Sri Lankan athletics reach 90 years
In this Olympics Year, 2012 we witness two landmarks in the world of athletics. While the World Body IAAF celebrates its “Golden Jubilee” on completion of hundred years, Athletic Association of Sri Lanka (AASL) completes ninety years as a member federation.
In evaluating its significance of AASL as a valued National Federation, within the Global Athletics Family, in looking at its history, we learn from records, that it functioned as a National Sports Organisation, then known then as the “Ceylon Amateur Athletic Association” (CAAA) and in existence since 1896. In this capacity, CAAA conducted regular athletic meets up to 1912, which was centered mainly in Colombo. History also records that in 1921, the first National Athletic Championships was held at the CH & FC grounds. The World Body recognition and the affiliation of AASL to the IAAF (then known as International Amateur Athletic Association) was on18th January 1922. Records indicate that Col T. Y Wright, was elected, as the first President and R.W.C Cameron as the Secretary, with S. P Foenander, as Assistant Secretary . We learn that its main responsibility in this period consisted of holding athletic events and supporting athletes who generally were from Colombo and suburbs. The Association also arranged participation of athletes for events in India, which were organised by the Indian Olympic Association. Lack of a similar Olympic Organisation locally, committee till 1937, prevented some of the talented athletes to take part in a number of other international events of the time. Mention is made of Carl van Geyzel ,who was a top athlete , even considered as one of finest jumpers in the world, and who represented England as a participant in Olympics could not represent the CAA. Records indicate Van Geyzel, later was elected as CAA President .
It is recorded that it is to the credit of Ceylon Amateur Athletic Association, which initiated setting up in April 1937 the Olympic Committee, which initially comprised two other sports bodies, Swimming and Boxing. This Body was then known as “British Empire and Olympic Games Association”.
As we evaluate its significance in Sri Lanka today, it is clear that from 1948, Athletics has continued to be the main sport to bring honors for Sri Lanka, be in Olympic, Commonwealth, Asian or SAF Games. Outstanding athletes carved a name in global athletics. Top of recognition is Major Duncan White, who won the first medal for Ceylon, the Silver Medal in 400m hurdles, at a time of 51.8 at the first Olympics in London in 1948. His other achievement was at the British Empire Games (the forerunner to the present Commonwealth Games)in Auckland New Zealand in 1950, where he won the Gold Medal with a Games record in 400 yards. The NOC did honour him for his great achievements in 1987, inviting him as Chief Guest, in the “Golden Jubilee celebrations of NOC” .
Next in importance is Susanthika Jayasinghe, for her performance in winning the Silver medal in 200m in 2000, in the Sydney Olympics. She first brought a medal at Asian Games Hiroshima where she won the Silver medal in 200m. Susanthka is also recognised as the first and only athlete to have won the first Medal at World Championships in 200m in Athens and repeating her superb performance in 2007, at the World Championships in Osaka in winning the bronze medal. Prior to this she established an Asian Championships record in 200m in 2005.
It is quite noteworthy that this outstanding achievement of Susanthika in 2007 , was during the period of HE Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was the President of the Federation at that time, who took initiative in this matter, which speaks volumes of his commitment to the sport and his leadership. Today we are proud of the fact that HE Mahinda Rajapaksa, is the only Head of State, to hold the post of President of a National Federation. IAAF President Lamine Diack commends his contribution to world of global athletics and appreciates his efforts and leadership to develop athletics thus far. Interests of H E in sports are known in every circle. He has initiated action to start a trust Fund . It is to his credit that the second synthetic track as well as the international stadium, Mahinda Rajapaksa International stadium was built. We are quite strengthened by his devotion and keen interest in sports, himself being a past sportsman. At same time we value his daily habit the interest in sports where he pays his attention to sports pages to read sports news. What is more valued is his concern for sports, where we sports administrators, are often inquired about the news items and questioned about issues highlighted, seeking answers of action proposed, at the same time, suggesting to us the better course of action to resolve any matter/ issue. This no doubt prompts us, to be alert, and resolve issues, as well as to improve ourselves, to be better administrators.
