by Dr. Tilak S. Fernando reporting from Colombo

In the company of the Chief Guest for the occasion, Vice President of the Sri Lanka Scout Association Mr.Leslie Rupasinghe, and a member of the Sri Lanka National Cricket Team, Rangana Herath, I had the privilege of attending a sports-meet last week organised by the Principal, staff and three hundred pupils of Tehalahera Maha Vidyalaya, Hingamuwa, situated in the extreme village locality of Nikaweratiya. This sports event emerging from an utmost basic rural background necessitates recognition and given its due credit because it has been the prime aim of the school Principal not only to uplift educational standards of village pupils but to groom the young to be specifically disciplined, respectful and orderly during their growing up process in life.

The organisational ability of this event surpassed many of the urban sophisticated schools when the ceremony commenced with the hoisting of both national and school flags, followed by athletes running round the tracks carrying an ‘ Olympic torch’ and three Inter-Houses competing in athletics as well exposing their refractive skills in erecting individual ‘Houses’ using all local produce ( straw, banana leaves etc) and ending the performance with a ceremonial guard of honour to the Chief Guest and the VIPs present and finally unveiling and handing over the shool flag back to the Principal with grandeur. The Principal of the school appears to be a schoolmaster who believes in the old dictum, “Work while you work, play while you play, and that’s the only way to be happy and gay!’

Today, unfortunately most of the schoolchildren in our country have lost their childhood with a different kind of competition after school – going for extra tuition classes of many a kind. This trend has not only made private tuition the most obsessed game Sri Lankan parents seem to play with their children but helping to create a new tax-free industry to many who want to earn a quick buck illegally.

Over the decades when it came to sports, many parents did not think of sports as something children needed to excel in. Their pre-conditioned minds worked overtime to groom their offspring and pupils only to be doctors, engineers, lawyers, chartered accountants etc., but cricket, soccer, rugger, swimming, athletics or gymnastics were considered as mediocre professions. Even today sports is not seen by many as a profession, except tolerating it as just a hobby with the exception that Cricket is beginning to attract boys particularly with the prestige and the monitory benefits attached to it today.

Creation of such a vacuum in the interest of sports in children may perhaps be due to our academic indoctrination that has been coming down generations! Looking back at our own teenage days what comes to my memory is astonishing – how our parents tried to decide and dictate our future! From the moment we pronounced the English alphabet and if we did not rise up to our parents’ expectations and dreams academically, we not only disappointed them but were regarded as total failures in life, labelled as the ‘black sheep’ of the family and moreover subjected to a humiliating social stigma!

Many researchers employed by western sports councils have come out with varying viewpoints to that of our oriental parent’s mentality on sports. Western research reveals that children, who compete for glory on school playing fields, stand the best chance of achieving academic success and a worthwhile career. Pupils who play with a determination to win are said to be more likely to take up ‘ A Levels’ and find a job when they finish their education or pursue their studies to higher academic levels, than those who stand and shiver on the sidelines.

A survey conducted in 130 schools interviewing 10,000 pupils in England revealed that if parents discourage their sons and daughters to abandon competitive sports to concentrate on lessons and examinations alone all the time, then naturally they are wasting their time. The theory behind sports is said to be that the WILL to win will see them through in adult life even after they have given up their favourite sporting pastimes.

The research further disclosed the fact that if one learns to withstand the rigours of competitive sport and the rigours of training, it is possible to use that in other areas of life; Sports give participants realistic expectation of their competence and a drive towards fulfilling their potential.

Of late at least in Sri Lanka it is encouraging to see the game of cricket being developed, thanks to our national team once becoming world champions and made Sri Lankan cricket stand out internationally ever since. Soccer has been in the forefront for many decades in Sri Lanka, yet we have not seen this game being developed on a par with cricket. Other areas of sports and athletics are still at mushroom level .

The most unfortunate factor today is that there are no special funds allocated to develop sports on a national level either with the assistance from the government sources or parents. It is only the mercantile sector in Sri Lanka who have so far sponsored and funded to keep the sports activities going and to make the Sri Lankan talent shine on an international level. Therefore, it is high time that parents who are still living in the past alienate from their pre-conditioned old theories of making their offspring academic jelly babies and start playing a new ‘ball game’ altogether. Perhaps a contribution of Rs.10/- a month by parents to their children’s schools will make a mark difference financially to boost up the lost image of sports from local village to urban levels. When that happens, may be we, in Sri Lanka, too can be constantly seen on the world map of sports and worldwide television day in and out.