21 March, 2021
Teams and players disbanded and sent home as backstage blundering shatters what was to be the reemergence of one of the country’s sporting passions:
Away from the peers and prying eyes, Sri Lanka’s rugby players and administrators have been bundled out of play as the goal posts were shifted overnight leaving both parties high and dry that resulted in the cancellation of the so-called Commander’s Cup Sevens tournament which was timed to kick-off this weekend.
The tournament was initially planned as the annual inter-club Sevens, but Sri Lanka Rugby to please Air Force which is also their stake holder, decided to call it the Commander’s Cup.
But behind-the-scene bungling and amateurish behaviour over tournament logistics and sponsorship of the event crippled the proceedings which outsiders say was worse than rugby being brought to a standstill because of a pandemic.
Players from crowd favouites Havelocks and the sports clubs of Army, Navy, Air Force and Police were training without making contact with the outside world over coronavirus restrictions spending millions that has all been brought to zero.
“The manner in which this tournament was handled was unprofessional without accountability”, said Havelock Sports Club president Thusitha Pieris.
“We put our hand up amid so many constraints for the sake of rugby to get it off the ground when the others backed out. We did this in good faith, even agreeing to field two teams and now we have got screwed up and paid a heavy price”.
Peiris said the club hit the three million rupee mark on expenses that covered the welfare, training and practices of some 35 players, transport, medical requirements, staff salaries and more during the pre-tournament build up.
Peiris said facing the probable wrath of corporate companies that employ players who were released in preparation for the Sevens, will be another bitter pill to swallow.
“We hold Sri Lanka Rugby responsible for all this. Our players sacrificed family, friends and socialising and have been jaded with no tournament and there is a lot more that they (SLR) will have to answer for if they need us in the future”, said Peiris.
But Sri Lanka Rugby claimed they paid a much heavier price than the clubs which were to contest in a way it has never happened in the administrative affairs of the sport for more than a century.
Its head Rizly Illyas told the Sunday Observer they “trusted people in good faith” but were let down at the last minute and were the most hurt.
“We did everything possible in the name of rugby but we were let down more than any team that was to take part. We have now been forced into a corner to open our doors to other sponsors who we know are interested in rugby”, said Illyas.
He said the Air Force and Sri Lanka Rugby had even signed an agreement to put matters in place for a smooth running of the tournament until it came to light that the former could not keep their side of the bargain in organizing the logistics of player accommodation at hotels for eight teams and officials, transport, practicing and gym training for two weeks that was to cover two segments of the Sevens championship.
With the Air Force pulling out from playing a part in organising the logistics that included providing their ground at a base camp in downtown Ratmalana, Sri Lanka Rugby planned to conduct the matches at the Royal College Sports Complex in Colombo as the traditional inter club Sevens, but with the sponsors showing little or no interest the unforeseen happened.
“As the parent governing body for rugby our only concern like in the past was to monitor and run the tournament and not make any money from it. What happened has taught all of us some lessons. We are going to come back stronger”, said Illyas.
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