Winning the first Gold for Sri Lanka at Los Angeles 2028 or Brisbane 2032 | Sunday Observer

Winning the first Gold for Sri Lanka at Los Angeles 2028 or Brisbane 2032

15 August, 2021
Namal Rajapaksa, Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports
Namal Rajapaksa, Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports

“Faster, Higher, Stronger – Together,” were the words chosen by the IOC President Thomas Bach, himself an Olympian, for his address at the Opening Ceremony of Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. The author senses it as a clarion call in true ‘Olympic Spirit’ to all Sri Lankans to go for the first Olympic Gold!

The Olympic Games delayed by the pandemic were finally staged without fans. And now, after all the upheavals, uncertainties, oddities and of course, glorious moments of competition and the spirit of solidarity shared at Tokyo 2020 - the policy makers of most of the countries will wait for the dust to settle and evaluate their performance by stating, ‘we could do better next time.’

Sri Lanka, a country that reached the Olympic podium twice at London 1948 in 400m Hurdles through Duncan White and at Sydney 2000 in 200m through Susanthika Jayasinghe should strive to win medals. The way forward is for the National Federations (NFs) to work in partnership with the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) and the National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka (NOCSL) to achieve success through a coordinated national network of ‘High Performance.’

The country is blessed for the first time with an elite sportsman as the Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports in Hon. Namal Rajapaksa, 35, who has been engrossed in sports from age 8 to 28. Hon. Namal Rajapaksa has expressed the ardent desire of the GOSL to contribute towards the elite athletes and the author believes that the time is ripe for Sri Lanka to launch the campaign through proper strategies by the NFs, incorporating all possible synergies.

Hon. Namal Rajapaksa, a product of S. Thomas’ College competed in all age groups under 9, 13, 15 and 17. In 2000, he led the National under 16 team in rugby, played for the college from 2002 and captained the 1st XV team in 2005. He also led Sri Lanka under 19 team in 2004.

At elite level, he played rugby for the Cardiff University from 2005 to 2006 and the City University from 2006 to 2009. He played for the Sri Lanka Navy from 2009 and captained in 2010 and 2011. He donned the National jersey 2010 through 2014 and captained Sri Lanka in 2013 and 2014.

He has already taken vast strides. The decision to appoint the renowned cricketing maestro Mahela Jayewardene as the Chairman of the National Sports Council is commendable. Introduction of ‘High Performance Tier One’ under the able leadership of Sanjeewa Wickramanayake, to contract elite athletes and energize them is another brainchild of him.

Recognizing that wholesome nutrition is instrumental to develop elite athletes, joining hands with ‘Anchor’ to nourish top 60 elite athletes who aspire to represent the country at global stage is indeed a bold step under the ‘High Performance Tier One.’

The declaration of July 31st as the ‘National Sports Day’ to coincide with the winning of Sri Lanka’s first Olympic Medal by Duncan White is praiseworthy. The launch of an ‘Inspirational Video’ during the Tokyo 2020, to motivate athletes physically and spiritually and to instill in them the salient qualities required to reach the podium at elite competitions is timely.

Sri Lanka’s Quest for Gold

In the face of remarkable human resources available in Sri Lanka to the advantage of sports, the author having pursued a doctoral thesis in Strategic Management of Sports and further enhanced his through his post-doctoral research, shares his candid views on how Sri Lanka should tread to win the first Olympic Gold in 8 to 12 years at Los Angeles 2028 or Brisbane 2032.

To achieve elite medals, all NFs should implement ‘4-Year Strategic Plans’ and achieve improved success at elite competitions. It is prudent for a country like Sri Lanka, which has already won the crown in another sport – Cricket, as the world champions to plan strategically to reach the podium at the forthcoming Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and World Championships.

It is of vital importance for the NOCSL to instill the values of Olympism - Excellence, Friendship and Respect, amongst all stakeholders especially administrators of the NFs, athletes, coaches, officials and inspire them to adhere to best practices through shared responsibility, open communication, scientific research and future planning.

Achieving Sustainable Development

Due to the glory, honor, recognition and rewards that are associated with winning elite medals, strategies for identifying and nurturing sports talent are continuously explored by nations. Many believe they can create a competitive advantage by developing a comprehensive system. Thus, strategic approaches have become a feature of international elite sport management systems.

Although the number of medals stays almost the same, the international competition has intensified. An increasing number of countries are developing strategic approaches in their pursuit of success. This has resulted a trend towards homogenous model of elite sport development. Thus, the necessity to introduce a performance driven management system in Sri Lanka.

