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Government Gazette

Sahabandu, Menike good selections

Sports Minister Gamini Lokuge has done well in appointing former Asian Games gold medallist Kosala Sahabandu as the new chairman of the national athletic selection committee.

The inclusion of Sahabandu as chairman and Asian Championship medallist Sriyani Dhammika Menike as a member are decisions that are commendable.

It was heartening to hear of such a decision after Minister Lokuge was embarrassed after the resignation of former Sri Lanka Test cricketer Amal Silva from the national selection committee. Silva, that wicket-keeper, opening bat who made a memorable century at Lord’s maintained that the dignity of a cricketer is more important and did not like being shuffled in and out of the selection committee at the whims of the authorities.

That incident made the Sports Minister to make a ruling to Sri Lanka Cricket that the governing body should obtain prior consent before proposing members to serve in selection committees. That is also a right decision so that the Minister would exactly know whether those members would actually like to serve in selection committees.

Selectors in any sport at any level do a thankless job. There may be plenty of talent available but they could only name the number that is required to make a team in a team sport or slots that are available in individual events. The selectors are expected to perform their duties impartially, only considering merit in the interest of the respective sport.

But in recent times, we have heard of a few selectors who have worked to different agendas. The dumping of veteran Sanath Jayasuriya is an example. Thanks to far reaching decisions of chairman of cricket selectors Ashantha de Mel, Jayasuriya is there to bat on.

Going back to the appointment of the new athletic selection committee, the presence of Sahabandu would add more strength to the panel. He has been a top sprinter during his day and was a member of the men’s 4 x 400m team that won the gold medal at the 1974 Asian Games in Teheran. Sunil Gunawardena, A. Premachandra and W. Wimaladasa were the other members of that champion team.

It is heartening to see Sriyani Dhammika Menike returning to the athletic scene as a selector. Ever since her retirement, the champion middle distance runner has been out of the athletic arena and has been working as a banker at Hatton National Bank, which Bank has helped her in numerous ways.

Dhammika Menike became a household name when she bagged women’s 800m and 1,500m gold medals at the 5th South Asian Games in Colombo, 1991. The following year, she made it to the Olympic Games in Barcelona.

But the best achievement in Dammika Menike’s career came in 1993 when she bagged women’s 800m bronze medal at the Asian Championship in Manila, Philippines.

Incidentally, I had the privilege of following all those feats.

Over the years, many national selection committees have had several weak links. When there are selectors who do not earn respect, we cannot expect an impartial job. But the presence of Sahabandu and Dhammika Menike would add more weight to the athletic selection committee.

That does not mean the remaining members of the athletic selection are misfits. They too have made immense contribution for the development of track and field in Sri Lanka.

However, it would have been better if the Sports Minister had considered at least a couple of former Sri Lanka athletes who have represented their country in recent past or those who have achieved significant feats.

We do not know their, availability but it would have been ideal if the authorities had considered former Sri Lanka athletes of the calibre of W. Wimaladasa, Sriyantha Dissanayake, Ranjith Subasinghe, Mahes Perera and Chinthaka de Zoyza, to name a few.

It is pity that Sri Lanka will have only a solitary competitor at the forthcoming IAAF World Championships in Japan. Exactly ten years after her record breaking feat in Athens, Susanthika Jayasinghe is craving to secure a medal in her farewell IAAF World Championship.

Jayasinghe, who is currently training in the United States, is due to fly to Osaka direct from Los Angeles mid next week. The good news is that she has qualified to compete in women’s 100m, apart from her pet event of women’s 200m that has brought Sri Lanka an Olympic medal as well as an IAAF World Championship medal.

Jayasinghe’s latest tour to the US has been made possible due to untiring efforts of Nagalinga Ethirveerasinham, Sri Lanka’s first ever Asian Games gold medallist.

The lanky former Sri Lanka high jump champion is residing in the US and has helped several Lankans.

It was Ethir who helped Asian Championship double gold medallist Manjula Kumara Wijesekera. It was Ethir’s guidance that enabled Wijesekera to secure sports scholarship at a leading American university. Unfortunately, a constant leg injury has slowed down his progress.

People of Ethir’s calibre are rare. The helping hand extended by the former Sri Lanka high jump champion is commendable and Jayasinghe and Wijesekera are ever thankful to Ethir for his sporting gesture. There again, Ethir would not think that is a favour as his genuine interest is to see Sri Lanka athletics reaching great heights.

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