Blind-side takeover of rugby causes chaos | Sunday Observer

Blind-side takeover of rugby causes chaos

9 April, 2022
Kandy SC’s unbeaten march to retain the League title for another year running has been stopped in a foul move
Kandy SC’s unbeaten march to retain the League title for another year running has been stopped in a foul move

Clubs with a history of over hundred years fall to the dictates of bureaucrats:

Rugby, perhaps the only sport in Sri Lanka that was spared of bureaucracy and political interference, has been subjected to an off-field political scrum that some analysts call ‘foul’ after the Sports Ministry sacked its elected membership and took over the sport’s controlling body last week.

Rugby followers, the majority of who are lay people, have been left in a confused state unable to fathom what has taken place or why Sri Lanka Rugby (SLR) has been placed in the custody of what is being called a Competent Authority headed by the Sports Ministry’s director general Amal Edirisooriya.

The takeover came just a day before Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa issued the order and then resigned from his post in the face of a popular uprising against the government.

With elected officials of the sport ending up as virtual lame ducks after the grab and the current League tournament put on hold, another hair-raising situation arose when Edirisooriya on Thursday ordered paid staffers that included the High Performance Manager, the Executive Director, the Accountant and the Development Officer at the office of SLR to cease work that has been described as a crippling blow to the sport.

“Getting my staff to stop all their functions was a high handed act,” said Rizly Illyas who was elected as the president of SLR in 2020.

The reason given by Edirisooriya for sacking the elected membership of SLR is that three provincial unions that were suspended for non-payment of subscription fees had been accommodated at board meetings.

Adding further confusion to the episode Illyas said that to their unfathomable surprise Edirisooriya had ironically called on SLR to “work together” to ensure the administration of rugby stays afloat.

“What is there to work together,” he asked. “We have never had any support from the Sports Ministry, not a single cent and I need to run my tournament with our own sponsors the way it has been done throughout the ages,” said Illyas who is now seeking legal advice on what they see as their undemocratic ouster.

Edirisooriya, the topmost bureaucrat in the Sports Ministry whose job is to ensure political correctness, said the take-over of SLR was not a sacking but a “suspension”

But what most rugby followers did not know was that Minister Rajapaksa and Illyas were at loggerheads and did not see eye to eye for reasons best known to both parties creating a time-bomb situation and it was just a matter of time before an explosion took place and the confiscation of SLR came as no surprise to insiders.

The fuse-wire was lit a few months ago when Rajapaksa appointed a so-called rugby advisory committee headed by former SLR president Asanga Seneviratne and how much of an impact it can make on the progress of rugby remains to be seen.

Experts also question its legality now that Rajapaksa had resigned, technically rendering all his political appointees redundant.

Questions are also being raised on whether the on-going inter club league tournament is legal as several teams contesting the event belong to the provincial unions that have been outlawed.

A former Sri Lanka team captain who did not wish to be quoted said the Sports Ministry has not been in touch with reality as provincial unions were set up in 1992 on the advice of a foreign expert to take the game to grass-root level whereas some of the clubs affiliated to them (provincial unions) have been around for more than a hundred years.

“What we have here is some technical matter overshadowing common sense in the running of the affairs of rugby,” he said.