Warning: Volleyball strangled by the unscrupulous | Sunday Observer

Warning: Volleyball strangled by the unscrupulous

29 August, 2021
Renuka Abeygunawardena: We won gold with nothing in our hands, today they cannot win even the bronze
Renuka Abeygunawardena: We won gold with nothing in our hands, today they cannot win even the bronze

Renuka Abeygunawardena Yapa was not brought up on the lap of luxury. hailing from a village in Puttalam-Anuradhapura and went through some of the hardest times to eventually wear the Sri Lanka colours in netball and volleyball and was selected for the Sri Lanka team in 1986, which took part in Asian Volleyball youth championship.

In 1987 at the age of 19 she got the opportunity to join the CTB which had a strong volleyball team.

“We played in the Nationalised Services and did well in the tournaments winning in netball, volleyball and athletics. After moving to Colombo I joined Wellampitiya Mithra volleyball team and was selected as the national team captain which toured Japan.

“In 1991 we won the gold medal at the SAF games held in Colombo and in 1993 I represented the Sri Lanka netball team which won third place at the Asian championships held in Hong Kong and in the same year I represented the volleyball team at the SAF games in Bangladesh and won the silver medal,” she recalled.

Excerpts of an interview:

Q: How did you get in to netball and who influenced you?

I was always a keen participant in sports from a very young age and my elder sister Sepalika Abeygunawardena Yapa was the guiding hand in my sports career. She went on to captain the Sri Lanka Kabaddi team. And the tough living conditions we experienced at a very young age made us strong physically as well as mentally, which made us do well in sports.

I could say that I was self motivated mostly to do well in sports and we saw an opportunity to progress in our life through sports.

Q How were the facilities those days compared to the present scenario?

We hardly had any facilities other than a volleyball to play with. Sometimes it was a football that we played volleyball with. We mostly played volleyball in the paddy fields. We had no strength training facilities even when we played for Sri Lanka, but due to the tough living conditions back at home where we had to help our parents with farming and cattle work we were physically strong and could withstand the demands of a national level sports person.

I think during our times sports related organizational structure was very thin. But the limited resources we had were directed towards building up players and specially our 1991 gold medal winning team. We first went in to the Asian youth championships in 1986 and continued our training with foreign exposure that led to our gold medal win in 1991.

Q: Do you see a development in the game now?

Sadly, I do not see any material advancement in volleyball during the last 30 years. We reached the pinnacle in volleyball in 1991 when we beat the strong Indian team to win the gold medal at the SAF games held in Colombo under my leadership. We won in four sets without going to the final fifth set. It was a remarkable performance by the women’s volleyball team. Unfortunately, thereafter we have not succeeded in going even close to that level in the last 30 years. And I don’t see the standard of volleyball reaching that level in the near future with the current set up.

Q: How do you see the skill levels compared with other countries?

The game has advanced a lot globally since the 1990s and Sri Lanka has not succeeded in moving ahead. Other regional countries have invested their resources and time on developing the sport but our administration in the last three decades has failed to even maintain the standards that we reached in the 1990s.

Q: Your husband Sugath Thevarapperuma won bronze as the basketball captain. Must be a marriage made in Heaven?

We met in 1991 when the SAF games was held in Colombo. Sugath was born and brought up in Colombo and I was from a village. He was the captain of the Sri Lanka basketball team that year which won the bronze medal, and I was the captain of the Sri Lanka volleyball team which won gold. We came to know each other during our training sessions when we shared the Maharagama youth centre sports facility. After the SAF games Sugath proposed to me and I obliged with our team coaches supporting our relationship.

Q: Do you intend to give something back to the game?

We have lived in Dubai for the last 16 years as Sugath was employed in the banking sector in the UAE. During our visits to Colombo I started holding kids volleyball training camps in my village school where I started my career.

We saw around 50 eager kids joining volleyball training during such camps. Now since we have moved back to Sri Lanka permanently, we have initiated a program to help develop my village volleyball. We have revamped the village sports club and started reconstructing the abandoned volleyball court. Youth are eager to join in as such and opportunity and leadership was lacking at village level. Another alarming concern is the threat of drug abuse among village youth. So our objective is to make available a safe volleyball play arena with coaching for the kids and youth. I am keen to help my village first, then district and provincial level and if I get an opportunity I am willing to contribute to development of the game at administration level at a later stage. Currently my target is to give an option for the kids and youth at village level. I think this is where we should start.

Q: Are we capable of winning any major tournaments with the present set up?

I have not seen any major potential to reach that standard at the current level and the structure. We need to popularize the game at village level, and give the kids and youth a platform to get involved. I think identifying talented players and nuturing them through a school system is the best process for volleyball development. We have to remember that volleyball is our national game, and administrators and officials have to pay due attention to that fact and help develop the sport from grass root level.