Making School Rugby a better Game for All

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By: Vimal Perera

Secretary of the Sri Lanka Schools Rugby Football Association (SLSRFA) Nirodha Wijerama stated that Schools Rugby (sponsored by Dialog), is moving ahead, and they plan to have the Under-20 schools league in June. After a lay-off of almost two years, it may be like a time bomb set to explode. However, they are aware that spectators are passionate and driven by emotion. 

In introducing sports to the curriculum, the Ministry of Sports expects sport will help develop students’ personalities. Hence, they discuss strict guidelines as SLSRFA does not want rugby to be a distracting sport that depraves students’ thinking. The health guidelines will be a deciding factor on whether spectators are to be allowed. 

Meanwhile, to expand the base of rugby, they have conducted sevens development tournaments, which first kicked off in Ruwanwella and was followed by another in Pallekele. An objective approach to developing the new emerging trend is for SLSRFA to offer a sum to offset travelling expenses. The school’s section is committed to taking the game to many schools, according to Wijerama.

“Between development and the school top league, Division 1 Under-14 sevens was in the pipeline for 23 and 24 April. However, the situation on transport has compelled us to postpone the event.” In the period of playing the Under-20 league tournament, the plan was to play Under-14, 16 and 18 matches as well. However, with a problematic situation on transport, most schools were reluctant to get the schoolboys to attend practices. 

A rugby match is a different experience compared to other sports. The game is about thirty men getting into physical contact, but playing as the man in the middle tells them. It is a sport to be enjoyed by all; a game where the lovers of both teams mix freely, shouting words of encouragement to their team. In most games, there has not been fighting because your team lost. 

Rugby players roll on the ground pretending they are hurt, bringing the medics and all curing water to the field. Rugby players get injured, get back up, go to the sidelines, get bandaged up and come back on to finish the game. Real sportsmen and women love rugby. That is what rugby is about and how character is built. However, rugby is getting attention for more reasons than playing the game.

The school’s administration and fans will be indifferent to the first problem; the chanting and the shouting, which will be more passionate than in club rugby.

 What worries the school’s rugby administration is that the traditional fixtures popped up before the school season started but left a scar that will not vanish quickly. The unacceptable behaviour, according to Wijerama, is not what the Ministry of Education expected while including sport in the curriculum. 

What happened in the traditional fixture between S. Thomas College Mount Lavinia and Trinity College Kandy is in the mind of the school section as they prepare for the school season. 

Speaking to Ceylon Today, Wijerama stated that the Association and the Ministry of Education are concerned. They want areas of concern fixed before the school season starts. The Secretary said that the home team is responsible for all that happens on matchday at the venue. In their view, around 75 % of the responsibility is with the host team. They have guidelines that each school should follow and has to follow by agreement in tournaments organised by SLSRFA. Each school has to pledge itself to maintain schools rugby as an excellent sport for schoolboys

 The Ministry of Education, through the Schools Rugby Football Association, discussed the applicable guidelines for friendly and traditional fixtures. Inquiries have revealed that the referee had asked about the absence of a Match Commissioner. However, the match was a conventional fixture, crowds were present, and the two masters-in-charge assured that the schools would take responsibility. The rest is history.

He also said that there is an age limit for school sports. Inquires, he said, reveal that some boys who played were past the age limit and considered to have left school. As in this case, the schools cannot practically take action. He also said that one player had played for a club this season. In contrast, SLSRFA and the Minister of Sports include players who have played club rugby in their team list. Was this part of winning the match or giving the boys a last chance to play for their school? 

In 2015, the school’s section took an unprecedented decision to ban a supporter from entering the ground for two matches. The ban was conveyed through the school as the person had an association with the school. Thus, there can be a responsibility on the schools involved for the conduct of their supporters. On a request for a writ, the Appellate Court opined that the appellant should have first appealed to the Schools Section through the school.

When the schools league starts, the school’s section will consider the possibility of banning misbehaving spectators. In the case of a school official, committee member or parent, it will evolve on the school to implement such a decision. A decision to ban a spectator from a venue will be recommended to make rugby a better game for all.