Final warning for Sri Lanka rugby | Sunday Observer

Final warning for Sri Lanka rugby

Lasitha Gunaratne (left) and Rizly Illyas come together with much to hide and showcase
Lasitha Gunaratne (left) and Rizly Illyas come together with much to hide and showcase

Two men of contrasting styles sink their differences in a last ditch effort to salvage a once popular sport as the alarm bell is sounded

It may look one of the healthiest sports on the outside but deep down inside, Sri Lanka’s rugby set-up could just be waiting for a total collapse unable to keep abreast with current demands as the sport’s administration is about to change hands in what is been seen as a final make or break chapter.

Apart from schools rugby that has kept the flame alight, club and national rugby in the country has hit abysmal levels save for the existence of one entity, Kandy Sports Club, that has been thriving on the egoistic Malik Samarawickrema, who broke away from his Colombo buddies and invested his money uphill.

But now with just over a month left for a new keeper to take over the reins of whatever is left, the alarm bell has been sounded as the outgoing sport’s head Lasitha Gunaratne and his deputy, Sri Lanka Rugby’s president-in-waiting, Rizly Illyas buried their differences in a final call.

This week the two men hugged each other like never before witnessed as rugby in the island was left at the crossroads.

It brought to an end a possible flare-up that perhaps threatened to tear the Election apart with an enterprising Illyas sneaking ahead on the blind side and Gunaratne declaring he does not want a contest to continue in the job after being taken completely by surprise.

“Other sports that squabble for Office should take a lesson from us”, Gunaratne said. “Rugby in Sri Lanka has been neglected so badly that our (Sri Lanka) team does not have a home ground to even practice. We’ve been going from venue to venue like gypsies carting the players along and this cannot go on any longer.”

Gunaratne’s remarks were directed at governments over the years who only wanted to see the Sri Lanka team carry the Lion flag and turn a blind eye to player welfare and the National Olympic Committee (NOC) which knows very little about rugby but expect the country to field teams at the Asian and Commonwealth Games without doling out a buck from international funding.

Gunaratne was in the process of procuring what he called a possible “home ground” in downtown Homagama when Illyas stepped in to run for the presidency.

Only once did Sri Lanka play as an international force when in 1974 the team entered the final of the Asian championship and lost to Japan which has now become a World Cup competitor.

Having being in the system for many years, Illyas’ main target will be what he called a “flow of funds” that he hopes will entice players to sign contracts the way they do at Kandy Sports Club which pays them heavily and does not bind them to any national commitments.

“We are faced with a shortage of funds and I am looking at bringing in more finances into the system. There are a lot of matters that we have to address with regard to development.

“I have new packages to sell to sponsors and make it a success. If we have the money we can contract the players for national duty. Lasitha and I, we both know the challenges and what has to be done,” said Illyas.

Cutting down on the length of the inter-club traditional League tournament and directing more time and effort to establishing a full time and professional Sri Lanka Sevens squad for international recognition will be another priority for Illyas and by setting up a Rugby Foundation under the guidance of high-minded stalwarts of the sport, he hopes a framework will be put in place for the future.