Asian Games debacle

DISGRACEFUL – that’s how one can sum up the performance of Sri Lanka at the 16th Asian Games in China which concluded on Saturday.
Sri Lanka sent a contingent of 104 competitors (82 men and 22 women) and 29 officials for the event to compete in 22 of the 42 sports and all of them came back empty handed. This is perhaps one of the worst performances of Sri Lanka at an event in the magnitude of the Asian Games or the Olympic Games in recent times.

The contingent left with a lot of expectations of winning medals in at least four sports – golf, athletics, weightlifting and cricket which was making its debut at the Games. But Sri Lanka came nowhere near to winning a single medal in the 22 disciples they took part.
As the days passed by expectations of a medal in any of the events grew only to be replaced by an air of despondency as the athletes kept on failing to meet the standards of other Asian nations.
What our performances at the Asian Games imply is that we are nowhere near to the standards required to win a medal in Asia. The question that begs to be asked is why is Sri Lanka sending such large contingents along with journalists to important events like the Asian Games knowing pretty well that the majority of the competitors have not reached Asian standards.

Is Sri Lanka following the famous words of Frenchman Baron de Coubertin, founder of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and considered the father of the modern Olympic Games: “The important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle, the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”
It is a waste of time and money sending teams to such mega events if the proper standards cannot be met to ensure a medal. Other countries train for such events three to four years ahead, but whereas in Sri Lanka the preparations are ad hoc and the result is what we have today. When will Sri Lanka ever learn to plan and prepare well ahead of time so that our athletes reach their peak form at the event.
With the exception of a few individuals who have made it on their own through sheer hard work and determination to win a medal for their country, there is no organised planning or a proper structure in place for sports to develop to international standards. This has been the bane of Sri Lanka sports for many years and no one is prepared to take the bull by the horns and create an environment where sports is given top priority and organised in a manner that befits the nation.

Successive governments appoint Sports Ministers who come and go without taking into serious consideration any steps for the improvement of sports in the country.
The way things stand at present cricket is the only properly organised sport in which Sri Lanka can proudly hold their head up high. However, the performance of the team that was sent to the Asian Games put to shame that stature. They were nearly beaten by Nepal in the opening match scraping through by a mere two wickets, then lost to Bangladesh in the semi-finals and were soundly beaten by Pakistan for the bronze medal play-off. The team comprised discards from the national team and one wonders whether they were sent to China as a sort of a compensation for not being able to make it to the national side. Whatever the reasons the selections were based on, it was the country’s name that has been disgraced by their pathetic performance. Our under 19 World Cup cricketers would have put up a better show.

With so much talk of development in the country sport is one area where Sri Lanka seems to be lagging behind. The new Sports Minister should take serious note of the Asian Games debacle. Calling for a report on it is a total waste of time and complete eyewash for nothing follows after that. The Minister must get to the root cause of why Sri Lanka cannot become a strong sporting nation and work towards achieving that end.