Ex-players plead with Minister to clean up mess in billiards and snooker | Sunday Observer

Ex-players plead with Minister to clean up mess in billiards and snooker

3 January, 2021
Officers from the Army which plays a leading role in sustaining sports in the country come together for a briefing on billiards and snooker
Officers from the Army which plays a leading role in sustaining sports in the country come together for a briefing on billiards and snooker

When one talks of the Sport of the Green Baize, or the Cue game, what springs to mind is the name of MJM Lafir, Sri Lanka’s first ever World Champion in any sport. He won the World Billiards Championship in India, in December 1973, winning all nine games he played, including the final where he beat the host country’s Satish Mohan.

But now the sport is breathing its last on a dying bed, or in this case table, due to the negligence of successive governing bodies that ran the Billiards and Snooker Federation of Sri Lanka. Allegations of corruption is rife and thousands of players and over a hundred clubs are left in the lurch while some office bearers have been lethargic in the running of its affairs.

They have been unable to send players for the Pool World championships for well over a decade as the world governing body of the sport has stopped inviting Sri Lanka for non-payment of annual membership fees for years. This has left many a senior player, who could have brought honour to Sri Lanka and even young upcoming enthusiasts, heart broken. It even led to the death of a junior national champ who committed suicide in 2018 unable to face any more drawbacks while continuing in the sport.Citing that enough is enough three top notch players, CA Clement, Abdul Sattar and Susantha Boteju have pleaded with Sports Minister, Namal Rajapaksa, to step in and end the rot that has set in.

The illustrious trio say that many young players who have shown they have the potential to reach the top in the cue game have also fallen prey to the drug menace without any encouragement to continue. There have been instances when the best players with potential to win have not been selected and in their place are picked dubious hands along with so-called observers who do not return to the country raising questions that some other exploitation was taking place in the name of sport. All this has raised questions on who in the Sports Ministry in the past had authorized such tours and player selections.

Some of the Federation’s office bearers are said to be alien to the sport with very little or no knowledge of it and the qualification to hold office coming in the form of merely entering a national championship just once and then seeking election while numerous have also been allegations of vote buying.

Once elected some of the officials pay very little attention to the promotion of billiards and snooker and put their overseas private interests above everything else using Federation funds for foreign travel. The Federation has no permanent headquarters from which to successfully administer the sport and move from place to place while meetings are held without a full quorum.

Further the Federation once spent more than a million rupees to bring down a foreign coach for just two weeks when there had been enough and more top rankers in the country whose services could have been obtained on a regular basis. There is also the allegation that as many as 17 of the 20 billiards tables were sold to raise funds so some officials could indulge in questionable foreign tours. Each table is said to be valued at Rs.1.4 million.

CA Clement who qualified as a National 8-Ball Pool player in 2007 and won the National 8-Ball Championship in 2011, which was the last time the tournament was held, said he was cut-up and disappointed with the strangulation of the sport that can produce players who can give a run to the best in the world. He had many international tours to his credit, spending his own funds and receiving direct invitations from the organizers.

Having won the National title, he applied to the Billiards and Snooker Federation of Sri Lanka to nominate him for International tournaments, but they refused claiming that Pool does not come under their purview. He then applied directly and was invited for overseas tournaments where he had to meet the best in the world, but had to do so without the services of a coach.

The reward he got was a suspension imposed by the local Federation in 2013 for going overseas as a player without their permission. To rub salt into the wound they accused him of tearing the billiards table cloth at the Sugathadasa Sports Hotel. He had the ban lifted only after paying a fine of Rs 10,000 in 2019. What was more alarming was that the Federation had the audacity to write to the International body to refrain from sending him invitations for international tournaments.

Unable to face the harassment and injustice Clement gave up the game in 2014 and his one aim is to start an Academy for cue enthusiasts to produce internationally qualified Pool and Snooker players to represent Sri Lanka.

Clement keeps his fingers crossed hoping that Sports Minister Rajapaksa who has promised to root out the mess in all sports being a former Sri Lanka rugby player himself, will step in and order a clean-up.

Abdul Sattar, a National Billiards Champion in 2011 and National 8-Ball and 9-Ball Pool Champion in 2008 and who participated at the Macau Asian Indoor Games and the Asian Billiards Championship in India, quit the sport in 2012 sick and tired of the way the Federation ran the sport’s affairs. Nineteen times Snooker National Champion Susantha Boteju won his first title in 1987 in the form of the Junior National Championship and represented the country in 23 overseas championships. He finished fourth in the Asian championship and was among the top 16 in a World Championship. He too became disillusioned and now says he will only return to lend a hand only if the rot is cleared.

In one voice the three former successful players said that the clean-up should start with only players who have finished in the Top 16 at a National championship given the green light to stand for election of office bearers of the Federation.

They have also recommended that Pool be brought under the Billiards and Snooker umbrella as Minister Rajapaksa had initially shown his desire to set up community centres all around the country, including Billiard and Pool tables to encourage potential Sri Lanka players who could otherwise fall victim to drugs.