Dhammika Muthugala has been in the eye of the storm since taking charge as Director General of Sports Development of the Ministry of Sports a few months ago. He gave a detailed description of how government funds were disbursed in Nepal and the steps the ministry took to raise the morale of the Sri Lanka contingent before their departure for the Games by inviting sports stars and artistes such as cricket legend Aravinda de Silva and Olympic great Susanthika Jayasinghe to give motivational speeches at a gala ceremony in JAIC Hilton, which was closed to the media.
A former municipal councilor, Muthugala, disclosed at a press conference held at the Duncan White Auditorium of the Sports Ministry on Tuesday, how he was personally inspired by reading the book ‘Road to Nandikadal’ authored by Major General (Retd) Kamal Gunaratne, the current Secretary of Defence.“I read the book five times. It is a must-read book for journalists,” quipped Muthugala inferring that the triumph of the brave soldiers in the Eelam war related in the book instilled in him that no mission is impossible if your focus and determination is there.
The Sports Ministry’s top official wanted to stress that athletes, who were down and out after failing to win a medal at the Asian Games last year, rose Phoenix-like from the ashes to scale the peaks in the land of the Himalayas to produce a stellar performance by topping the medal tally in athletics.A week after the NOC stressed on the importance of High Performance and even questioned the ministry on what they were doing to develop sports and sportsmen and women despite having Rupees 8 Billion in their kitty apart from paying salaries of staff, Muthugala parried these issues by saying success in Nepal has spurred them for greater glory albeit in the regional event.
“We have confidence in the ability of our athletes to go for 100 gold medals at the next South Asian Games,” he declared. R.A. Kularatne, Secretary of the National Selection Committee, concurred but suggested that the focus should be on individual events and not team sports in multi-discipline competitions in future. “If we are to win a medal, we should have a strategic plan. The national sports associations have vested interests and want to see their team performing. I recommended not to send for some of the team sports to Nepal. The NOC wanted to send kabaddi. I told them not to send kho kho, football and handball. The Ministry of Sports spent millions unnecessarily to send teams for these Games,” he pointed out.
“In athletics 11 gold medals was won by women and four by men. We should focus on individual events. Unfortunately because of inefficiency of managers we lost the opportunity to win more medals,” said Kularatne revealing why Sri Lanka’s women’s marathon champion Hiruni Wijayaratne was forced to skip the 10,000 metre race.
“She came from America and was determined to win two gold medals but found out after she landed in Nepal the marathon was scheduled the day after the 10,000m race. Hiruni told me she would focus on her pet marathon event. I made representations to the concerned authorities to change the schedule. They advanced it later on but she was unaware had trained for 25 kilometres the day before the 10,000m,” he lamented.
“We have lot of talented athletes. We should support them with proper pool training and set targets to achieve in future. Also, we should focus on individual events,” said Kularatne who bemoaned the fact that Sri Lanka should go for gold not fight for a bronze in SAG. “It was a shame to watch our volleyball team performing. We had two foreign coaches also but they lost to India missing 12 services. The girls lost all three matches. We won gold medals earlier in volleyball without foreign coaches,” he said.
“We should focus on athletics and swimming at these Games. Some teams only go to participate. We should make every effort to keep Sri Lanka’s flag flying high mindful of the fact that we are using public funds,” said Kularatne. He recalled the success of Joseph Isaac Schooling who beat American swimming legend Michael Phelps in the 100m butterfly at the 2016 Olympics to win Singapore’s first ever swimming gold. “I attended the SEA (South East Asian) Games in Singapore in 2015. Normally they get 15 gold medals but they won 55 that year. Even Nepal won three gold medal on the first day at SAG. They have a target and strategic plan. Here every association depends on the Sports Ministry even for their annual meets. With Sri Lanka likely to host the next SAG, our target should be to win 100 gold medals,” he sai