Awarding SLR League title to Kandy SC

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Covid-19 disrupted rugby from early 2020. However, at various times the game was seen to raise its head, with bits and pieces of news surfacing more on off-field activities till December 2021. That was when the league commenced without a sponsor. However, halfway through a sponsor was announced and the league named Nippon Sri Lanka Rugby League.

The jinxed Sri Lanka Rugby (SLR) league had its stop-starts due to the pandemic, but managed to complete eight of the league games.

By Gazette notification on 1 April the activities of SLR were handed over to a Competent Authority, which led to the suspension of SLR by Asia Rugby. The appointment of a Competent Authority was perceived as political amongst people who engaged in rugby talk. That is another angle of thought. However, some thought the news of 1 April was an April Fool’s joke, but it turned out to be real till the courts suspended the implementation thereof. 

The multiple crises hit rugby just as much as it disrupted daily life, including mobility due to lack of fuel. Amid the external factors affecting rugby, the internal requirement of selecting a sevens pool and conducting practices in preparation for sevens required a break from the league—the interruption coupled with the uncertainty of a Competent Authority and the elected Sri Lanka Rugby position. SLR prevailed, having got the nod to maintain the status quo with a suspension of the Gazette by the Appeal Court.

The discussion now focuses on the decision of SLR to award the league and declare Kandy as champions. At this point, Havelocks cried foul over the decision as they had two more matches to play. One match that could have been decided against Kandy being the eventual winners was the match against Havelocks postponed previously. Kandy, by this stage, had won all eight matches while Havelock’s had won seven. Therefore, the possibility was that if Havelocks won on home grounds, the two teams would have been equal on points, assuming they won the other match. At the same time, Kandy, too, did not lose the last match.

Roshan Opatha, the Secretary of the Rugby Committee of Havelocks, wrote to Sri Lanka Rugby and sought clarification as to what section of the tournament manual was used to make the decision. According to sources, there is no mention of the course of action taken in the Tournament Manual.

Lasantha Wijesuriya, the Rugby Chairman of Kandy, speaking to Ceylon Today, said that the decision was not wrong considering the current environment. However, Kandy would have preferred to annex the league title by winning the next two matches. He said the crisis had forced the clubs and added pressure to maintain a team in anticipation of playing the next two games. However, in the absence of any specific mention in the tournament manual, he believed this decision would be taken as precedence for the future and appropriate clauses included in the SLR manual.

SLR President Rizly Illyas said it was the majority decision of the SLR Council. “Havelock representative was also there, and now they’re telling another story,” Ceylon Today reported on 26 May.   

According to CR and FC sources, the Cup decision does not have a bearing as they are in the Plate segment. The young CR team needs more matches for future development and would prefer having opportunities to play. Ceylon Today also understands that Police chose to play the games so that they could end 3rd on the table and not 4th. Sources of the Air Force and Navy said they would have preferred to be on the field than be awarded the Plate on which no decision has been taken.

Roshan Opatha added that the decision lacked transparency. It would have been best to call a Tournament Committee meeting, and the outcome discussed with the eight clubs. He accused SLR of deciding without following a process. Havelocks have contributed to the tournament despite the crisis and are financially constrained, and would have preferred to observe and accept a decision after an honest discussion among the eight clubs that are the mainstay of club Rugby.

He also said that the minutes of the SLR required the Executive Director Hamza Hidayathulla to discuss with the Tournament Director Rohan Gunaratne what has been included in the tournament manual. He also said that the Manual is that of Sri Lanka Rugby and not a Rohan Gunaratne Manual, as stated in the minutes.

Most clubs believe that the inclusion of the eight clubs in the council is necessary for the future of rugby. They need to find the resources and plan the future, and visibility to sponsors and members is essential. Therefore, this has to be considered a sudden decision without discussion with the eight clubs, and will only have a negative impact on the game.

By Vimal Perera