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Sports Ministry on the ball

Ministry of Sports has embarked on a massive project to train our sportsmen and sportswomen for the upcoming South Asian Games in Bangladesh. A total of 24 national sports associations (NSAs) will benefit under the special program to train their respective national pools.

A large sum of Rs. 50 million has been allocated to train various national squads in 24 sports who are down to compete at next year's South Asian Games in Dhaka. Though we are slightly behind schedule, the contribution of the Sports Ministry should be greatly appreciated as it would be an investment for the future.

Hence, the NSAs which have been entrusted the task of conducting training sessions for their respective national pools, need not carry the begging bowl as the Sports Ministry will meet the cost of entire training schedules which leads up to the eight-nation Games in the Bangladeshi capital.

A proper training schedule for these national pools is a must as Sri Lanka will also be fielding a contingent for the 16th Asian Games to be worked off in China next year. The strength of the Sri Lanka contingent for the Asian Games will not be as large as the contingent to the South Asian Games.

Nevertheless, it is important that the sportsmen and women whom we plan to field for the Asian Games have adequate training. These potential Asian Games prospects should be given continuous training even after the Dhaka South Asian Games.

Asian Games is a huge challenge and Sri Lanka has not won a gold medal there since sprinter Susanthika Jayasinghe won women's 100m gold at the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, South Korea. Hence, Sri Lanka must make every endeavour to strike gold after eight years when the Asian Games return to China, which incidentally hosted the last Olympic Games.

In fact, there has not been a proper training program for national level sportsmen and women since last year's Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. Even the Olympic poolists such as weightlifter Chinthana Vidanage and shuttler Thilini Jayasinghe, were compelled to do their own training without any financial assistance.

Welcome move

In the circumstances, the new move by the Sports Ministry to fund pool practices and preparations of 24 NSAs is a welcome move and would help less affluent sportsmen and women to survive.

But the program should not end there. The Sports Ministry should identify future Asian and world level medal prospects and give them even better facilities. The top most level sportsmen and women should be given individual sponsors so that they do not have to worry about financial constraints and could fully concentrate on sport.

We remember how Sri Lanka's elite sportsmen and women were looked after in the late 90s. The Sports Ministry not only secured individual sponsorships and employment for them but also their housing problems and transport were sorted out. In some cases, employment for their family members were also provided

All that was done to keep the athletes in a good frame of mind. Mental stability plays an important part in the development of athletes. If their minds are clear without any other problems in life, they could fully concentrate on their respective disciplines.

That was precisely why the then sports administrators were keen to find shelter and employment for outstanding rural sportsmen and women. Such programs have paid rich dividends as Sri Lanka had a rich harvest of medals at World, Olympic and Asian Games.

That is exactly what we ask the Sports Ministry to implement now. Since the Sports Ministry has come out in a big way to train the South Asian Games pools at a cost of Rs. 50 million, we urge the Sports Minister to extend this program further.

If the Sports Ministry could go that extra mile and make an even better investment for the future, Sri Lanka's sports future could look even brighter.

It is heartening to see some of our sportsmen and women going great guns at international level in recent times. The most notable of them all being the rare feat of body builder Prasanna Perera who bagged a silver medal in 65kg weight category at the 63rd World Bodybuilding Championships.

In boxing, Sri Lanka women have shown good form in the international circuit.

Nilmini Jayasinghe created history when she won gold medal at the World championships in Petersburg, Russia. Leading woman boxer Anusha Kodithuwakku accounted for back to back bronze medals at the International Women's Championships and at Asian Indoor Games.

International glory

Despite the retirements of Susanthika Jayasinghe, Sugath Tillakaratne, Sriyani Kulawansa and Damayanthi Darsha during the last few years, soldier Chaminda Wijekoon has proved that Sri Lanka is not short of talent. He created history, winning men's 1,500m gold medal at the Lusafonia Games in Lisbon this year.

Sri Lanka's women's wushu stars Damayanthi Samarawickrema, Neshadhi Lakshika Perera and Bhagya Maduwanthi won silver medals at the Asian Indoor Games. At the same event, Sri Lanka's kabadi team secured the bronze medal.

We must also remember the superb form shown by our national team to win the Asian Netball Championship early this year. Even our teenage badminton team did well at the recent Under-16 Championships held in Colombo.

It shows that Sri Lanka could do well in several other sports, which we have not concentrated on much. Sri Lanka's sporting strength has been with our cricketers and athletes but now, our netball, badminton, wushu, boxing and kabadi players too have proved that they are capable of winning international glory. We must protect them and groom them carefully for the future to bring even greater honour to the country.

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