Next set of achievers for AASL are those who shone in Asian Games. The first Asian Games Gold medal is from Dr Nagalingam Ethiriveerasingham, with a new Games record at the Games in 1958 in Tokyo. The Games of 1970 in Bangkok reminds us of the great achievement of S L B Rosa when “as a bare foot runner”, he became our first double Gold medalist in 5000 m and establishing a Games record in 10000 m . It is in 1974 Tehran Games that AAA became known globally to produce top 400m runners with the splendid performance of W Wimaladasa, who won the 400m Gold with a New Games record. Wimaladasa along with Sunil Gunawardana, Kosala Sahabandu and Premachandra won the 4x 400m relay, also with a record time of 3m 7.4 secs . Not to be outdone are the achievements at 1998 Games in Bangkok, when Damayanthi Dharsha, emulated Rosa, as another double medalist winning the 200m in record time as well as in the 400m. At the same event, Sugath Tilakaratne maintained his high standards set in 400m in Fukuoka in 1997 to win the Gold medal. In the Busan Games of 2002 , Susanthika shone in winning the 100m and Damayanthi Dharsha in 400m. We salute other athletes who brought honour by winning Silver Medals with the first Silver medal from M A Akbar in pole vault in Games in Delhi 1951 with many others in later Games winning silver medals along with some winning Bronze medals, at many an Asian Games, with special mention of the 4x400m men’s relay team, which carved a niche for few years .
Glory of our athletic achievements in Commonwealth Games after Major Duncan white, comes from Sriyani Kulawansa, who won the silver medal in 100m hurdles, and Sugath, who won the bronze medal in 400m at the Kuala Lumpur Games in 1998.
Asian Championships has been yet another athletic event that has shown supremacy of our athletes. In the first Championships in 1975 in Seoul our 4x 40 men’s relay won the bronze medal as the start of medal tally in later years. First Gold was from Susanthika in 1995 when she established a new Championships record of 23.0 in 200 m. At same event Sriyani won the Gold medal in 100m hurdles. Then it was the record breaking 400m run of Sugath Tilakaratne in Fukuoka Championships establishing Asian best time of 44.6 with Dharsha wining the Gold medal in 400M. Best AASL fortunes were seen in Jakarta in 2000. There was Dhasha wining both the 200m and 400m Gold establishing new records and anchoring the women’s 4x 100m relay to win the Gold. Not to be outdone, the men won the 4x400m relay Gold. At the Asian Championships held in our own soil in 2002, Susanthika repeated her excellent form when she won both Gold medals in 100 m and 200m. It was the Gold medal run in4x400m relay men that so much excitement and euphoria erupted in the stadium leaving lasting memories for our sporting public. A repeat of Gold winning performance was shown by our male athletes in winning the 4x400m relay in Jordon in 2007, while Susanthika, won the Gold in 100 and 200m, and Prasanna Amarasekara the Gold in 400m. AASL supremacy also was witnessed when a number of Silver and Bronze medals too were won by both male and female runners and in the relays.
The outstanding feats of both male and female athletes continued as seen from the first Asian Grand Prix events in 100m 400m, high jump to the present day .
Some of star Junior and youth athletes made their mark in Asian and commonwealth Games. It is the superb performance of Shehan Ambeptitya who won the Gold medal at Commonwealth Junior along with the Gold medal winning 4x 100m relay in Pune and carving a name as stars. While there have been few juniors winning Silver and Bronze medals. The recently concluded Asian Junior Championships in Colombo produced two outstanding junior athletes who won Gold medals in 400m boys and 400m girls
Since the beginning of the first SAF Games in 1984 in Kathmandu, our athletes are considered the heroes who brought honour and bringing the highest number of medals in every SAF Games held. We all recollect with sweet memories the great feats of our athletes at fifth SAF Games in 1991, when our athletes did so very well topping the medal tally in athletics, in winning 15 medals while India won only 14 medals.
Where does AASL stand as a National Federation in the global arena?
