On the week beginning 20 June, the Dialog-sponsored schools rugby is due to kick-off according to the Schools Rugby Secretary Nirodha Wijerama.
The A/L exam scheduled for early October requires releasing players by the first week of September. Therefore, the schools rugby calendar (league and knockout), cannot be postponed further to meet the target requirement. In addition, the players must have a break and time between rugby and exams.
Worry two is the increasing costs that are not in line with what has already been worked out when negotiations began with sponsors around two years before.
The schools have agreed with sponsors estimated costs will be based on what prevailed during and after Covid-19. Hence, according to the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, the price escalation at the end of May was 39%. The dollar soared from Rs 203 to Rs 368. As a result, the budget for running a tournament has increased almost two-fold. The estimated cost of hiring a ground and providing medical staff and other match officials, such as referees and match commissioners, is therefore likely to rise. Additionally, expenses – such as having an ambulance – will increase. It is not easy to manage a tournament based on old estimates unless the frills are trimmed. Player safety is a critical component of world rugby; cutting costs cannot be at the expense of players.
The increase has resulted in the organiser’s (School Rugby) sitting and discussing the possibility of revising the sponsorship returns with sponsors. However, the schools section is aware of the downturn in the business economy in recent times. They are aware that they might not be able to get the whole increased costs, but are hopeful that at least half of the increased requirements will be met.
Despite the arduous climb ahead, the schools section is hopeful that rugby will commence as planned. Considering the transport difficulties and other issues and the mobility that gets impaired from time to time, the matches are to start at 16.15 hours so that the players can leave the grounds at least by 18.00 hours. It is forecast that there will be rain in the next two months, curtailing open rugby and leading to more frustration.
The next worry is the possibility of emotion taking over sanity and a resurgence of violence. Spectators are the battered citizens: if allowed to watch contact games like rugby it can ignite frustrated feelings. The organisers are aware of the possibility and refer to the infamous friendly match of recent times. If that happens at a traditional encounter, the organizers have another worry: whether the pent up emotion will pop up on the field, where there might be heckling among the crowds that can lead to violence against the referees.
The schools section should be stricter on ground and crowd control. The home team has to be responsible for ground security. What happened at the last encounter between St. Thomas’ College and Trinity College has been a focal point of discussion in deciding on-ground protection and responsibility. The incident resulting from a traditional match – not organised by the schools section – significantly impacted spectator behaviour. When the action taken is not shared, the schools department believe it will have little or no detrimental effect. Therefore, any disciplinary action should be dealt with quickly, and the public made aware of action taken. The hot stove principle will apply; that is, anybody who touches a hot stove will be burnt irrespective of who are what they are.
The schools section will pin the primary responsibility on the home team. At the same time, both teams should emphasise better discipline from payers and officials concerned. If needed, spectators will have to be removed and/or banned from entry for school games. This action has been taken before and can be taken again.
The schools section will take decisive action against any player or school official such as coaches, ground staff and Masters-in-charge if there is any breach of discipline or act which incites others.
By coincidence, S. Thomas’ Mount Lavinia and Trinity Kandy will clash in the first week. Then, hopefully, the past will be a learning curve for better standards and no more hiding behind a cloak of secrecy when a nation cries for one country, one law.
By Vimal Perera