“Talent identification, vital to develop sports” | Sunday Observer

“Talent identification, vital to develop sports”

15 November, 2020

It is indeed rare for any sportsman to represent the country in two different sports. However, Ishan Dammika Abeyrathne did it in wushu and wrestling.

He has won several international medals for these events and was among the top 20 players in the world at one time. Ishan has also won Mixed Martial Arts world medals. Although he has Permanent Residency (PR) status in the United States of America, he is determined to develop sports in Sri Lanka.

He wears many hats, exercise physiologist, fitness consultant, sport analyst, mentor, coach, motivational speaker and sports officer at the Ministry of Sports, Check in Agent / Automated Passport Control / Ticketing Agent at Lax International Airport Los Angeles California. He has also worked as a Telecommunication Research Engineer at the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Modern Technologies.

The Youth Observer met Dhammika, an old boy of Bandaranayake College, to discuss his dreams and his glorious days in sports.

Q: You have PR status in the USA. But now you are in Sri Lanka. Why did you come back?

A: I came back to fulfil my social obligations. As a Permanent Resident of the USA, one can live in one’s motherland but visit the USA at least once a year.

Q: Why do you stay here? Do you not like USA life or do you fear the Covid-19 pandemic?

A: Covid-19 is a major issue the world is facing. It is a common challenge for the whole world. But I am not staying here fearing Covid.

You know I was a wushu player and a wrestler. If I had any fear I would not take part in sports such as this. I have much to do here. I will try to change the sports structure here. I hope I will be successful.

Q: Can you outline your plans?

A: I wish to guide our sportsmen and women on the correct path. As a former sportsman, official and an administrator, I know what correct path is to achieve success. I have participated in several sports administration courses and have shared ideas with Olympic medalists. Over the past decades Sri Lanka has not trod on the correct path in sports activities.

Q: Could you explain why we have to believe you?

A: You can find out my qualifications. I have completed sports admin courses at several institutions such as the Beijing ShiChaHai Sports School, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, United States Olympic Training Centre, Colorado Springs,CO, and National Sports University in Korea. I have also participated in several workshops with former Olympians. It is due to these reasons that I know the path to take to win Olympic medals. If the officials believe my qualifications, they will not hesitate to obtain my advice. I consider this as a responsibility to my country.

Q: OK. Now that we know of your experience in sports administration, how can we win more medals in the international arena?

A: Unfortunately, we do not have a fruitful plan to win medals. Usually all the sports ministers try to find a way to win international medals during their period of stewardship but have never been successful. That is the bitter truth. Ministry officials advise ministers to pump more money to develop sports and fund foreign tours. The Ministers in turn try to find funds to achieve the set targets. But most of the time they do not succeed. This has happened over the years.

Q: Are you saying that most officials have not taken the correct path?

A: Most officials do not have knowledge of the correct path to win medals. They never give thought to the task that must be fulfilled. They do not understand the international level of sports. They want sportsmen and women to win more medals but do not know how to achieve that task. Even newly appointed sports officials do not know that.

Q: If what you say is true what should be done to correct it?

A: We must first find out the games where we can win medals in the international arena. For example, we can categorize the events such as Olympics, World Championships, Commonwealth Games, Asian Games or South Asian Games.

Unfortunately, most of our sports administrations are focused on winning in the South Asian region. But South Asian region sports are of a very low standard. The Asian Games, Commonwealth, World Championship or the Olympic are more challenging.

Winning an Olympic medal is the highest attainment an athlete can reach. But, first, we must find out in which events we have the prospect of winning medals. For example in the Asian region, we can be powerful in track field and martial arts events. In the Commonwealth Games, shooting, archery, fencing or martial arts are more suitable than other games. Before aiming at medals we must calculate the strength we have. Only after that can we dream of winning medals.

Q: Do you believe we can win medals in international events other than the South Asian Games?

A: Yes. But, we must first calculate the challenges. We must hold talent identification campaigns islandwide. If you pick only those who can run or jump it is not a real talent search. If a martial arts player cannot run fast, he is never selected. If you can concentrate well, but you cannot run, jump or have no special strength, then you will not have any chance of being selected at any talent identification program under the present set up. How can we find good shooters, archers, fencers or chess players? If we cannot find them, how can we win international medals?

The Sports Ministry has a sports hostel where sportsmen and women of various types of games are pooled together and trained. But all of them get the same type of food. Whether you are a track and field sportsman or a wushu player, it is the same food for both. This is not correct. There must be a nutritionist to advise on food. Without which we cannot prepare our players for medals. Sports ministry officials should look into this.

Q: Do you believe Sports Ministers can change their vision with your guidance?

A: If they do not like to take my advice they can look at the many examples around the world. The Jamaican players’ food menu, practice schedule and nutrition can be Googled; Follow the Indian shooters schedules; Study the amateur boxer’s journey to the medal. Then you will be able to understand it. I want to share my experience with the Sports Minister and ministry officials. That is not to develop my personal goals but for the victory for our country.

Q: Can you summarize your opinions?

A: We must maintain a long-term plan to win medals in the Olympics, the Asian and the Commonwealth Games. We must conduct talent identification programs, upgrade the knowledge of our coaches to international standards and obtain the advice of knowledgeable people.

We must get the help of nutritionists and select the food menu for athletes should be according to the type of game. We must also condition them mentally. This is very important. You need to understand the power of the mind. Conditioning the mind is part of the training of top athletes the world over. As a Buddhist, our spiritual leader, The Buddha taught us about mind power 2,500 years ago. European and most other Asian countries use mental conditioning to win medals, but we never use it. I wish to teach all the tactics I have learnt and enable our athletes to reach international standards.