Opinion divided

By Ravi Nagahawatte
Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union faces opposition from leading clubs in promoting its inter-provincial tournament

Officials of the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union (SLRFU) have shown that their thinking now covers the width and breadth of the rugby circles, a contrast to the narrow vision earlier rugby administrators had on the game.
This the SLRFU showed in no uncertain terms when it launched the inter-province rugby tournament at a media briefing with the union president Priyantha Ekanayake boldly stating that the provincial tournament would replace the traditional inter-club rugby knockout tournament in the future.
SLRFU’s motive to develop rugby is clear. “It’s time that the provincial unions have their own tournaments and later the SLRFU can pick the top teams from these tournaments and conduct a super league under its supervision,” said SLRFU Chief Executive Officer Dilroy Fernando who added that the on-going provincial tournament would serve as the selection trail to pick the team for the upcoming Asian Championships.
Fernando explained that provincial unions should have a say at the AGM of the SLRFU and the move to have the provincial tournament was the first step in the right direction. “Even though the constitution of the SLRFU gives voting powers for provincial unions to elect members of the executive committee the old system of nominating office bearers on the recommendations of clubs still exists. This system needs to be changed. The message the SLRFU wants to carry comes in the form of a question to provincial unions which is whether they can make any contributions to rugby in the absence of strong teams in their respective unions?” queried Fernando. His words hint that the inter-province tournament provides each provincial rugby union with an opportunity to be involved in the main stream of rugby. Some of the provincial rugby unions with voting rights hardly have any active teams and there have been occasions in the past where some unions have come under the scrutiny of authorities for naming ghost clubs in order to increase their vote base at the AGM.
Top rugby playing clubs like CR&FC, CH&FC and the Central Province Rugby Union however disapprove of the idea of the provincial tournament replacing a traditional inter-club tournament. Iswan Omar, Vice-president Central Province Rugby Football Union (CPRFU) said that there was a lot of professionalism in the inter-club tournament and he didn’t fancy the provincial tournament taking its place. “Clubs take pride in playing in the inter-club rugby tournament. The provincial tournament is good for development,” opined Omar. Shane Dullewa, Joint Sports Chairman of CH&FC, said that he didn’t believe that scrapping a traditional tournament and replacing it with a provincial tournament was the best way to develop rugby.
SLRFU officials, at the launching ceremony of the inter-provincial tournament, said that they wanted to conduct the provincial tournament on the lines similar to that of the Super 14 Rugby Championships conducted in the Southern Hemisphere. The Super 14 tournament draws entries from the best provincial teams from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa and is conducted during a 14 week period. The birth of Super 12 was the first signs of the sport’s expansion after professionalism became part of rugby union in 1995.
The inter-provincial tournament in Sri Lanka has drawn entries from three provinces, Southern, Central and Western, with Defence Services completing the line-up of teams. Rugby fans have begun to wonder whether the tournament can generate enough spectator interest. They also query whether any one of the provincial teams will be at a disadvantage in preparing itself in this set-up? Ravi Balasuriya, President CR&FC, said that CPRFU would hold an advantage over the other teams since its players would comprise mostly of members of Kandy Sports Club and hence their coach would have no problems in assembling the players for practices. “The CPRFU team is blessed with more days to practice in comparison to WPRFU which manages just two practice sessions for the week,” he said. He also pointed out that the presence of the strong CPRFU and WPRFU teams would give rise to lopsided games.
The SLRFU, despite the odds, has the backing of the sport’s sponsor-Caltex Lubricants- in taking the game to the next pedestal through the inter-provincial tournament. “There has to be a start to every thing,” said Shehan Perera, Brand Manager Caltex Lubricants.