Rugby should be the winner - Gomes

By M Naushad Amit
The name Caltex Lubricants Lanka PLC, which represents one of the pioneers in lubricant business in Sri Lanka since the early 1900s, became synonymous with Sri Lanka rugby after it was re-launched in the country in 1994. Caltex entered into a long- standing sponsorship with club rugby in Sri Lanka in 1999 and has been a god-fatherly figure of the sport ever since. During its sponsorship tenure of 11 years Caltex drew more attention to developing the game of rugby into greater focus. Despite major shackles in the rugby administration Caltex continued to support the game expecting the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union (SLRFU) to work towards the betterment of the sport. Recently during a press conference its Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, Kishu Gomes indicated that the time has come to give ‘serious thought’ to their future commitments. The Nation met probably the most ardent rugby fan in Sri Lanka, Kishu Gomes, who 11 years ago initiated a sponsorship which turned to be the longest standing commitment for any sport by a corporate sector giant in Sri Lanka.

Following are the excerpts of the interview:
Q: How and when did Caltex get into sponsoring sports in Sri Lanka?
Caltex began sponsoring sports since 1997 which is three years since re-entering the lubricant business in Sri Lanka. Initially we sponsored motor sports and all the riders and drivers. In 1999 Caltex first entered into rugby by sponsoring the Inter-Club Knockout tournament on an invitation from Anton Benedict who was then the President of SLRFU. We had some reservations but with the loyalty towards the game we thought of sponsoring. We saw success and since then Caltex has been sponsoring both the league and knockout tournaments.

Q: Apart from rugby and motor sports has Caltex sponsored any other sport?
We sponsored Indoor Cricket when the game was introduced to Sri Lanka in 2002. Under our sponsorship we emerged runners-up in a World Cup next to Australia which we consider as a very good achievement. In addition we have supported Seevali Central, Ratnapura in boxing and Dammissara Central, Nattandiya in Volleyball for many years. Those schools had talented sportsmen in the respective sports but had no support and with our backing they were able to emerge national champions. In fact it was we who approached them to offer support. We also sponsored SSC cricket for quite a few seasons.

Q: For the money Caltex has spent on various sports, as a corporate entity are you satisfied with the returns?
If you categorise returns in many different ways one obvious thing for a business is publicity and product awareness. Sure, we gained publicity through our various commitments. Apart from that, the perception is, when you are an organisation running a business in a particular country we believe that we have a social obligation as well. I believe that supporting sports is in a way supporting a country’s economy as well. We need to have a strong nation with the right attitudes and skills in order to become competitive globally. Sport is a way to achieve it. When a company is faring well there has to be something that has to be given back to society. Companies have lots of options and putting money into sports activities should give those companies the right returns. Otherwise those companies will look at other avenues. There should be some form of reward and recognition to inspire more companies to come out to sponsor sports activities. Sadly in Sri Lanka, only a handful of companies come forward to sponsor sports out of a huge list. In other countries it’s different.

Q: There are certain companies who sponsor a sport but in return make huge demands related to performances of the respective sport and so on. Does Caltex have that attitude?
There has been an expectation that the money we spent is properly used to elevate the game. That has been a constant request from us to the management of rugby in Sri Lanka. I believe that if all the stakeholders of the sport could work together, to keep Sri Lanka rugby at the pinnacle there would have been more positive progression in the game. But sadly we have not seen a constant progress, it has been a journey with so many ups and downs during the past 11 years in which we sponsored rugby. That’s due to people who govern the sport not working together. We have seen some parties pulling in different directions or having a different agenda which is sad. Sports should not have those kinds of attitudes. If one is intelligent enough, loyal, and passionate and really makes a commitment for the development of sports, then they should put those differences, selfish agendas, and attitudes aside. The game should be on top, not individuals.

Q: Caltex being the only sponsor of rugby for over a decade and you being a top marketeer in the country, what do you think SLRFU should have done during this period to uplift the standards?
The priority should have been to take control of the game properly which does not mean using the power the SLRFU has. But using all the skills and talent they have, bringing all together, making everyone understand that rugby should be the winner, not clubs or players. They should have got the best contributions and support from past and present players who have different yet valuable experience. One of the biggest concerns is the failure to create awareness among the general public about rugby. For a small percentage, rugby is a big game but that’s not the perception an average Sri Lankan has. Sri Lanka has 20 million people and, out of that, I think only 10% understand the game. When they don’t understand the rules of the game how can they enjoy it? Cricket is so popular because it’s understood by all. What should have been done by the SLRFU is popularising the game among the people of the country. That could have helped Sri Lanka rugby locally and globally though it may sound a distant dream now.

