Sport and religion conflict at Joes rugby | Sunday Observer
Another Easter Sunday drama:

Sport and religion conflict at Joes rugby

20 September, 2020
File photo of the champion St. Joseph’s College team of 2017
File photo of the champion St. Joseph’s College team of 2017

Sports and religion have never been known to be in conflict, with one pontificating clean living and the other demanding fair-play, but the scenario has turned different with arguably the country’s foremost Catholic school St. Joseph’s College in Colombo having to come to grips with the combination as far as its onetime champion rugby team is concerned.

It has been reported that parents of St. Joseph’s College players have protested that the team had been ordered to practice on Easter Sunday last year which is considered sacrilegious or profane on the part of the school on a day that is most sacred to Christians.

The issue has surfaced after nearly 18 months had lapsed following the reappointment of Nilfer Ibrahim as the school’s coach who was also the coach when the team practised on Easter Sunday, the day that also coincided with the jihadist bombing of three churches in the island.

“St. Joseph’s College is where students learn their religious values and when you pick a day like Easter Sunday or Christmas Day to get the boys to practice or train, questions and protests will be raised.

“Can you imagine a Buddhist school in the country playing a match on Vesak Poya,” said one parent who referred to the protest as “major and serious” and lodged with the highest Catholic body in the country, the Bishop’s House in Colombo.

Another parent of a student said their grouse was not against Ibrahim who coached the school to win the Knock-Out Championship three years ago or its hierarchy, but an individual who “calls the shots” at the College.

Efforts by the Sunday Observer to reach out to the school’s officials for comment or the unnamed individual concerned drew a blank.

St. Joseph’s College is in the top ten rugby playing schools in the country having taken to the sport in 1955, some 62 years after Kingswood College in Kandy became the first in 1893.

But the Joes lifted their rugby morale to a higher level in the last five years by awarding scholarships to players from outside, which also raised eyebrows, as well as the interest shown by a former College player and ex-Sports Minister Harin Fernando.

Schools rugby which is one of the biggest draws in the local sports scene is currently being throttled by the coronavirus with most players having their boyhood passion suppressed.

Neither the tournament organizers nor the sport’s parent body Sri Lanka Rugby has been able to come up with a formula to start a championship that has been put on hold since mid-march.