you are first, people will want to come and put money with you,” said Cooray, 54, a financial specialist and presently serving as a director on the board of the National Development Bank (NDB).

Unlike in the past when players did it for the love of the sport and their club pride and loyalty while giving fans what they paid to see, the trend today boils down to money with players even refusing to be bound by long-term contracts.

“You are competing with Prados (luxury vehicles) and houses. Our top contract runs into millions. That is the bottom line,” said Pavithra Fernando, a key member of the CR rugby board.

A former Royal College and Sri Lanka flanker, Fernando accused the cash-rich Kandy SC of inflating budgets by poaching Colombo-based players.

“Look at Kandy SC, almost everyone is from CR. They are playing here (CR) and being poached there (Kandy).

And Cooray butted in: “They (Kandy) take our best guys,” he lashed out.

“Once they know they have made a name here, the big boss calls. He picks the best, seasoned players and schoolboys,” added Fernando.

According to Cooray, Sri Lanka Rugby wants clubs to contract players for up to three years maximum, but the players are smarter.

“They (players) won’t contract for three years. They sign up only for one year and at the end of the year, it’s negotiations again. And again it’s a matter for those who have deeper pockets,” revealed Cooray.

Asked why CR and FC which has a rich tradition could not attract players easily, Cooray said: “The enthusiasm among school rugby players is not forthcoming. We have removed the foreign players which is a bigger burden but the interest has gone down for various reasons. Kandy is poaching all the players and winning (titles) for years.”

But all may not be lost for the Longden Place club which will be celebrating its centenary in three years time.

“We do have a few new players lined up but not signed yet. We have signed schoolboys but the culture is such that they negotiate and ask for big money. Obviously budget constraints are there. We have filled some holes from last year in areas we thought we were lacking in such as leadership and experience,” said Fernando who is the liaison between the players and the club’s rugby board.

But despite the drawbacks Cooray hopes his team can salvage some lost face by pocketting the Sevens tournament currently being worked off at the Race Course ground in Colombo.

Once an elite and exclusive male domain, CR is also the only club outside the Service teams to sustain and promote a women’s side that won the Bowl last year while Cooray dreams of the day his club will be able to get back to their glory days before he steps down next year.

League champions in 1996 and 1998, CR and FC last won the Clifford Cup in 2006, bagged the President’s Trophy knockout tournament in 2007 and emerged Sevens champions in 2010.

They also overcame a leadership crisis and vacuum last season which was remedied with the appointment of the hardy Number Eight Omalka Gunaratne, who became the youngest Sri Lanka captain at 23.

“There was a massive leadership hole and we have gradually closed it. Omalka is doing a pretty good job and we have a two-year coaching plan. Hopefully we will bring the title back home and that’s the target,” declared Fernando.

Like Fernando, Cooray is also banking on the new team leadership to deliver. “Success has a lot to do with leadership. You need someone to come and calm heads. When you have young people they get excited. Omalka has the knack and experience and all that stuff. He is a good leader,” said Cooray.

“Everyone wants to win. If we start winning, the chances of us retaining players are better. We have a two-year plan. I have been five years in the rugby committee. I am hoping to have some silverware before I leave the club next year.”

Cooray scored the match-winning try when CR won the inaugural Premadasa Trophy tournament in 1984.