Uditha Kumarasinghe in the Sunday Observer, 9 Jan 2011
Sports Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage is known as a versatile young politician who has the ability to fulfil any responsibility entrusted upon him. The Sunday Observer interviewed him to ascertain the initiatives taken by him to develop sports. The Minister is confident that Sri Lanka will grab the World Cup and said the cricketers are performing well to reach this target. According to the Minister, our athletes are like blue sapphires in Ratnapura which have not been properly valued. He intends to give them due recognition and value in the international arena.
Pics from Sunday Observer, 9 Jan 2011
President Rajapkaksa touring Premadasa stadium with DS de Silva to examine progress
Excerpts from the interview with Aluthgamage:
Q: We will be hosting the Cricket World Cup this year. How ready are we to host the Cup and are the stadiums ready?
A: The President and I visited the Keththarama ground on Tuesday. We had discussions with the President about the preparation of grounds, the selection of the team and the venue. Nearly 92 percent of the infrastructure work of the three selected venues Pallekele, Keththarama and Hambantota grounds are over.
The rest of the work will be completed by January 15 and the grounds will be handed over to the Cricket Board. Every week I have a monitoring meeting. Every Tuesday I go to Keththarama, Saturdays to Kandy and on Thursdays to Hambantota to inspect the grounds.
Our grounds are in a very good condition and our construction is marvellous. I don’t think even England is having stadiums like this with all facilities. As for the team we have already selected 30 members. We are going to select the 15 member squad by January 9. The selection committee will select the team and send it to me for approval. We are number two in the world in one day rankings. When our team went to Australia, they beat Australia. We have a lot of confidence that we will be able to win the World Cup. All our cricketers are working as a team and they are performing well.
Q: There are a lot of allegations against the Sri Lanka Cricket administration. In fact MP Arjuna Ranatunga handed over a letter dealing such allegations. Are you planning to probe such allegations?
A: The Opposition and a few organised gangs have been criticising the Sri Lanka Cricket Board alleging corruption and various other things. I also have a small feeling that there are some issues. But exactly I do not know what it is. After I became the Sports Minister, I did not want to go to the Cricket Board and create a mess there as we have just 50 days more for the World Cup. If I get involved in the Cricket Board to look into any corruption and make a statement to the newspapers, I personally believe that is not good for the team and the country. I thought I will keep silent for these 50 days.
I met MP Arjuna Ranatunga in Parliament and I saw he was making allegations against the Cricket Board. When I met him in Parliament, I told him now I am the Sports Minister, trust me and stop criticising the Cricket Board. I requested him to hand over to me any documents he possesses and I will appoint a committee to examine it. When I informed this to the President, he also instructed me to examine it. MP Ranatunga came to my Ministry on Monday and handed over some documents. I told him I won’t be able to have an inquiry until the World Cup is over. He endorsed my view. When the World Cup ends, I will appoint a committee and have an inquiry to look into these allegations.
Q: A lot of sport bodies, not only Cricket, have corruption and allegations levelled against them. What are the steps you are taking to address this issue?
A: We are preparing the National Sports Policy and the regulations. After this comes into effect, nobody can engage in these things. We will have a two-day program on January 13 and 14. I am going to invite all the federations to get their consent to implement this. In a federation, they have to go for a vote every year. So they have to work for six months and other six months they have to run for the elections. I am going to extend this to two years. The allegations of corruption and inefficiency can be eliminated through this policy.
Q:The Asian Games participation was a debacle. We could not win a single medal. Are you probing what happened? How can we avoid such a debacle in the future?
A: We have 52 federations. Athletics is one. Even in athletics, we had a very big failure in Asian Games. I have already appointed a committee to look into this and submit a report to me. They will examine what happened at the Asian Games. I met the Athletic Federation and a few athletes who have won gold medals for Sri Lanka as well as good coaches like Sunil Gunawardene and Dervin Perera.
They are the people who groomed these athletes. When I discussed with them, I could understand that we did not have a proper plan. The Athletic Federation, former athletics, The Olympic Committee and instructors have not even sat together. For the first time, I brought all of them to one table last week. I have appointed a committee and we are going to make a four-year plan. The Athletic Federation has formed the pool for only two months for the Asian Games. So they have practised only for two months. Some have not done even the third trial. I told them very firmly before January 15th, they have to select the pool. They have already selected the pool and they have to bring them into departments and we are going to give them full time accommodation and food. I have also categorised these athletes – those who can achieve Olympic glory and those who can do well at Asian Games.
I am going to pay them a special allowance to motivate them. If they can go into Olympic level, they will be paid Rs.75,000 per month. If it is Asian level , they will get Rs.50,000 per month. I have allocated money and everything for them. Now I am going to select the best coaches in Sri Lanka. I have also decided to bring some foreign coaches. I have already spoken with the Olympic Committee Chairman Hemasiri Fernando and given him the task of bringing two or three overseas coaches as well. So we are going to have best Sri Lankan and foreign coaches. We have already sent the best three coaches for overseas training. I have also decided to send another two female coaches to America or Jamaica for training. The others we are going to keep here and give them advanced training. I don’t say that we are going to bring gold medals from Olympics but I am planning for SAARC. That is my target. I am planning with my athletes to win more medals from SAARC. So we will start from the SAARC.