Q: Recently at a press conference you mentioned that Caltex has spent more than 300 million SL rupees during the past 11 years on rugby sponsorships with the SLRFU. Do you think that SLRFU has utilised the money correctly to develop the game?
I have no reasons to question the way the SLRFU has utilised the money. Our sponsorship is not the only revenue the SLRFU has; they have income from other sponsors and the IRB funds. But money is not the question here. If there was collaboration, cohabitation and coordination among the clubs, provincial unions and various other stakeholders under a better structure we could have been much better off.

Q: Are you satisfied with the league format that is played in our club tournaments?
One major issue I saw was having two different categories during the final round. I don’t think it’s a healthy situation. There are more possibilities when certain clubs which haven’t played well in the first round have improved in the second round. Those opportunities should be given for the clubs to come up and play good rugby right throughout the tournament. Or else it will make the clubs and spectators lose interest in the tournament. However, the tournament is run by the SLRFU and they would have had a rationale behind it. But personally as a rugby lover, a former player, a sponsor and a spectator I think some changes must be made.

Q: In terms of gaining spectator interest, do you think local rugby should adapt a strategy like the Indian Premier League (IPL) but in a local way?
From a development standpoint following the IPL strategy is a good thing but there are different aspects that you should think of before implementing it. Without a background or an image I don’t think you can create that interest among the spectators. But there are other ways which could generate the interest of the spectators to come to the venue and enjoy the game. Rugby being a game played for a short duration (90 minutes) and apart from people who are living near and around the venue there is no motivation for someone living 15 to 20 miles away to come and witness a game. Ideally club rugby could be played on a Saturday or a Sunday starting from 6.00pm under floodlights and offer an extended package to the spectators where they can come with their families. Organisers can provide a carnival atmosphere where the entire family can come and watch the game and enjoy themselves through other fun activities. This is something that is required for the sustainability of the game. If you can collect the people there are possibilities of geting various other sponsors to the game.

Q: What will be your commitment to rugby in the future, taking the current set-up into consideration?
Our contract with the SLRFU ended with the conclusion of the knockout tournament last month. We will need to sit and discuss as to what should be done to take the game forward. But nothing is finalised yet and hopefully in the next two or three months we will have to come to a conclusion about our future relationship with rugby.

Q: Since Caltex, as sponsors, could not achieve what was anticipated during the past decade what will be your expectations if you decide to continue with the sponsorship?
Locally we would like to see a greater level of competition, better quality rugby played by the clubs, more clubs joining in the premier tournament and if possible inclusion of foreign players in the local tournaments. Having foreign players will be a very good challenge for the local players and if all clubs could raise funds to accommodate foreigners it will be good for the competition as well. That’s an opportunity to enhance the capabilities of our players other than playing a few international matches annually. It will be a good test for a top club like Kandy Sports Club who has reached the optimum level when other clubs provide the challenge with skills. The spectators will have something novel to look forward to.

Q: What do you feel about watching Kandy SC win nine times during the past ten years of your sponsorship?
If Kandy SC is the best team and if they keep on winning that is not a big issue. In any sport, even at international level, Australia winning continuously at cricket and USA dominating at the Olympics there’s nothing wrong. The reason to worry should not be one team or a club winning always but what is important is the level of competition. If we saw a better level of competition than the last year, then, that’s what we should be talking about.

Q: How would you compare the quality between club and school rugby in Sri Lanka?
School rugby has progressed much faster than club rugby during these ten years. That’s good for Sri Lanka. But most of those school players don’t get the opportunity to continue at club level because the number of clubs in the country is not enough. Surely there can be more clubs coming up in Kandy for the amount of schoolboy rugby players that’s produced each year there. Similarly we need more clubs from other parts of the country. But these clubs should have quality and not exist just for the sake of having them. The school players should get more opportunities without letting their talent go waste. Currently club rugby is not doing justice to school leavers. The SLRFU has a bigger role to play in this process if they are to improve rugby in Sri Lanka.


