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How the rugby world flirts with professionalism

Sri Lanka’s rugby history and the future of the sport are set to face changes when the stakeholders of rugby meet at the Annual General Meeting of the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union (SLRFU) to decide its next set of council members on March 27.

A lot has been said and written about who will have voting rights and who will have mere observer status at the AGM. Ironically, very little has been spoken of the word professionalism in the amendments to rugby’s constitution.

Dr. Maiya Gunasekere once told this writer, at the time the Rugby Interim Committee was suggesting amendments to the SLRFU constitution, that provisions would be made so as to enable rugby to embrace professionalism.

Sri Lanka’s rugby administrators have over the years been very skeptical about professionalism creeping into the sport. They have in fact administered rugby in a manner which discourages professionalism.

One party which has since recently been complaining about not getting the best deal for their services is the Sri Lanka Society of Rugby Referees which was reduced to a non existing sports body by the Rugby Interim Committee (Rugby IC), during the previous season. The Island has highlighted the achievements and the grievances of the referees when appropriate. It is sad why the referees’ society has to show disapproval when the media reports on instances when some stakeholders of rugby have opined that the fee that referees charge per match is difficult to bear. This is not the opinion of the media, but something to do with sheer facts.

The SLRFU and the Sri Lanka Schools Rugby Football Association have often highlighted the fact that the fees charged by referees are exorbitant.

We do understand that the referees need to travel abroad for assignments, have the ideal meals which help them perform best on the field and spend money to acquire knowledge to make progress in their chosen segment in sport. Hence the referees’ society and their members need to benefit from the amendments to the SLRFU constitution, just like players and coaches, if provisions are made to accommodate the word professionalism.

The referees’ society has as its members a good number who are also involved in coaching. If one takes a closer look at these men with the whistle, they have been successful in earning a somewhat substantial income from the sport which this writer believes is quite within the norms of fair play. Last week’s Sunday Times presented an interview with tennis personality Aruna Senewirathne who suggested that ‘the sports law must cater to each individual sport’. He suggested that qualified people should be allowed to hold multiple posts in sports associations. This could be the way towards achieving success in sport during an era where there is a dearth for good sports administrators.

Some of our rugby administrators who wish to hold posts at the next SLRFU executive committee are gainfully employed in their respective professions. It might not serve rugby well ‘if’ their true aim is to be associated with rugby for the mere status theyacquire by attending SLRFU council meetings and representing the country at gatherings of the International Rugby Board (IRB).

Rugby needs more people like Kumar Abeywardene (Southern Province), Arjun Dharmadasa (Sabaragamuwa Province), Senerath Alwis (Universities), N.J.Muddanayake (Western Province Schools), Nihal ‘Viper’ Guneratne (IRB Assessor for coaches), Niel Wijeratne (Former SLRFU recorder and rugby writer) and Dilroy Fernando (IRB Assessor for referees) because they (Except Muddanayake who retired as a teacher recently) seem to have the time to invest on rugby while being gainfully employed.

What most of these individuals (Except Fernando) lacked in their endeavors with rugby was the skill to market what they did. As a result the hard work put in didn’t produce the needed finances which would have made their tasks easier.

Then there are also the coaches and trainers who are associated with school and club rugby. These individuals, rugby critics believe, would benefit immensely if the world professionalism is entertained in a proper way when the future committees of the SLRFU start serving rugby. Just think for a moment how much the national cricket coach is paid when the national rugby coach has to offer his services for free!

It is a known fact that a good number of our best players still have to work for somebody, apart from playing rugby, to make ends meet. Clubs do contract players. But then players would love to see the SLRFU having plans for them. Their dream would be to see them being included in the payroll of the SLRFU, which then assures them a salary every month, 12 months of the year. In this context it is necessary to mention the professional atmosphere that has been set by Kandy Sports Club for its players to pursue a career in rugby.

The SLRFU and the Sports Law shouldn’t restrict the earning capacity of anybody engaged full time or part time in sport. This is a professional era where we need to spend for whatever service we obtain. Remember the saying, ‘good things aren’t cheap and cheap things aren’t good’. Just think about it.

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