RUGBY SCRAPBOOK: PLAYING AT THE COMMONWEALTH GAMES WILL SUSTAIN WOMEN’S RUGBY

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Sri Lanka Men’s and Women’s Sevens Rugby teams will participate at the XXII Commonwealth Games in July/August 2022 in Birmingham, England. Therefore, Sri Lanka Rugby (SLR) are making arrangements to send both teams by conducting trials to select the final squads from the selected pools. The trials will help decide the teams to be submitted to the Commonwealth Games 2022 before the 30 April deadline. Selection of the men’s pool was finalised in January 2022.

However, names of some of the players who have since retired are also in the pool. Only rugby played after that was the league. If the selectors had a look at the new emerging talent, they could have added a few more names. Why did the selectors not look at some of the players who played in the league with the hope there might be a sevens player?

Women’s Rugby Coach Saliya Kumara said the women’s pool have been practising for over a month. They anticipate the team’s inclusion in Birmingham 2022 and the Asian Games. This week, the national selectors will nominate a team. Playing at the Commonwealth Games will be an experience and help sustain women’s rugby in Sri Lanka.

To meet the requirements for selection, SLR decided to play club sevens on 23 and 24 April. The matches were to be held while giving the league final round a break. However, there was speculation clubs were not in favour of moving from fifteen to sevens and back to sevens. It was amid discussions that SLR stood suspended and a Competent Authority appointed, giving rise to a tug-of-war on rights and recognition.

In the current situation where players of teams such as Police are on call for duty, it was impossible to play club sevens on the 23/24 April weekend. Therefore, neither can they continue the league. The league is to resume in the third week of May.

Why and for what purpose are the rugby teams participating at these Games? It defies any logic or reasoning, even though we have been focusing on Sevens with the Commonwealth and Asian Games in sight over the last decade.

Is it another opportunity for 15 men and 15 women players and officials out of the 22 million population to participate at the Commonwealth Games?

Rugby Sevens will offer the Commonwealth Sevens a fast-paced, high-octane spectacle. Sri Lanka will play among the Rugby Giants, including New Zealand, South Africa, England, Australia and Fiji. Adding colour in Birmingham 2022 Rugby Sevens will be Canada, Kenya, Samoa, Wales and Tonga. The minnows will possibly play among the ten high performing world rugby teams without giving them any match competition.

New Zealand won every Commonwealth Games Men’s Rugby 7s Tournament until losing the final to South Africa at Glasgow in 2014. However, they regained their title at Gold Coast 2018, with the New Zealand women’s team making it a unique double.

There was speculation as to whether Sri Lanka could participate, as the elected body was checkmated and the Ministry of Sports appointed a Competent Authority to oversee rugby.

SLR has its confusion in a chaotic climate swamping the country. The media and word-of-mouth communication has been about the siege at Galle Face. Despite most pages concentrating on the people and Government events, rugby found its way in the media.

The rugby fraternity wondered whether SLR or the Competent Authority is in control of the game in Sri Lanka. The National Olympic Committee made it known that the Olympic Charter recognises only an elected body and not an appointed body.

SLR was suspended by the Minister of Sports as announced via an official Government Gazette dated 1 April 2022. The National Olympic Committee, via an official letter signed by the Secretary-General, recognises SLR as the sole rugby representative. Asia Rugby confirmed the suspension of SLR from membership in the Regional Association.

Despite all the commotion and media reports, statements issued indicate Sri Lanka will participate. There seems to be no indication that World Rugby has suspended Sri Lanka Rugby even though it is now under a Competent Authority.

The question, however, is how Sri Lanka will fare playing against top teams in the world who have been playing competitive rugby. The team does have the skills required for Sevens Rugby; however, to play against the best and reach the elusive focus Sri Lanka has been talking about for many years, a need to play competitive rugby is a must. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka has been unable to play more competitive rugby at least locally.

Like the rest of the country, the buzzword for not attaining objectives is the Pandemic (Covid). That is true of the last two years, but how many competitive seven’s tournaments have we played in the past other than the Singer Sri Lankan or Carlton Sevens?

Considering our past performance at these Games, we will not do any better – so what’s the problem!

By Vimal Perera