Tiger’s ex-wife Elin Nordegren reveals all

By Jay Busbee
After nine months, Elin Nordegren has broken her silence on the infidelity scandal that rocked her family and led to the dissolution of her marriage to golf star Tiger Woods.
In what she says will be a one-time-only discussion of her side of the story, Nordegren spoke with People magazine for 19 hours over four days. The revelations were sobering, and in some cases surprising.
The three key takeaways from Nordegren’s story are:
• She says she is in no way a violent person, calling any speculation that she swung a golf club at Woods on Thanksgiving night “ridiculous.”
• She was completely broadsided by the news of Woods’ extramarital affairs, believing that she was the only woman in his life. In short, she was as surprised as most of the rest of the world that the persona Woods put forth – dedicated competitor, family man – was a carefully constructed sham. “I’m so embarassed that I never suspected [his affairs] – not a one,” she said.
• In line with that, she said she believed fully that her relationship with Woods was a real marriage, not an act orchestrated for cameras and sponsors. “The word betrayal is just not strong enough,” she told People. “I have been through the stages of disbelief and shock to anger and ultimately grief over the loss of the family I so badly wanted for my children.”

Woods, who will be playing in this weekend’s Barclays Championship in New Jersey, has not yet commented on Nordegren’s interview. Clearly, however, she plans on him being in the picture as the father of her children – daughter Sam, 3, and son Charlie, 19 months – as she didn’t scorch the earth with her comments. She declined to go into more detail about the events of Thanksgiving, and she would not comment on the size of her divorce settlement – rumored to be in excess of $100 million – except to indicate that it is substantial enough that she won’t have to work initially and will be able to focus on raising her children.
The People magazine article gives the impression that Nordegren is both very aware of her celebrity – perhaps infamy – as the aggrieved wife, and also very understanding of the fact that she is something of a punch line for gaining so much money in the divorce settlement. As such, she intends to remain a private person and has no intention of being a celebrity – refreshing in an age where everyone who nabs a single headline is rushing to sign a reality-TV or talk show deal.

Most surprisingly, throughout all the drama of the Woods scandal, Nordegren quietly spent time as a humble college student, taking night classes in pursuit of a psychology degree. According to her, she’s 40 credits short of a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and hopes to follow that with a master’s and, at some point in the future, work as a therapist herself. Perhaps fittingly, she took a clinical approach to her own healing, facing it directly and without shame in regular, intensive therapy sessions.

“My immediate plan is for the kids and me to continue to adjust to our new situation,” she said. “I am going to keep taking classes, but my main focus is to try to give myself time to heal.”
As for the future, she plans to raise the children in South Florida, near a home she and Woods have been building in Jupiter. So it seems she intends for him to remain a part of her life in some capacity; indeed, the article begins with Woods arriving home with the children during the interview and surprising Elin, who reacts with kindness and respect.

For now, this will close Elin Nordegren’s side of the story. Clearly, though, this will follow her and her family for decades to come. – [Yahoo sports]


Fifa president Blatter closes in on third term

Fifa president Sepp Blatter has edged closer to taking on another four years in charge of world football after being backed by the Asian football chief.
Mohamed Bin Hammam, 61, is seen as a potential successor to 74-year-old Swiss Blatter but has ruled himself out of the running for the Fifa election next June.
“I will not run for the next Fifa election. I will back Sepp Blatter to remain in office,” said Bin Hammam.
Bin Hammam’s decision follows a similar move by Uefa president Michel Platini. The Frenchman was also considered a key candidate for Fifa presidency but he will seek a second term as president of European football’s governing body instead.
Bin Hammam, a Fifa executive committee member, said he would similarly seek re-election as Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president next year.
“My aim is to run for the next election of AFC president due at the start of 2011,” added the Qatari.
“Hopefully I will get the full confidence of all the national associations.”
After 12 years in office, Blatter has made it clear he does not plan to leave when his term runs out on 11 June 2011, saying he has not finished his mission.
The Swiss was elected Fifa president in 1998 and won a re-election fight in 2002 before continuing unopposed for his second term in 2007.
The Asian bloc, the biggest football confederation in the world, wields 46 votes in the presidential election and will play a vital role in deciding whether Blatter continues his reign.
Bin Hammam had previously said all Fifa presidents should be limited to two terms and that he would like to see an Asian as president of world football’s governing body. – [BBC]