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Have Money, Will Play A Div. Rugby

By Samat

Any move to rid the SLRFU of it’s hefty Rs.21m.-debt is to be commended. With a lack of funds seriously impeding the game’s development over the past three seasons, especially with the reduction of Provincial Unions to a state of defunctness, there’s a compelling need to achieve solvency quickly. But there are dangers: the dire financial situation can well tempt the Union into making shortsighted deals that can, potentially, have harmful consequences in seasons ahead.

The recent decision by the SLRFU Council to sell ‘A’ division status to any new club for a payment (disguised as deposit) of Rs.2m. bears signs of being that kind of deal. The proceeds from the sale might go to help ease the union’s financial burdens, but if it’ll help improve the game’s health is quite another matter. Whatever; the offer has already had one taker: Up Country Lions, whose home base is the Nawalapitiya electorate of Sports Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage and its operational base in Pallakalle, Kandy. Kurunegala, the electorate of one-time Sports Minister Johnston Fernando, was also being mentioned last week as a possible second new entrant to ‘A’ division rugby next season; confirmation is awaited. In no way is this inference to discourage the enrollment of new clubs. If anything they should be encouraged. Clearly, there’s a crying need for new clubs to be brought into the competitive fold, given that, while supply from the schools have increased dramatically over the years, the number of ‘A’ division clubs have remained a static eight for as long as one can remember. The upshot: more than a few generations of players have been shut out of club rugby. Brave efforts were made in the 90’s to expand the club base.

The drive came in the wake of the historic formation of Provincial Unions, following the SLRFU’s conversion into a provincially-structured body, from the club-based entity it had been since the union’s 1908 founding. Power might’ve been transferred to the Provincial Unions, but without a network of clubs of their own, they would’ve been mere facades. So a crop of new clubs was spawned in the early 90s: Petersen SC, Kurunegala RFC, Old Trinitians, Kandy Youth and Ruhunu RFC – all bar the last, are now buried, victims of financial impoverishment. So, when you have the Up Country Lions and possibly Kurunegala willing to pay to play in the A division, it’s tempting to let them in, pronto.

On face value the move represents progress – but its method of admission-on-purchase is not likely to find universal acceptance, not least for its questionable legitimacy as per the constitution. Granting a new club ‘A’ division status straightaway is controversial to say the least. Apart from the fact that established clubs will, justifiably, raise Cain, instant elevation also devalues the importance of the country’s premier competition, and that’s not being progressive.

After all, it’s a matter of pride that the established clubs, particularly teams from the Services, earned their place in the top division, slogging up from the lower division. So, they are not likely to exactly embrace any gatecrashers. And it won’t be surprising if the general membership raise questions about the 2011 Council’s decision to put A-division status on sale – at the 2012 AGM, now postponed for Jan 11. The constitution specifies a process of graduation to the ranks of A division rugby. That is, for a club to achieve A-division status, it should’ve been champions of the second division. There was a time in the early 60s when three divisional competitions figured in the union’s calendar: A, B and C. The teams from the Services battled to the top all the way from C division. In the early 90s, however, there were just two divisions – and of the new B division clubs of the 90s, Kurunegala RFC, Old Trinitians, Petersen and Kandy Youth qualified in different years for promotion to the A division. Ruhunu also qualified, but played just a season in the big league, admitting it didn’t have the resources to compete at the top level.

More recently, Old Zahirians qualified for A division competition and played a season or two. Consistently thrashed by margins of seventy-eighty points, they threw in the towel for the same reason new clubs of the 90s bowed out: starvation of resources. The case of the Up Country Lions, however, is quite another story. As their forking out of Rs.2m. as admission fee indicates, financial resources is not one of the new entrant’s worries. You might not approve of their rather ungracious entrance to the A division next season, but you have to give credit to their organisational skills.

