A stupid remark
Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake did neither himself nor the governments professed desire to hold a free and fair election any good with his foolish remark that Susanthika Jayasinghe would have won not a bronze medal but a gold or silver had she not sported an yellow ribbon on her person at the Sydney Olympics. The only saving grace, if there was any, was his statement that "anyway, we wish her well."
The whole country and not only Wickramanayake and whoever else that "we" denoted more than wish Susanthika well. Shes a gutty girl who had overcome the disadvantages of poverty and the many other obstacles thrown in her way to reach an Olympic pinnacle. No wonder then that the whole country celebrated the sprinters achievement. It was Sri Lankas biggest moment since the World Cup victory and something to exult over in a climate of gloom and uncertainty with elections a few days away and nobody sure whether they will be as free and fair as they should be.
What is the prime ministers problem about the yellow ribbons? It is merely a statement by committed people that they want a proper election. People of various political persuasions are sporting yellow ribbons and they include members of the government. Newspaper readers would remember that it wasnt long ago that they saw pictures of Prof. G. L. Peiris who by all accounts is going to do very well in his maiden foray into electoral politics tying these ribbons round the wrists of supporters. Mr. Mahinda Rajapakse was another supporter present at the launching of the campaign and Mr. Ashraff gave a lakh of rupees to the campaign signifying his support.
As yesterdays Island editorial pointed out, those who accused it of "swooning over Susanthika" are now swooning themselves. There was even a 6-column headline in the Daily News sports page saying that it was Sports Minister S. B. Dissanayakes foresight that won the country an Olympic medal! How stupid can we get? The fact is that it was over three decades ago during the tenure of Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake that a sports ministry was established with Mr. V. A. Sugathadasa, a sportsman and a sports enthusiast, as minister. That was when the government started spending some real money on sports.
The creation of a sports ministry and spending resources on the promotion of sport certainly helped sports development as well as the advancement of specially talented sportsmen and women. The liberalised economy also played its part with commercial establishments offering sponsorships from which Susanthika Jayasinghe, among others, benefited. But let not those who are now singing hosannas to the sprint queen forget the torrid time that Susanthika was given after she had proved her mettle with a silver medal at the International Athletics Federation Championships in Greece.
A Sydney datelined Olympics report had an interesting bit from Susanthika who had told the world press when she was told "your country must be proud of you" had responded: "they give me trouble, trouble trouble. I give them bronze medal." That was not all. Asked later what this "trouble" was, she had offered some sordid details about doping and sexual harassment even making a specific accusation against a big shot. Shes also gone public about that drug test for nandrolene which she alleges now as she did then was a fix.
Television viewers saw her thanking those who helped her after her medal-winning sprint. One name she mentioned was that of former Ceylon Petroleum Corporation Chairman Daham Wimalasena and his wife, Sita. But that got little play thereafter. The cynics, no doubt, will attribute that to Wimalasena being on the UNP national list. We dont really know. But what we do know is that whenever Sri Lankan sportsmen and women do well internationally, warming the cockles of their countrymens hearts, all kinds of politicians jump on the bandwagon and congratulatory messages and lavish gifts fly. Its the same with the war. When the fighting goes badly, nobody takes responsibility. But come a victory, there are political generals around to take the kudos.
We see that the front-page political column in Saturdays Daily News, which was not signed yesterday by the "Man About Town" whose identity is well known, has taken Ranil Wickremesinghe to task for his congratulatory message to Susanthika. It describes Wickremesinghes references to attempts to destroy the athletes sporting career and ridicule and insult her as "cheap." But the fact is that Susanthika herself had said as much and more in her post victory appearance at a Sydney news conference. She said it before too right here in Sri Lanka before she went off to Los Angeles to train with few resources to back her.
The Sinhalese idiom has a good phrase for describing such antics. Karanda hondai, kiyanna narakai, it says. Roughly translated, that means "good to do, bad to say." Though memories may be short, all the people have not forgotten those insults heaped on Susanthika not so long ago like that infamous remark by a political VIP who likened her to a black African male. The intent was to insult although the question that naturally arises is "whats wrong in being a black African male?" So much for the hypocrisy weve seen. Lets put all that behind us and give the golden girl the opportunity to surpass her Olympic achievement while she is young enough to reach higher in the athletics world.
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