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Tuesday, 10 July 2012

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Airtel provides a welcome opportunity for young footballers

Although coming from St.Benedict’s College, Kotahena, famous for football, my first love in sports was cricket where I represented my school, my second love was football, known in Sri Lanka as the poor man’s game. In the 1950s and ‘60s, SBC regularly produced artistic players and champion teams, which was the envy of not only other schools, but also clubs. The coach who produced the players and teams was the late and great Albert Fernando, the only coach to have a Brazilian and German coaching licence.But in recent times the football in the country and the management has come in for bit of criticism, some of which is valid but most not. This is because the national teams have not been doing too well.

National teams

There was a time when the national teams could have been classed with the best in Asia. That was because there were players who were naturally brilliant. But that's a tribe that has fast disappeared from our scene now. Sadly, I must add.There were even moves to dissolve the Football Federation led by the disgruntled. Had that happened it would have been the death knell for the game's propagation in the country.

Thankfully it did not happen and we hope it would not in the future as well.Now comes the great news that Airtel Sri Lanka has partnered the Football Federation of Sri Lanka and MP Namal Rajapaksa’s ‘Tharunyata Hetak’ Foundation to start the ‘Airtel Rising Stars’ - a rigorous scouting scheme to spot talent in the country.

To Old Trafford

This scheme will run through August covering 14 centres in Sri Lanka after which 12 youngsters will be picked and they will proceed to Old Trafford, the home of the famous Manchester United for a week long training camp.

Present at the inauguration ceremony of this scheme held at the Cinnamon Grand were – Bharat Bambawale, Director Global Brand,Bharti Airtel, Dwight Yorke, Manchester United’s football legend, Namal Rajapaksa,MP, and Chairman, ‘ Tharunyata Hetak’, Manilal Fernando, FIFA Executive Member, Ricki Thussu, Relationship Director, Manchester United and Suren Goonewardene, CEO and Managing Director, Bharti Airtel Lanka.Bambawale who is close friend of the famous Brian Lara, said that this is a great opportunity for the youngsters and he hopes that the youngsters will take full advantage of this opportunity and become famous players.

Yeoman service

Attorney at Law, Manilal Fernando who has done yeoman service for the game here, which was acclaimed by FIFA in appointing him to their ExCo ---an honour to Sri Lanka--thanked MP Rajapaksa for joining hands with them and providing good support to take the game to the top again.

Fernando who was also a former Vice President of the Asian Football Confederation said that the selection process in picking youngster to Old Trafford will be done by three selectors.

He promised transparency and the best and the most rewarding will be picked for this once in a life time experience.Incidentally Fernando is the only Sri Lankan to be a Vice President of AFC and Executive Member of FIFA the governing body for world football. All Sri Lanka should be proud of this honoured son.

Umpire Anandappa passes away

It is with sadness we record the passing away of one of the pioneer umpires of Sri Lanka Cricket Ignatius Anandappa at 73 after a brief illness. Anandappa sported the umpire’s coat just before Sri Lanka attained Test status and did a job that was difficult to the best of his ability.

His decisions were well received by the cricketers he ruled out and none complained. As an international umpire he stood in Three Test matches and several one-day internationals.

He joined the umpiring fraternity after a successful cricketing career at Maris Stella College, Negombo with his brother Remy. He is best remembered when he stood in a Test match against New Zealand at the SSC and ran into a bit of controversy. It was not his fault.

Bump catch

A fielder took a bump catch off the bat of New Zealand skipper Martin Crowe and urged on by some of his team mates flung the ball up and appealed for the catch insisting that he took it clean. Unsighted and going by the honesty of the fielder, Anandappa who was the head umpire ruled Crowe out. But what followed was drama.

Crowe who was convinced that the ball was taken off the ground, stood his ground and refused to take the long walk back.

It was pandemonium. TV replays showed that the ball had hit the ground before the catch was taken. With the crowd jeering the fielder, saner counsel prevailed and Sri Lanka had to tuck their tails and withdraw the appeal.

Crowe followed with a wonderful century and although New Zealand lost having been depleted because most of their best players had taken wing back home due to a bomb blast, earned the respect of all.

Black mark

That incident was a black mark on the Lankan game and is often the topic of discussion by cricketers. It was poor sportsmanship and should top the list when the scorer comes to write about poor and degrading sportsmanship in the game.

Anandappa was a close friend of mine and he regretted the poor sportsmanship of the player concerned and those who urged him to insist that the catch was taken clean.

After hanging up the ‘white coat’, he held office in the Umpires’ Association and served to the best of his ability.

He was involved in picking the ‘Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the year’ for many years and was missed by the panel that met on Friday to pick the award winners. Umpiring it is said is a sacred duty and the Lord would have welcomed him to his field for the sacred job well done.

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