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 Dinesh Weerawansa

Performances at Sports Festival heartening

It was heartening to note the performance of our rural youth at the XXX111rd National Sports Festival. The hidden talent at provinces were exposed to the full during the meet, which has always provided a stage for the talented youth to come to perform.

True that wet weather conditions did not provide the ideal conditions for some of the events. Nevertheless, there were many record breaking performances, a positive sign on the future of our sport.

But where are we going to head from here? That is where a big question mark hangs. Each National Sports Association (NSA) should have a program to groom the top performers at the National Sports Festival.

Be it in athletics, swimming or a team sport like volleyball, the NSA should draw a special plan to groom the talent they identify at National Sports Festival. Those who come to the limelight at the National Sports Festival should be given incentives to sharpen their sporting careers.

In many countries, their National Sports Festivals are ‘the sporting event’. Those generate tremendous excitement and enthusiasm that overshadows all other events. Even in neighboring India, their National Sports Festival is the biggest domestic sporting event which is eagerly looked forward to.

Unfortunately, in Sri Lanka, there is less awareness and importance to our National Sports Festival. Many think its an event of the Sports Ministry and wash their hands off. True that it is the Sports Ministry which conducts the National Sports Festival but all NSAs should take a greater responsibility in giving more value to the mega event.

Our media too is to be blamed for the step motherly treatment meted out for the National Sports Festival. It is a pity to note that most of our electronic and print media organisations look at the National Sports Festival in a different angle.

Those who lavishly allocate their air time or space in the sports pages to even third-grade cricket matches and even cricket series between minnows like Zimbabwe or Kenya, comparatively give less or virtually negligible coverage to the National Sports Festival.

It is unethical to criticise those who are engaged in the same trade but with due respect to my media colleagues, all what I intended to emphasise is about our attitudes towards the National Sports Festival.

I feel media could play a greater role in promoting important events of this nature. True that several newspapers and television channels gave good coverage to the event. But that is not good enough to stress the importance of a mega event of this nature. We should have given a better coverage to create a greater public awareness and catch attention.

That is how we could promote and popularise sport. That would also give a better recognition to participants and their achievements. One may think that is one small thing but we have to realise those small things would go long way at times.

On the other hand, that would be a motivation for the participants and for those who like to start a sports career. When such a great volume to recognition is given, there would be more sponsorships that would attract sports. That would also lead to create better employment opportunities to those young boys and girls once they leave school.

Apart from the National Sports Festival, National School Games is the biggest local sporting event. The National School Games would always have the highest number of participants at a single sports event. That is the breeding ground for outstanding young schoolchildren.

The Education Ministry should not confine its extra-curricular activities to the National School Games alone. All encouragement should be given to physical training instructors, teachers-in-charge of sports and prefect of Games who work round the clock to promote sports in their respective schools.

But on the other hand, the Education Ministry cannot play a lone innings, unless they get the necessary backing from the Ministry of Sports. There should be a greater understanding and co-ordination between the two Ministries so that the sport could be the winner.

We still remember how successful the National School Games were at the beginning. Then Director General of Sports at the Education Ministry and present Vice President of the Athletic Association of Sri Lanka, Sunil Jayaweera played a key role in the promotion of National School Games in late 80s. His deputy Olivia Gamage too was another live wire.

But today, we lack people of that calibre, school officials who would go that extra mile to promote sports.

The best place to pick talent is schools. The success of our 1996 Cricket World Cup triumph is due to the strong school cricket standard we had in late 80s and early 90s. During that era, we produced some of the top schoolboy cricketers. Our school cricket standard then was considered one of the best in the world and even today, it is one of the most organised set-up.

If we strengthen our school sports set up and give priority to the National Sports Festival and National School Games, then it would not be that hard to find hidden rural talent and groom them carefully for the future. It is an investment for the future.

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