Boxing strongman Dian Gomes poised to crack the whip | Sunday Observer

Boxing strongman Dian Gomes poised to crack the whip

28 May, 2023

Dian Gomes has successfully fought many battles inside and outside the ring since taking on the mantle of the guardian of Sri Lanka boxing more than two decades ago. The self-styled ‘cornerman’ who resembles a modern-day revolutionary with his distinctive trademark ‘che’ cap, has had many detractors not because he was wanting in leadership but for his style of execution.

Like the great Muhammad Ali who railed against injustice without pulling his punches, Dian Gomes is a man many loved to hate as he did it ‘My Way’ like in Frank Sinatra’s anthem-like rendition.

However, at a time when he has reached the pinnacle of the sport having been elected a Director of the International Boxing Association (IBA), he faces the biggest challenge in his life from people who envy his position. He was the first Sri Lankan to be appointed to the Commonwealth Advisory Board on Sport (CABOS). Before being elected IBA Director, he served as Secretary of the Marketing Commission (2008 –2009) and Member of the Finance Commission (2010 -2011) in addition to Member of the Asian Boxing Confederation (ASBC) Athletes and Youth Commission (2010 – 2014).

It is widely acknowledged that he gave a new lease of life to a sport that was struggling for survival as he opened the doors for many local officials to gain international recognition as referees, judges and coaches. Unlike in the past when officiating at international competitions was the preserve of the elite, Dian Gomes showed the pathway and provided opportunities for both men and women to be selected for prestigious multi-sport events such as Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and Olympics in addition to the Asian and World Championships. A former Vice President of the National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka from 2004-2016, his ultimate objective was the overall development of boxing through a higher standard of refereeing, judging, and coaching.

Dian Gomes could have basked in the glory after achieving what many perceived to be an impossible dream when Anuruddha Rathnayake qualified for the 2008 Beijing Olympics after 40 years ending up as the number five ranked boxer in the world. He was rewarded for his perseverance and determination when three boxers won bronze medals at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games after 68 years, including the first by a woman pugilist Anusha Kodituwakku.

As he enters the final lap in his unprecedented association as President of the Boxing Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), the 65-year-old faces numerous challenges to his leadership ironically from the very people he nurtured to become future leaders.

The BASL formerly known as the ABA (Amateur Boxing Association) of Sri Lanka has always had dynamic presidents most notably people like Dian Gomes’ predecessor Dharmasiri Weerakoon who ruled with an iron fist until his untimely demise.

A former Director of MAS Holdings, Gomes took boxing in Sri Lanka to the next stratosphere with his corporate thinking coupled with his passion for the sport. Boxing thrived like never before and was not confined to Colombo and Kandy. It spread to Kamburupitiya in the south and previously war-torn zones such as Vavuniya and Mullaitivu and even Jaffna.

Even Sri Lankan R&Js have been held in high esteem internationally with a 3-star referee Rukman Wekadapola officiating with aplomb at the SEA Games held in Cambodia.

A prophet (no pun intended) is never recognized in his own country. Sadly, it is the same with idealists like Dian Gomes, the Honorary Consul of Georgia in Sri Lanka, who left no stone unturned to achieve his Olympic dream. Just as winning and losing is part of the game, Gomes has had his fair share of bouquets and brickbats which he takes in his stride. However, his Achilles Heel has been his generosity and not cracking the whip when the situation demanded being a gentleman with no malice towards anyone.

Gomes can walk away from the sport with his head held high but contends the boxing community wants him to clean up the corruption which has infiltrated the sport as corrupt officials are tainting the sport with their partisan behaviour resulting in coaches losing faith in the system. No one is bigger than the sport but officials who have launched a vicious mud-slinging campaign against Gomes strut around as if they are the born-again (no pun intended) saviours of boxing, little realizing they are shooting themselves in the mouth.

The lack of respect displayed to a distinguished head of a national sports association, who is the only Sri Lankan to hold high office as an Independent Director Board Member in an international sports governing body, is a clear breakdown in discipline. The international body governing boxing, IBA, has ruled that they recognize only Commissions appointed by BASL such as R&J (Referees and Judges) and Coaches like the Medical and Women’s (now Diversity), not separate entities or associations such as Boxing Referees and Judges Association (BRJA) and Boxing Coaches Association (BCA). The latter may be in existence for a long time but if they rebel against the decisions of the parent body BASL, it is the opportune time for the boxing strongman of Sri Lanka to put them in their place.

Gomes always had the welfare of boxers at heart and is positive about transforming the vast boxing talent available in the country to scale great heights. Those who have had the good fortune of being mentored by him have the ultimate respect for the services he has rendered for the sport. Many have climbed the social ladder because he opened new horizons in the sport.

The BASL issuing a media release stated that Gomes is determined to clean up the image of the sport which has taken a hit in the recent past because of corrupt officials. Referees and judges are supposed to be neutral but the stark reality is they are blinded by school and club loyalties. Every competition is marred by either refereeing or judging controversies as the stakeholders in the sport have lost faith in the system. The reason is that most referees and judges have an active link to either a school or club resulting in a conflict of interest when delivering the verdict. Every decision is viewed with scepticism because of the reputation some officials have garnered over the years for being partisan resulting in many deserving boxers being unjustly left by the wayside kicking their heels in frustration.

The Boxing Referees and Judges Association (BRJA) was once a respected body with eminent officials like KV Dharmadasa, Donald Munasinghe and Dharmasiri Weerakoon guarding the sanctity of the sport. In the good old days, there were honourable referees and judges like the Obeyesekere brothers and Thomas de Silva, who gave of their time and money, volunteering true to their gentlemanly conduct to officiate at boxing meets without expecting anything in return. Today it is the complete opposite with organisers of meets having to show money first and bow to the exorbitant demands of the BRJA holding even the BASL to ransom. The stance of officials could be accepted if it was reasonable and they maintained a semblance of neutrality. Alas, it is not so because they are bound by their loyalties while most of them have another income because they double as coaches putting the BASL in a quandary. Manipulation of results by a so-called independent panel of judges has become the bane of boxing in Sri Lanka.

By making false allegations against the BASL president Dian Gomes ahead of today’s Annual General Meeting, the top honchos of the BRJA are only smearing their faces and the sport with a snoot.

What is happening now is a cowardly below-the-belt attack by disgruntled individuals who lack the courage to look their opponent in the eye and win the fight by fair means without indulging in foul play.

The bottom line is the Boxing Family is looking up to Dian Gomes to stabilise the administration of the sport with his last throw of the dice so the future of boxing in Sri Lanka will not hurtle into a dark tunnel.