Sports Minister Roshan Ranasinghe said disciplinary action will be taken against Director General of Sports Amal Edirisuriya, Director of Sports I.P. Wijerathne and top officials of Sri Lanka Athletics (SLA) regarding the air tickets mess up, which almost prevented the Sri Lanka Junior team flying to Colombia.
Earlier, bureaucratic bungling and visa delays meant the team of 7 athletes and 2 officials who were to take wing to Cali, Colombia for the World Junior Championship on 1 August, were unable to do so on their scheduled flight on 28th night.
Total of 9 athletes achieved qualification standard, but the Selection Committee later decided to omit Sithum Jayasundara and Jayeshi Uttara from the team as both of them did not compete in the 400m final at the recently concluded Junior National championship, which SLA considered as the final trial.
The rest of the team were set to travel at least on 29th early morning to be on time for the competition, but after receiving visa on 28th, they got to know that air tickets had not been booked. It is the Department of Sports Development attached to the Ministry of Sports who usually undertake the responsibility of travel arrangements for touring National and Junior National teams of National Sports Associations.
The normal fare, which was around Rs 1.1 million per ticket, had been jacked up to about Rs 2 million per ticket by 28th and the Ministry had to allocate additional funding. Yet, the team faced great difficulty of finding alternative tickets, where it came to a point whether the team could fly on time.
The team, parents and coaches stayed overnight at Torrington on Friday, protesting and demanding justice for the team, and along with Media pressure on the Ministry of Sports and governing body of athletics, Sri Lanka Athletics, the Government institution finally woke up and made arrangement to send the team in two groups, with three athletes who have events today (1st) being sent on Saturday night and the rest last night.
However, 800m runner Tharushi Karunarathne could not make it to the Saturday night flight and is set to miss her pet event, the 800m, though she will be able to compete in the 400m.
Team went through an agonizing time waiting for flight confirmation, and for days were staying around Torrington waiting for news about their departure. Their preparation in the final days were also hampered, and none of them will have a good rest and be in a good mental frame of mind before competing.
Ceylon Today learns that Sports Minister Roshan Ranasinghe, Tourism Minister Harin Fernando and Foreign Minister Ali Sabry had helped make arrangements, where the athletes had been given a new route to fly via Brazil. Their visa to Brazil had been fast tracked and issued on a Saturday, the Embassy being opened specially to issue visas for the team.
Meanwhile, Airline and Airport staff had helped the team as much as possible to enable them to get to the airport on time. The athletes had left Torrington only around 7.30 p.m. to catch the Qatar Airways flight at 8.15 p.m.
Team will have a hectic travel schedule. They leave to Doha, then to Sao Paulo Brazil, then to Bogota and then to Cali.
“When asked to coordinate, DG was not in Sri Lanka as he had gone for the Commonwealth Games, and when Director of Sports Wijerathne was asked to take the responsibility, he had said it’s Saturday which is his day to relax. This is how our government officials work. I will take necessary disciplinary action against them and will conduct an inquiry against Sri Lanka Athletics officials regarding the matter,” said Minister Ranasinghe.
Sri Lanka team for the World Athletics Championship in USA also faced a similar situation, where they got visas only two days before the competition started, and once they received the visas, they discovered tickets had not been booked; hence, there had been a mad scramble again, this time to find tickets.
Women: Tharushi Karunaratne (800m, 400m), Amesha Hettiarachchi (400m hurdles)
Men: Dhanuka Dharshana (400m hurdles), Kaveesha Bandara (110m hurdles), Pasindu Malshan (triple jump), Hirusha Hashen (long jump), Rumesh Tharanga (javelin throw)
Coach: Badra Gunawardana
Manager: Susantha Fernando
by Anjana Kaluarachchi