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Reemus Fernando in London

Shuttler Niluka Karunaratne provided Sri Lanka some happy memories to take home after most of country’s athletes failed to go beyond the first round at the 2012 London Olympics. By Thursday four of the seven Sri Lankan athletes had completed their events and Niluka was the only player to have recorded a victory by that stage.

His giant-killing performance against world number eight was appreciated by a large gathering of British fans at Wembley Arena badminton courts on Monday. It was a historic moment for Sri Lanka’s badminton as it was the first time a Sri Lankan entered the pre quarter final stage in badminton at Olympics.

As he had predicted before his departure to Poland for pre Olympics training, Niluka managed to make his presence felt and proved that the money spent on his many international tours was not in vain.

"Badminton is not competitive in Sri Lanka. It is not popular like cricket. To come from such backgrounds and win, you need lot of exposure outside the country. I have gone the distance I can with what I got," a contented Karunaratne told journalists after making a respectful exit from Olympics.

He was eliminated in the pre quarterfinals by another high ranked player, Parupalli Kashyap of India. The match showcased that what mattered was experience at the highest level as Niluka struggled to beat his opponent in a mind game.

Niluka’s victory sent a strong message across to various benefactors of sports. Sports Ministry (more than ten million rupees) his sponsor Rohan de Silva and others invested heavily on Karunaratne and it helped the athlete reach the highest level without making just numbers.

Country’s sports need genuine benefactors who could provide its athletes what is needed to achieve success.

Niluka had the intent which some others lacked. By competing at international tournaments he not only improved his rankings but also gained valuable exposure. It is this exposure which is in short supply currently.

Niluka had an advantage which most of the other badminton players in Sri Lanka do not get. He had his father, a former badminton player and an administrator to motivate him. According to badminton analysts his father’s influence was vital for him to climb up the ranks and also to get very many international competition and training stints when he was an active member of the federation.

Niluka’s impressive performances came at a time when badminton authorities were struggling to save face. There were allegations that the authorities had been biased towards its women’s Olympian Thilini Jayasinghe. There were allegations that the lower ranked badminton player had been promoted over high ranked players to secure her Olympics spot, a charge denied by the Federation.

Niluka’s victory has helped the authorities save face but they have lost some respect due to allegations and before starting their next campaign to promote a player for Rio Olympics the badminton authorities will have to put serious thinking into winning the hearts of all badminton players.

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