No doubt its standing in relation to other National Federations, AASL stands out on top, having met all obligations and participating in almost all world events of IAAF and even commended by all Secretary Generals IAAF, for being one of few Federations, to maintain regularly, communication at a high level and meeting all stipulations, set . Taking part in World championships and producing a medalist is one great asset. Meeting requirements as far as World plan of President IAAF, promoting athletics when he visited AA SL with senior manager Member services spending time with athletes coaches and officials in the Athletic Office. During his visit he met President HE Mahinda Rajapaksa, whom he regards very high as a promoter of athletics. AASL is proud to record the efforts taken to develop and take message of Kids athletics, one of key components of the IAAF World Plan. The visit of Sergey Bubka, Vice President spearheading kids athletics in IAAF and seeing for himself the development of the programme adds further value of AASL’s role as a promoter of athletics. The second visit of Gen Dahlan AL HAMAD, Vice President IAAF and Senior Vice President Asian AA, who functioned as the Acting President at the Asian junior championships, does speak volumes of IAAF patronage to AASL. IAAF recognition of the high standards of athletic event organisation was spelt out when after seeing for himself the organisation and mass crowd at the stadium during the Asian Championships in Colombo in 2002 Mr Bjorn Wangemann, Director Development IAAF, did commend that it was in Sri Lanka at this event that he witnessed the largest number of spectators at any regional event. Bjorn came the second time to take forward the kids athletics development program which covered a greater part of the country including the North where over 400 Physical training instructors and teachers and coaches from schools and districts were provided a well planned and professional manner and style of developing kids athletics. It is heartening to record IAAF, naming Sri Lanka kids athletics programme of 2009/ 2010 as the best in all federations, and for one of our IAAF certified lecturers, being one of the first to translate the IAAF Handbook on Kids athletic programmes. It is also to credit of AASL as one of the few National federations to continuously conduct the “IAAF World athletics day” both in Colombo and in the districts as well.
In organising international events, AASL has developed a legacy as a major organiser among Asian Federations for conducting International events such as Asian Championships in 2002, SAF athletic Championships in 2007, Asian Grand Prix in 2003 and 2004 and now the recently concluded fifteenth Asian Junior Championships. This event did show case the standards of our junior athletes who are the future medalists. No doubt lot of effort and organisation has gone into promoting this event successfully.
Looking at AASL activities during this period there is much to state. To a great extent expectations have been achieved by AASL in the past. It has promoted athletics and its ethical values as an educational subject and life affirming life enhancing activity. It has encouraged participation in athletics at many levels regardless of age, gender or race. AASL in Implementing IAAF guidelines has promoted fair play and played a role in fight against doping and carried out educational programmes for benefit of coaches and athletes while carrying out dope tests both in and out of competition with the assistance of Institute of Sports Medicine in the Ministry of Sports.
What needs to be done? The need of forging better and closer relationships with stakeholders is a priority of the administrators. There is a feeling that governance should be improved to acquire value to development programs. One area that has not been touched upon is the development of district athletics and governance of district associations. These bodies are still controlled by volunteer administrators or officers who have very little time to devote sufficient time and lacking all if not many facilities apart from facilities to hold meetings and discussions. Office bearers need to understand that it is the affiliate bodies the district associations that bring in the resources, coaching and athlete development. Office bearers have to play sacrificial role in holding discussion with coaches and athletes. There is a need to forge closer relationship with parents. Coach development is yet another area that needs a lot of attention and action. One could reflect back to the days when there were productive steps taken by the Ministry of Sports for a few dedicated coaches like Luxman de Alwis, S.M Banda etc along with other coaches and sports officers to take forward coaching and thus development . It is only when there is development that true sense of word of athletes development is evaluated as marketing tools to acquire value and thus forge avenues for sponsorships which could make much difference as seen in period 1995- 2000, when the then Minister of Sports and the Ministry, took positive steps to provide needy facilities for elite athletes who proved their worth in several international events to move forward. It is during this period that the first Medal was achieved in World championships, silver medal in Olympics as well as winning Gold medals and setting up records in Asian Games, Asian Championships etc. A new athletic culture was created with the initiatives of the Minister in charge who sought and received the positive support from Administrators, sponsors and media during this period. In the same spirit the Ministry of sports has to chip in to continue to be the main subscriber of funding and direction. The present minister has embarked on a program of development which we hope will help and throw some light at the end of the tunnel . There is definitely a need to make good communication of the ministry with National federations such as AASL, thereby promoting good values among stakeholders. Spearheading initiatives to ensure the acquisition of up to date knowledge and expertise by coaches will be the main resolving factor to take forward elite athletic achievements, apart from adding value to good governance. As seen among other National federations, how kids athletics and closer working relationships with school athletics has proved effective as development effort Sri Lanka athletics needs to pay more attention as well as take forward the initiatives in this direction . I consider development of kids athletics as one of the panaceas in the long term development process We will definitely reap rich harvest in next six to ten years as done by other national federations. Good governance is a must if it is to charter its course devoid of any considerations than athletics. Two stakeholders, athletes and coaches need guidance to go forward with stress on technical improvements. With success and development the media direction will garner Sponsor support, which is important for athletic development.
By Prema Pinnawale