Protests erupt in sporting arena | Page 2 | Sunday Observer

Protests erupt in sporting arena

22 May, 2022
A former wushu official Jagath Bandara speaking to the media on their protest near the Sports Ministry office at Reid Avenue in Colombo
A former wushu official Jagath Bandara speaking to the media on their protest near the Sports Ministry office at Reid Avenue in Colombo

An eerie calm on a rain-swept morning on Tuesday at Reid Avenue in Colombo with charred remains of buses torched during the violence on May 9 lying near the Cinnamon Gardens Police Station, brought out a vociferous band of protesters fighting for justice in sports.

As workers were engrossed in the laborious task of ensuring a level playing field for players in the hallowed turf of the Racecourse, the former British playground for the sport of kings, a motley group of sports officials who had come from as far as Polonnaruwa, Kandy and Galle were ready to unleash a storm of protests which must have reverberated not only the colonial building which houses the Ministry of Sports, but even occupants of Olympic House and Football House nearby.

This was the first salvo fired by people who had served the sport with dedication for the pure love of the game but have been overwhelmed by a vortex of corruption by officials who would go to any lengths to ensure their survival in office ostensibly to serve the sport but serve only themselves even at the expense of denying athletes the rightful place they thoroughly deserve.

The protests were a grim reminder of rampant corruption in Sri Lanka sports with those in authority turning a blind eye to misdeeds of officials who have become a law unto themselves wielding power like politicians.

Inspired by the ongoing people’s protest at Galle Face and other parts of the island, past officials of three national sports bodies concerning martial arts in karate-do, wushu and muay thai allegedly riddled with financial mismanagement and even allegations of sexual abuse of athletes, staged the historic protest near the Ministry of Sports in Colombo.

Their message was loud and clear giving authorities an ultimatum to act without fear or favour, promising they would come back in larger numbers with the participation of other stakeholders in the sport if their issues were not resolved.

It was a day on which the Sri Lanka Karate-do Federation (SLKF) was scheduled to hold their annual general meeting but was postponed on a directive of the Director General of the Department of Sports Development in the Sports Ministry, Amal Edirisooriya.

The reason was because a former secretary of the federation WASPJ Medonza had complained to then Sports Minister Thenuka Vidanagama regarding financial fraud to the tune of rupees two and half million. Medonza claims that an investigation to his charges of misappropriation of funds during the past three years related to international tours, medals, and hall charges, is being conducted by the CID (Criminal Investigation Department) and special inquiry committees appointed by the Auditor General’s Department and the Sports Ministry. Two key officials of the ministry were allegedly aiding and abetting corruption indulged by SLKF.

Another former secretary of the SLKF – Western Province Dinush Hemal alleged that eight million rupees received to conduct the 2019 Western Province Championship has been unaccounted for in the annual accounts. The national federation conducted this event after banning Western Province without holding an inquiry. He accused SLKF officials of unconstitutional behaviour and leading ministry officials up the garden path by not addressing these issues when they were requested to do so.

“When the ministry sent a letter to the federation requesting the officials to furnish details, they did not reply to the allegations. We want the inquiry into the matter to be expedited and determine whether they are guilty or not. If they are guilt of committing fraud, they should be punished,” said Hemal who is contesting for the position of SLKF secretary.

The relatively young sport of muay thai or Thai kick boxing is also beset with many issues with the president of the governing body Asoka Jayaratne being found guilty of 20 charges in a 42-page report after an inquiry which was completed in February. “It has been proved that he got down a boxing ring worth $5,000 for his personal academy under the guise of using it for the benefit of the Muay Thai Association. He also helped a national player decamp during a Korean tour in 2018.

“But the biggest issue was when a Sri Lankan player could not take part in the semifinals at the World Muay Thai Championship in Thailand last year because of the negligence of tour officials,” said Jamitha Bandara, who has been coach of a Sri Lanka team during a previous tour.

An inquiry was conducted against the national coach and president by the Sugathadasa Stadium Police. On top of that then Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa temporarily suspended the Muay Thai Association on March 22. “We are suspicious why these officials are being protected. We don’t have faith in high officials of the ministry. We are asking for justice after having provided witnesses to our complaints to prove beyond doubt that players who are now languishing at home have been treated unfairly,” he added. His views were endorsed by coach of Chamila Nishantha of Lion Power Muay Thai Martial Arts Academy and Kushan Mendis of Southern Muay Thai Academy in Galle.

The most serious accusation was levelled against Manel Dharmakeerthi who has been running the Wushu Federation of Sri Lanka (WFSL) like his personal fiefdom since the inception of the sport. “He has been rotating as president and secretary of the federation for 28 years, illegally holding office using political influence and stifling rivals with threats on social media,” said Jagath Caldera, a former vice president of WFSL.

“We were above India when we began wushu but now we are struggling to stay above Maldives and Afghanistan. This is the development legacy of corrupt officials Sri Lanka has seen. He has sidelined good coaches and players, banned an association and generally anyone who goes against him,” said Bandara, a founder member of the federation.