Ex-TT champ Lalith Priyantha wants Association to grab Minister’s wish | Sunday Observer

Ex-TT champ Lalith Priyantha wants Association to grab Minister’s wish

10 January, 2021
Lalith Priyantha
Lalith Priyantha

The table tennis loving fraternity will be jubilant with the most welcome announcement made by Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa on the resumption of sports in the country in stages, especially individual games with less physical contact, as TT can be one of the first Associations to benefit by this move.

During the past ten months they had a barren calendar due to COVID-19, and the game was heading towards a natural death without any action being taken to keep the game alive.

A sport which is popular locally and internationally, TT was in the forefront for quite some time, producing several renowned players who brought honour and fame to the country. With the outbreak of the COVID last March, the governing body became inactive and were unable to revamp the sport until now.

At the end of the first wave of the pandemic the country was gradually opened for day-to-day life to resume, and sports disciplines, especially individual sports, started their activities. But TT failed to kick start their activities and as a result the players were out of touch with the game for a long period, including their training and contesting any competitions which has driven the game to fall into a very low ebb.

Former champion Lalith Priyantha has the rare honour of serving the sport for over four decades in various capacities. He reached the pinnacle by being the National champion followed by his appointment as the Sri Lanka captain. He remained as the number one National player for five consecutive years and then took over as the National team coach, became a national selector, was elected to take over the presidency of the National Association and finally ended his administrative career by holding the post of president of the Association of Coaches for quite some time.

Priyantha has a vast knowledge of the game and contributed a great deal of time and energy to uplift the game. Today he is a worried person to see the present plight of the sport which he says is at a very low ebb, unless some serious action is taken to revamp it sooner than later.

According to him the last tournament was conducted way back in March last year involving the schools and since then it has been a barren sheet with regard to all aspects of the sport. It is true the country is passing through a tough time but normal life has to go on, which includes sporting activities. But the governing body for TT has failed to take adequate measures to reactivate the game, for which they could obtain the services of the past players to formulate a feasible plan to put some life into the system immediately.

Priyantha suggests the launch of a few tournaments, either at district or provincial level, involving both men and women. As an initiative they could start the tournament with the participation of 16 men and 16 women in a team. Initially the male players can get into action based on their ranking until the quarter-finals, which will take around four hours. They can then follow it up with the 16 women until the quarter-finals before they embark on the semi final and final. A tournament of this nature will spread the message that there is something happening, which literally will get the players to start training.

Sri Lanka is scheduled to participate in the Commonwealth Games next year, but with the present state of the game there is a doubt whether the country could form a squad fit enough to compete at that level without proper training and planning. Due to the layover in the last ten months without any training, no proper tournament and no exposure to international events, how players will be able to compete is the biggest question.

According to Priyantha, countries like England - with the highest number of contracted cases - are engaged in their training sessions and conduct tournaments. The other example is Sweden, where restrictions are fewer during the pandemic and players are training well and playing the game at the highest level.

Nevertheless, the governing body has to seek the support of former National players and draw up a plan that can be submitted to both the Sports Ministry and the Health Ministry for approval to resume practices and thereafter conduct some tournaments. Presently the governing body doesn’t have a Technical Committee comprising National players who have a good knowledge of the game. Instead there are officials with little knowledge of the game, which will not fulfil their mission.

The most positive sign is that the TT table is nine feet in length, which will meet the social distancing criteria.

In addition, the players will remain one or two feet away from the playing table, which means more or less there will be a gap of 13 feet between the two players. The players can take a break in-between a set to refresh themselves. Moreover, TT can be played without any hindrance as per the current health guidelines.

Priyantha urged the Table Tennis Association of Sri Lanka - the governing body - to pull their socks up and execute a plan as soon as possible to restart the game now that the former Sri Lanka rugby forward and current Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa, has broken the shackles to resume sports in the country, which will also play a pivotal role in boosting the country’s economy.