Lone sports crusader leaving no stone unturned | Sunday Observer

Lone sports crusader leaving no stone unturned

29 January, 2023

Developing sports in the country is a much bandied mantra almost a cliché mouthed by officials before they grab power but once in the driving seat rarely do they deliver the goods.

Instead of service above self, they change the original goal posts to serve themselves and those who feed off them while the players who matter have to be content with crumbs on offer at the whim and fancy of high riding officials. This is a malaise that has afflicted every sphere of society from the guardians of democracy to sports authorities who pay lip service to development.

It is pleasing to find an individual who has not only the vision and passion to uplift sports in the country but is going about his task without seeking political capital or financial gain, using his skills as an entrepreneur effectively. A rose among the thorns in a morally depraved and corrupt society that is hurtling from one crisis to another, Dr Gayath Jayasinghe is doing his bit without much fanfare to not only develop sports but also provide opportunities for unemployed youth by providing vocational education in addition to promote tourism through sports.

Founder and CEO of Gaja Sports, Dr Jayasinghe is using the recently launched Gaja TV channel as a vehicle to indulge in his passion to promote sports by telecasting events live in the country. More significantly, he is also using this medium to provide educational programmes for the benefit of youth, especially school drop-outs who have no career pathway.   

“The reason we started Gaja Sports was to develop sports in Sri Lanka in a more professional, quality way. For example, it is not only sponsoring an event. It is educating the children how to play the game in the right way. We have special programmes on nutrition. We want to develop a comprehensive player, fit to play the international game,” said the former Sri Lanka basketball player.

Naturally his focus is basketball but Gaja Sports which is supported by its sister company Gaja Holdings in Malaysia, have sponsored other sports such as netball during the past three years. A sports management and event company, Gaja Sports is the main sponsor of the Masters Basketball Championship which will be held next month.

The launch of Gaja TV as an exclusive sports channel three months ago has given a new dimension to his objective of developing sports.  

“Gaja TV has been on Youtube for the past one year. It was my concept to have a TV channel to telecast live coverage of any sport. We had an Elle tournament in Trincomalee, Mercantile netball and basketball, all Sri Lanka schools basketball events, John Tarbat athletics and Badminton Nationals,” he said.

“The reason why I am telecasting these matches especially basketball is because back in our days as a player, the game that we played we never had a chance to see it as well as for us to correct our mistakes. We didn’t have a facility to rewind and see but nowadays whatever we telecast, we put into Youtube so the children as well as coaches can see their performance. There is a database. They know what mistakes they made or how good they did. All these things could be reviewed to improve their game,” he said, motivated and encouraged by the feedback received from coaches, teachers and school principals.

“The kids love to see what they did. It’s a nice feeling,” said the 46-year-old Jayasinghe who was educated at both St Joseph’s and St Peter’s.

His TV channel is sustained by a few long-term sponsors without interfering with the run of play. “I don’t want to have many sponsors. For instance, when people watch a match, if you see about 20 advertisements, you don’t strike anything on your mind. If you see three or five ads, viewers have more time to watch the match. We have sponsors who are good enough to cover the overheads,” he said.

Dr Jayasinghe has not given up on his dream of building an international basketball stadium. “I still have that dream. Before I die I want to do it for Sri Lanka basketball,” he said.

He was forced to put on hold plans to hold an international 3x3 tournament last year because of the situation in the country. “I have a big demand for foreign teams to come and play here. I want to develop the Masters tournament with foreign participation,” said Jayasinghe who is president of Master Basketball Sri Lanka (MBSL).

“When veteran sports people come, they come with their family. The hotel industry, local and sports tourism will boom,” he said.

Having transformed MBSL which was riddled with financial mismanagement four years ago into an efficient organisation, he is ready to hand over the baton instead of clinging onto office after completing four years. “I hope a new president takes over and does a better job than me,” he said.

Jayasinghe is also trying to help Sri Lanka basketball without holding any position in the federation but is not greedy for power.

“I’m trying to help them the way I can. If they invite me, I will definitely help. I don’t want to go there by force. If an invitation comes from a good place, I would consider,” he said.