Warriors for Sri Lanka Rugby; the New Normal
By Vimal Perera
Rugby Clubs in Sri Lanka stand depleted amidst the various legs of the pandemic. Yet, at the same time, the picture of rugby is painted in a blinkered, misguided perception that union rugby is not just a sport. Still, a living, breathing cultural entity – and the values fundamental to its existence. However, the shaky truth is that the expectations of the game will raise their head in the rugby culture founded on respect. Those who love the oval ball game live in the misguided notion that the foundation of their sport is on healthy, manly, mutual respect.
Unfortunately, recent events say otherwise—more in line with confusion and lack of consensus resulting in loss of mutual respect. Kandy SC and CR and FC not accepting to play in the invitational sevens must have come as a depressing shock. Compounding the shudder was the players from these clubs will not be in consideration for national selection. The shock absorbers were not practical to address the concern that the bulk of the National Pool was from Kandy. Though not making a fuss, the players of CR and FC faced a similar situation.
An announcement made was that Sri Lanka Rugby (SLR) arrived at a formula with the Director-General of Sport to allow these players to the pool after a strength and conditioning test. That was on Wednesday. On Thursday, instructions issued by the Director-General of Sport were to halt the consideration for selecting those not playing in the Invitational Tournament, and therefore cannot showcase their talent and skills. Ceylon Today spoke to Amal Edirisuriya, the Director-General of Sports, who confirmed that the frolicking players would not come up for consideration. However, he said that they advised SLR to organize club sevens to facilitate the selection.
Later they counselled the Ministry that SLR has recognized an invitational ‘Sevens’ and will consider this for selecting a national pool. Since SLR is to organize a Sevens in December, the DG said that new inclusions could be after that, by which time the Asian Sevens will be over. However, the DG confirmed the approval to form the women›s pool, and help could be on hand to facilitate the tour expenses. Rugby lovers are hopeful the game will start in clubs and schools. Gradually the game is restarting in the Asian region with Asia Rugby already conducting two tournaments. In Sri Lanka, preparations for the ‘Warriors Trophy’ are progressing steadily.
Fans, players, and coaches are happy with the preparations for the ‘Warriors Cup Sevens’ to be played on 30 and 31 October. There will be no spectators, but the games will have television coverage. Sanath Martis, Havelock’s Coach, was happy as the players wanted to play. He explained that most important is for the players to have a game at this time. The club is supportive, and they hope to help the players as rugby is their passion. Udani Edirisinghe, the Manager of CH and FC rugby, said that the boys are pleased with the expectation of taking part in the proposed sevens.
They also saw this as an opportunity to be seen and selected for the Sri Lanka Pool in preparation for the Asian Sevens series. They played in the fifteen a-side for the Commander’s Cup. Martis and Edirisinghe opined that in the current situation, their clubs would have found it challenging to fund the required bubble as they are short of sponsors since there has not been any rugby. However, the organizers of the Warriors Sevens have undertaken to host the ‘bubble’, which reduces the financial burden for clubs. They also said that with rugby rolling in the park, the clubs could present their case to the sponsors in the future.
Shamlie Nawaz, Air Force coach, said that he was pretty happy as the boys have been waiting for another opportunity since they last played for the Commander’s Cup. They played in the latter part of August. He said that the boys had been in a bubble since last December planning for the Commander’s Cup sevens. But, he explained, the players have got used to the new norm; the bubble and training during the pandemic posed many challenges. His view was that the pandemic demands included shorter available time for coaches and facing other psychosocial issues.
However, all that has been bottled up and can now ease with the opportunity to play. According to the organizers, the Warrior’s Trophy was an event on a smaller scale to help rugby players kick off the game they love. The players’ responses from the TriForces, Police and the Two Clubs have been very encouraging. There are thoughts of expanding after the end of the Invitational Sevens. There is a possibility of a tournament of more significant attraction similar to Carlton Sevens and the Singer Sri Lanka Kandy sevens. The experience of the warrior’s sevens is that there is interest from sponsors, with Dialog taking the lead for the Warriors Cup competition.
The possibility exists for a fifteens game in addition to sevens and also to include Women’s Rugby. The completed draw shows ten teams will compete. They are two each from the Army, Navy, Air Force and CH and Havelocks. The only people left out are the Kings of Kandy of no fixed abode and the women in rugby. The organizers had their hands full as the tournament expanded. The responsibility for using the opportunities to develop and promote rugby should be with the clubs, the respective provincial unions, and Sri Lanka Rugby.
There is time on hand and two long breaks each day; the argument is that it was possible to play three women’s exhibition matches. The organizers said that this would add pressure as they had not budgeted for a Women’s bubble. On the other hand, if the women’s teams are to come only for the matches, it would add another COVID related risk. That is not a chance they want to take. One hundred per cent of the women players are in the national pool. So, the question to ask is; who has been planning and who has not? On the side of the clubs that are not playing, sources say that while funds are an issue, there are also other logistical issues.
While most participating clubs have the facilities to keep the players in a bubble and practice, the two clubs said they do not have access to such a facility. Therefore, arranging for training and entering a team was a problem. While the planning for the Warriors Trophy is underway, the good news from the West Asia Sevens played in Qatar was that Aaqil Jamaldeen and Dilum Deeshana were the referees for the Men’s and Women’s final respectively. So that means that the referees have been on the ball despite the pandemic.