Boxing begins quest for Commonwealth gold with Rs. 50m punch | Sunday Observer

Boxing begins quest for Commonwealth gold with Rs. 50m punch

18 July, 2021
Anuruddha Ratnayake: First Sri Lankan boxer to qualify for Olympics in 40 years
Anuruddha Ratnayake: First Sri Lankan boxer to qualify for Olympics in 40 years

It was a red-letter day for boxing in the country when Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa announced that it was a sport that deserved state patronage which was hitherto lacking when he authorised a budget of Rs 50 million from the Ministry’s High Performance Sports Development Programme for the next two years.

“The Minister supporting it (boxing) showed Sports Ministry officials and the rest of the people that boxing always had a very strategic long-term plan and is one of the few sports looking at an eight-year plan from the Olympics and Commonwealth Games to the Asian Games,” said Dian Gomes, president of the Boxing Association of Sri Lanka (BASL).

“On the recommendation of the National Sports Council we signed a High Performance contract with the Boxing Association of Sri Lanka. #Boxing is a sport with great potential. Together with the high performance program we hope to take it to the next level!” tweeted the Sports Minister.

“We have a long term plan for boxing which has been sustained on private funding all these years. Boxing has been included as a Tier 1 sport. We hope there will be ongoing junior and senior national pools so that our boxers can take part in the world circuit,” he said at the agreement signing ceremony.

The BASL president said it had re-ignited Sri Lanka’s quest for a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games. Boxing was the first sport to win a medal at the 1938 Empire Games (now Commonwealth Games) in Sydney when A.W. ‘Barney’ Henricus won the featherweight title.

“It is the funding that we lacked and the training and a long term vision and long term succession plan to continue boxing. Today the minister has facilitated this and we embark on the journey signing a contract with the ministry for two years on a programme which will get us the much awaited Commonwealth Games gold medal,” he said.

“For a boxing medal one needs to understand that at the Olympic level 200 countries take part to become the best 28 people in the world. The first eight get selected at the world championship one year before the Olympic Games and the next four from each continent.

“Asia where we fight will have 60 countries and the best boxing nations. When I set about the journey on this impossible dream, it took me eight years to get Anuruddha Ratnayake to get qualified after a 40-year break at the Olympic Games in 2008. It took me virtually another 12 years and after 20 years involvement in boxing, after 68 years for Sri Lanka we got three medals at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. So that shows that Sri Lankans are capable of winning medals at even Olympic Games at the first few weights and at the Commonwealth Games and Asian level,” he said.

“The good thing with the National Sports Council (NSC) is they have understood (number 1) the importance of medal winning sports at the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games. Boxing is put into the Tier 1 because it is understood that boxing is always in the medal race. (Number 2) they have also looked at why boxing has failed due to lack of financial support.

“All these years it has been the private donors and the sponsorships which has taken the boxing. I worked with four or five Ministers who are personal friends. They are very supportive but unfortunately they have not been able to support with the funding part from the Sports Ministry. But now with Minister Namal Rajapaksa and National Sports Council led by Mahela (Jayawardena) we have been really supported by people like Amal Edirisuriya (Director General of the Department of Sports Development),” Gomes said.

Gomes also revealed he is having discussions with the Minister to get a centre for combat sports including boxing where the sport could be headquartered for training purposes and also as an alternative venue to the Royal MAS Arena.

“The second discussion I had with the Minister was to look at a place most probably to put it into the master schedule of three or four other sports including the combat sports at Waters Edge and to build a stadium like the Royal MAS Arena which could have tournaments. He reckons with a budget of Rs. 200m we would be able to have an international boxing arena in addition to the Royal MAS Arena in Colombo where we will have boxing headquartered with good training facilities. The gym will be common to all combat sports which includes judo and karate,” he said.

The BASL president said they mapped out a clear road map in their high performance schedule including getting two foreign coaches and overseas training for boxers.

“We have the youth which we are investing. Two members will go for the Asian Youth Championship next month. Then on the senior level we have got six high performance athletes who we are grooming for the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games. We have already signed up for a Korean coach, a female for the women, and we are looking at a Cuban coach for the men by December,” Gomes revealed.

“Over a period of two years they will give Rs. 50 million which will cover about six international meets before the Commonwealth Games. Our three or four-member teams will be getting the exposure in those tournaments. In addition we have also worked out some training camps abroad like in Uzbekistan and one or two other countries where our guys will be having that experience,” he said.

“The priority is getting the Cuban coach who should be very technically driven. What our boxers lack is the technical part of boxing to fight internationally. Locally they are fit enough and their motivation is high but unfortunately they lack international bouts and international tactician,” he said.

“The reason for these expatriate coaches is they are totally unbiased. Their contract is performance driven and we check the performance only by the number of medals or number of finalists that we would get at all these major meets because they are very professional.”

Gomes also revealed that he is having discussions to get the services of experienced former national coach Capt. R.K. Indrasena as a consultant.

“I am having a discussion with Indrasena who was our national coach about 10 years back. He has got into a more officials’ (Referee/Judge) role. I want to get him back and be on the advisory role. I think he still has that maturity to enforce discipline,” Gomes said.