National Athletics team –nobody’s child
By Anjana Kaluarachchi
Sri Lanka National Athletics team, including Olympic bound athlete Nilani Rathnayaka, were left stranded in a general quarantine centre in Matara without any training facilities as promised upon arrival from India early morning yesterday after winning 09 medals.
The team comprising ten athletes and two officials, had a hectic trip returning from India, and they reached Sri Lanka after more than 36 hours facing several incidents.
Before leaving they were promised arrangements will be made for them to undergo quarantine at Sugathadasa Sports hotel across Sugathadasa stadium on their return. They were also promised that they will be given an opportunity to train at the Sugathadasa stadium by converting it into a bio bubble.
But upon arrival there was no sports official and none were contactable, as Army soldiers upon instructions by the COVID-19 Task Force, took them to a general quarantine centre in Matara with minimum facilities, as they were returning from India.
Nilani is set to run the 3000m Steeple Chase at the Olympic Games in 28 days time, while Medhani Jayamanne is set to run in the World Junior Championship in August. Initially some of the athletes were reluctant to travel to India, but agreed to go on an assurance given by authorities that they will be quarantined in Colombo upon arrival and will be allowed to train.
Ceylon Today understands lack of coordination between top sports authorities had resulted in this unfortunate incident. Several athletes conveyed their displeasure over the incident, and Olympian Sumedha Ranasinghe, who was the team captain, said with tongue-in-cheek that in a week’s time everyone will forget what they went through.
“We will be transferred by today or tomorrow and then, as usual, they will state that it was a simple mistake and we should obey the country’s law, and in a week’s time everything will be forgotten and it will continue in future as well,” said Ranasinghe on social media.
Kalinga Kumarage, who ran the fourth fastest 400m by a Sri Lankan and fastest time in last the 15 years (45.83 seconds), said that he is sad to identify himself as a Sri Lankan athlete at the moment.
The team went through chaos even before going to India. They were set to leave to India on 22 June and came with packed bags ready to go, but then were informed that their air tickets had not been booked and will only be able to leave to India on the 23rd. Later, team captain Ranasinghe had to do the data entry job of submitting their PCR and other details to Indian authorities as they only got tickets after 6.00 p.m. and there was no one at the Ministry or SLA office at that time.
Then they had a tiring journey with long transit times both ways, and on their return they had a mini scare in Delhi when they were informed that they were not permitted to board the aircraft to Doha due to COVID-19 health related protocol by Qatar authorities. After sorting that out from midnight to early morning, they safely reached Doha and spent more than 12 hour in transit there before arriving in Colombo, where they were shell shocked about the treatment meted out to them.
Ceylon Today obtained copy of a letter dated 29 June sent by the Sports Ministry to COVID-19 Task Force and State Ministry of Rural and School Sports Infrastructure Improvement - Sugathadasa sports hotel comes under the State Ministry - requesting quarantine for the athletics team, a day before the team departed from India. Yet no action had been taken based on the contents of the letter even by last evening, and the team is still in Matara, though it is possible authorities will act to get them down to Colombo after media pressure, which has made life hard for top sports officials throughout yesterday, with several inquiries regarding the incident.
To top that, ambulances were seen leaving the premises last night with COVID-19 critical patients, which have left the athletes baffled regarding the thinking behind the authorities who risk lives of athletes, who were extra careful even in India to compete in a bubble environment and took several PCR tests within last week which were all negative.