As sporting systems are moving increasingly towards uniformity globally, it will become harder and harder for nations to win more medals with a static level of investment. It is clear that, for nations to be successful in the future, much more emphasis will need to be made on strategic planning for success in a comprehensive manner.

It was the aim to present a composite performance model of sports themes that are important for international success. Literature in this area is scarce particularly when it comes to the creation of a model regarding elite sports policies, yet paradoxically many governments seem to have a considerable interest in trying to outperform rival nations.

One way to help elite athletes sustain longer-term involvement is through creation of a more open, flexible and supportive sporting environment and a network between stakeholders, the GOSL, sports administrators, parents, family, teachers, principals and talented athletes. Such a partnership will enable a greater understanding of the underlying themes.

Internal and External Resources

Elite athletes are an important human capital that is highly valued by our society. One of the key challengers for elite sport development is understanding how to attract and retain young talent in the elite sports systems, in which they will need to sacrifice their aspirations by devoting the best 15 to 20 years of the life span.

For sports scientists, the elite competitions remain a quadrennial showcase and testing ground for the cutting edge in all aspects of sport performance, from materials science to optimal training, to sport psychology. For everyone else, the elite competitions seem to contribute to nation building. Indeed, they contribute more to national pride.

It is of paramount importance to meet elite athletes’ specific needs. As potential individuals with giftedness in sports to reach the podium, they should be guided to enhance their understanding of elite athlete development process with the objective of promoting individual excellence in sport and life.

Model for Athlete Development in Sri Lanka

The author believes that his ‘Model for Athlete Development in Sri Lanka’ at Figure 1 provides a metaphor for success and within that a metaphor of the belief that commitment, morale and perseverance make it possible for any Sri Lankan athlete to surmount any obstacle in contemporary society to reach the ultimate goal of reaching an Olympic Gold.

The challenge for the NOCSL, NFs and research institutions are to adapt and embrace this evolution to enhance elite performances. The author trusts that his ‘12-Theme Model’ is well equipped to develop athletes biologically, psychologically and socially as the analysis included macro, meso and micro levels. Further, the findings are both qualitative and quantitative, well blended and distilled down to the key ‘Sports Policy Themes.’

The author acknowledges that his ‘12-Theme Model’ combines the research findings of the founder of Modern Olympic Games, Baron Pierre de Coubertin and the latest sports science best practices in coaching and training from around the world. Thus, the author recommends to the Ministry of Sports to introduce the same to all schools, universities and NFs in Sri Lanka.

The study with special emphasis on the countries that leads the Summer Olympics Medal Table such as the United States, China, Great Britain, Australia, Netherlands, France, Germany, Italy and Canada has shown that it takes between 8 to 12 years of training for a talented athlete to reach elite levels. This has been summarized by the ‘Ten Thousand Hour Rule’ and equates to approximately 3 hours of training each day for 10 years.

Innovation, research, science and technology will be the drivers of Sri Lankan sporting excellence in the decades to come. It is imperative that we look for ways and means to work in close liaison to improve our sport science base as well and help to develop a lifelong involvement in physical activity and sport participation by all Sri Lankans.

Figure 1 - Model for Athlete Development in Sri Lanka

* 1 Financial Support Theme Sports Policy

* 12 Media and Communication

* 11 Nutrition and Innovation

* 10 Parents, Family and Religion

* 9 Scientific Research

* 8 International Competitions

* 7 Coaching and Coach Development

* 6 Training Facilities

* 5 Athletic and Post Career Support

* 4 Talent Identification and Development

* 3 Foundation and Participation in Sport

* 2 Unified Approach to Policy Development

Source: Fernando, 2021

Challengers to Win Medals

The development of any sport primarily needs appropriate training facilities. Besides, financial support is key to success. It has been revealed that Talent Identification and Development (T4), Coaching Provision and Coach Development (T7) and Scientific Research (T9) are still relatively underdeveloped in most of the countries and might thus give a competitive advantage.

Sri Lanka is blessed with a free education system that affords 9 years of compulsory schooling in 10,000 schools across the country. Further, a rich tradition of Inter-House Sports serves as a Talent Spotter. This wide basis at Foundation and Participation (T3), is supported by regular competitions from Under 9 to 23. These strengths have not been fully harnessed to support athletes.

The traditional approach used for Talent Identification and Development (T4) is not adequate to groom young and talented athletes. Thus, the need for introduction of a systematic and professional approach. In order to excel, most of the countries rely largely on universities as reservoirs of sports talent and there is abundant evidence of university students winning elite medals.

It is essential that the Ministry of Sports enlighten the vital importance of grooming talented athletes whilst they are at schools and universities to the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Higher Education. This coordination will boost up smooth pathway for athletes from schools to enter universities and achieve elite medals.