Our athletes are like blue sapphires in Ratnapura. They are priceless. Muralidharan became the world’s best spinner and Sangakkara became the number one batsman. In addition, we won the World Cup and Susanthika got a gold medal at Olympics. If they can do it, why can’t others? We have very good assets. We should have a good plan and give them the leadership. I am confident I can do that. But I won’t be able to achieve it within one or two years. It will take about three years. I didn’t see there was a good plan for sports for the last two or three years. A lot of sports men have been fed up and given up athletics and some other sports. They were not happy about the things happening in the field of sports. Now I have invited everybody and we have a systematic plan. I think we can give a good performance within the next two or three years.
Q:What are your plans to encourage sports in rural areas and also in the North and the East? How about providing more sports facilities for rural areas?
A: I had a meeting with the President in this regard. When a Sports Minister comes, all the Ministers, MPs, Provincial Councillors and Local Authority members come and ask “can I have a ground?” and “can I have a sports complex?” But he does not consider whether that ground is suitable for that particular area or is it located in a good place. I pointed out this to the President and he instructed me to have plan for this from next year. Now the Sports Ministry is preparing a plan for seven years. I have already instructed officials to details from all 324 AGA divisions and the number of grounds obtain in each AGA division.
I am planning to have nine sports complexes in the nine provinces. We are going to have two grounds there. One is for athletics, rugby, football etc and the other for cricket. The Cricket Board is funding the cricket ground and we are funding the other grounds. We are going to have gyms, swimming pools and everything there. For that 50 percent is paid by the Ministry and 25 percent has to be paid by the Provincial Councils. I am going to get the balance 25 percent from private sector companies. At present these facilities are available only in two or three provinces. No facilities are available in the North and the East, Uva and Sabaragamuwa provinces. I am going to have B category grounds for 25 districts. It is not similar to the Sports complexes with all facilities. But the people can do any sports in those grounds. Anybody can fund the development of these grounds. We will plan like that within seven years.
Q: How can you minimise political interference in sports bodies? Are you opposed to politicians holding office in sports bodies?
A: Not everybody. I don’t agree when politicians take to sports. There are some politicians in the sports bodies who don’t wish to do anything. They have just taken that as a JP post. Foreign Employment Promotion Minister Dilan Perera is doing a tremendous job to promote volleyball. I don’t mind politicians doing a service to sports.
Q: Sri Lanka is bidding to host the Commonwealth Games in 2018. What are the preparations in this regard?
A: The President has appointed a committee headed by me and the Central Bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal. We have held several meetings. We have already identified a consultancy firm to prepare the bid and get the votes. Four companies have submitted applications. We have already identified a British company.
These days they are preparing the bid documents. We are going to bid in May. In addition to that the vote is in November. There are 71 votes. We just want to show we can do this in Hambantota.
We have already planned to bring the Asian Beach Games to Sri Lanka which is going to be held in Hambantota from August 21 to 29. I think that would affect the voting of the Commonwealth Games as well. Our Foreign Ministry, Sports Ministry and the Olympic Committee are working as a team to gain votes for Sri Lanka. We hope that we can win the bid and host the Commonwealth Games in 2018.
Q: Apart from cricket, football, hockey, volleyball, basketball and netball should be popularised. What are the steps being taken in this regard?
A: During the Budget speech, President Mahinda Rajapaksa stressed that we can develop sports as our key economic power. Countries such as the US and Germany use sports for that purpose. So we are planning for that as well. We can also develop other sports. Around 52 sports bodies are working with us.
I am going to categorize these federations. We have achieved lot of progress in the fields of cricket, athletics, boxing and badminton and some other sports we have to achieve these type of victories.
I am going to give all the facilities and infrastructure to sportsmen and women and help them to win medals.
Q: The Government has lost the budget vote in several local bodies. Will this have an impact on the Government’s performance in the Local Government elections?
A: I don’t think so. That is not a big issue. When we go through these two or three Local Bodies, some political issues have led to defeats. When the chairman of a Local Body is not cooperating with other members, they get angry. The chairmen of some local authorities are not cooperating with other members. When they write to the party and if any action is not taken, they get angry. So this is the time they take revenge. Though one or two places have issues like this, that won’t be a big issue for the upcoming Local Government elections.
Q:Will the UNP, under a new leadership pose any challenge to the Government at the Local Government election?
A: I don’t see any leader in the UNP as a challenge. They are trying to promote Sajith Premadasa. But I think Ranil Wickremesinghe is better than Sajith.
I think this is the biggest mistake the UNP is going to do. We are very happy to welcome Sajith Premadasa, because that is going to be the end of the UNP politics when the people comes to know who Sajith Premadasa is.