To have secured a sponsor, not the easiest of task these days, and the services of an experienced coach, Imthi Marikar, suggests this isn’t a fly-by-night thing, but rather a thought-through venture, albeit with more than a little help from the Sport Minister. Whether the Up Country Lions would’ve succeeded in obtaining instant A-division status without the political muscle of Minister Aluthgamage are, well, hypothetical – and a matter for separate debate. While the new club’s bullishness is admirable, its manner of player-recruitment won’t be taken kindly by the rest of the A-division family. 

New clubs would naturally want to make an impression on debut, but if their effort is at the cost of other clubs, then, you have to ask if its authors have been too clever by half, being confident of their intelligence (or political muscle) in a way that distresses others. The biggest loser to the new club has been the Air Force, who themselves last season raided the locker-rooms of other clubs in quest of unachieved glory. Given that the airmen were coached last season by Marikar, it was inevitable that, with his move to the new club, more than a few of his subjects would tag along.

At least half-dozen contracted airmen of last season have signed up with Up Country Lions; Havelocks have lost at least two, including its appointed 2012 captain, Dilip Selvam; the haemorrhage hasn’t spared the CR and CH too, driving the Longden Place club to such depths of frustration that it was seriously considering slashing their budgetary allotment to rugby. “Rugby isn’t the only activity in the CR, and if the system discourages player- loyalty and encourages the philosophy that loyalty is for a price, then, it has to be considered if it’s worthwhile pouring millions each year into rugby.’’ said one CR official. “It’s not that we want to dispense with playing salaries, but with a reduced budget, salaries won’t be a bargaining point – that way we’ll have a bunch of players who will want to play for CR – not for what CR pays.’’

Supporters of the new club will, of course, argue that the practice of recruiting players of other clubs wasn’t started by them. Kandy SC set the ball rolling in the early 90s and sure enough the CR and the CH followed suit. Two seasons ago the Navy virtually outdid the aforementioned clubs and fielded a virtual all-civilian outfit – and then last season, the Havelocks, thanks to the investments of Asanga Seneviratne, and the Air Force joined in the act. And so now, should one club accuse the other of encroachment, it would be the boring story of the pot and kettle calling each other black. Making up a new club entirely of players from other clubs, however, is far more serious. If new clubs are allowed to poach other clubs’ players, pay Rs.2m. to the union and presto, become an A-division side, then, it’s as good as consigning the B division into the bins.

The present-times B division, admittedly, is a caricature of what it should be. Its impoverished state hasn’t been because of a meager player base, but rather due to 1/ overwhelming preponderance bestowed by clubs on their A teams and 2/ the indifference shown to B division competition by the SLRFU. (There have been some recent seasons when the B division was conveniently scrapped). One of the main purposes of conducting B division tournaments is to encourage the formation of new clubs, for which this country has a vast reservoir of players to draw from. The idea is that these new clubs, through a nurturing process in the lower division, would produce teams worthy of A division competition and so contribute to the game’s wellbeing – in a word, enhance development. With Sri Lanka rugby plagued by a myriad of problems – hefty debts, inoperative provincial unions, poor gates, declining international rankings and bitter factionalism – the departing committee, as a final act, had so much other issues to recommend redress.

But no, just as it had done through its two years in office, it signs off controversially – by placing A-division status in a shop window.

- The Sunday Leader

Posted on 2012-01-10 14:32:45
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Should Dilshan have continued until Cricket World Cup 2019?

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THE DAY'S QUOTE

“That was pathetic. No excuse at all. The whole team is responsible. Whoever the captain is, we have to back him and try and support him. The captain has to do so many other stuff. All the 11 guys must back him and support him.” “We have addressed the issue of finishing off the overs on time in the past as well, but it cropped up again. It’s so unfortunate to see Upul going out as he is a crucial player in our set up. He batted well against South Africa and it’s so unfortunate. This can’t happen again,” - Angelo Mathews

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Cricket is a game of fine margins and Mathews is set to be a modern great. Hang in their Angie, this team can achieve something on this tour. Thirimane and the youngsters form was a real positive. Prasad was missed. Chameera should be persisted with. If Bairstow was our early outcome could have been very different.

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