Strategic Planning Process

The author would like to share the milestones identified by him under the Strategic Planning Process: Improving the experience of every athlete, sustaining participation levels and improving performance levels and growing the next generation of athletes; Establish clear understanding in all involved, that age group championships are not ends in themselves but milestones in the process of athlete development; Create ‘Athlete Retention and Motivational Programs,’ specific to age groups and developmental levels; Design and deliver a ‘Talent Action Plan’ that takes athletes through to fulfilling performance potential in the peak performance age range; Review ‘Coach Education and Development Programs’ to prepare coaches to be more effective in meeting the needs of athletes at specific stages of development; Monitor ‘Coach Development’ through a dedicated tracking program to be more responsive to addressing individual coach development needs; Ensure that ‘High Performance’ and ‘Active Lifetime’ choices are both catered for in the ‘Athlete Development Pathway’; Prepare an online ‘National Athlete Tracking System’ to ensure appropriate guidance and support is available for athletes and their coaches once the athlete is identified as having talent for ‘High Performance’; Remain constantly in touch with development in performance science and medicine, realigning ‘Athlete Development Pathway’ and ‘Coach Education’ content accordingly; Incorporate the use of sport science, sport medicine, talent identification and coaching; Accommodate interested groups in an array of specifically designed strategies and programs targeted to those athletes that compete at international level; Create and regenerate involvement from the GOSL, sponsors, participants, spectators, sport supporters and athletes themselves.

Pathway to Olympic Glory

The Olympic Games are the ultimate in most sports. It is certainly the pinnacle of sports career and the historic competition artfully melds excellence and participation.

High quality facilities, sufficient elite coaches and a good national competition structure will allow young talents to become skilled in their sport, to train and compete and to develop their skills.

Once athletes perform at an elite level, there is a need for more specialized equipment and facilities with appropriate accessibility, elite coaches with expertise and knowledge at elite level, and sufficient opportunities for athletes to participate at regular international competitions.

The planning process should be comprehensive and should include a discussion of the operating environment, the role of mission and goals as well as developing plans to meet the objectives. The NFs are responsible for the identification, development and preparation of their elite athletes and coaches as well as management of their ‘High Performance’ programs.

Potential Sports for Sri Lanka

Countries cannot be competitive in all sports, but rather have a competitive advantage in some sports or specific disciplines within a sport. The policy adopted in the New Zealand to fund only six sports that have the ability to produce athletes who would finish top 16 at the Olympic Games is an eye opener.

The author recommends that Sri Lanka consider gold medals won at the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games as a guideline for the measure of success.

These medals have come from athletics, boxing, shooting, cricket and weightlifting. It is ideally suited for Sri Lanka to target top 16 positions in all sports at the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games in 2022.

We could even choose most probable events within sports. Sri Lanka has a rich haul of 27 medals from athletics at the Asian Games in 100m, 200m and 400m. The ratio of medals is 4 in 100m: 6 in 200m: 9 in 400m. Thus, 400m could be identified as a medal winning event for Sri Lanka.

Selection of Athletes and Coaches

The NOCSL have the right and responsibility to select the athletes for the Games, fairly and impartially, keeping in mind the related IFs and NFs statues and policies. Such selection should be based not only on the sports performance of an athlete alone, but also on athlete’s ability to serve as an example to the sporting youth of his country in keeping with the spirit of sports.

The coaches play a pivotal role in the success of athletes. The coach-athlete relationship is crucial and they should acquire latest skills required for coaching. Coaches must have the ability to motivate a variety of athletes, who have different personalities and who respond differently to motivational techniques. A good coach will know his athletes and understand how to read them.

Role of the Chef de Mission

The appointment of the Chef de Mission (CDM) is key as the responsibilities encompass planning, implementing, coordinating and managing all aspects. The CDM as the representative of the NOC should be conversant with competition schedules, clothing and equipment. Most of the international CDMs are professionals outside the Executive Committees of the NOCs and NFs.

The CDM appointment is meant for an Olympic cycle, so that adequate time and exposure is available to interact and develop a good working relationship with athletes, coaches and officials. The CDM should commit to showcase national identity and pride and ensure that the best atmosphere is created to unleash full potential of all athletes.

If Sri Lanka totally commit and succeed to win the first Olympic Gold in the near future, we could repeat the words of the IOC President Thomas Bach at the Tokyo 2020 Closing Ceremony: “We did it Together.”

(The author, a champion athlete Under 9 to 19; embarked on Sports Administration at 20; Competition Director and Chairman at international competitions; Secretary General, Vice President and President of Athletics and Shooting NFs; Team Manager to Asian, Commonwealth and Olympic Games)