The 42nd National Sports Festival conducted by the Ministry of Sports was concluded in Jaffna last week while once again raising many questions over several shortcomings. The Games concluded with the organisers providing an assurance that they would put up a better performance at the next event. However, this has been the same old story that the Sports Ministry officials have been commenting on since the inaugural Sports Festival was staged in 1970. But sadly, every year the organisers tend to commit the same blunders and they continue with the promises that they would improve at the next event.
The main reason for this is because the top officials in the Sports Ministry are lacking in professional experience and not having handled major sports events previously. This was quite evident at the Games in Jaffna where some of the elite officials of the Sports Ministry made it a point to bring their families and enjoy the weekend while occupying star class hotels. In contrast, a selected number of officials of the Sports Ministry did provide their best to make this historic event a success. The lack of knowledge of these ministry officials was displayed during the Games when one individual inquired how many rounds does the 100 metres race includes.
The Sports Ministry had allocated a sum of over Rs. 5 billion for the
organisation of this mega event. However, they had neglected in the most vital aspect of the Games by failing to install the electronic timing and the wind gate machine. The organisers were well aware of this need but they failed to respond and as a result several controversies occurred during the track and field events. Especially the Women’s 800 metres Sri Lanka record of 2:03.5 seconds (hand timing) set by Nimali Liyanarachchi raised many doubts with the previous record holder Dhammika Manike challenging her performance which was established at the Barcelona Olympic Track in 1992.
In fact, Dhammika was surprised that her 800 metres record of 2:03.87 seconds was shattered by a competitor running on a grass track. In addition, three other Sri Lanka records were also established at the Sports Festival and those achievements are also under scrutiny. As a result, these top athletes have displayed their displeasure over the Sports Ministry officials. Another major issue which occurred during the Sports Festival was the quality of the meals provided to the athletes and officials. In fact, a heated argument took place at the official dinner when a media personnel brought this matter up with the Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera.
The Minister surprised many by questioning the whereabouts of the journalist and inquired as to how he had made it to the venue although the Sports Ministry had officially invited all sports journalists to participate at this event. The Western Province retained the overall championship by winning 113 Gold Medals. Southern Province were placed second with 33 Gold Medals. The huge gap in the medals tally between the Western Province and the Southern Province also raised doubts whether the sport has really reached the rural areas.
The Sports Festival was held in Jaffna for the first time but the spectator turnaround was very low except on the final day of the event. A resident in Kankasanthurai, Francis Selvanayagam (67) said that he has bitter memories with the Duraiappa Stadium as his son who had played football at this venue later died under tragic circumstances. Mohamed Mifran of Eastern Province and Nimali Liyanarachchi of Southern Province were named Best Athlete Men’s and Women’s respectively.