Foot­ball House days of play­ing 'pandu', on the skids

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - SPORTS -

Looks like even the much- her­alded su­per coach Pakir Ali can­not re­vive the for­tunes of Sri Lanka (SL) Foot­ball. While his col­leagues at Foot­ball House play hostage to the one­man think tank who dreamed up the Vision 2030 plan that would have kept him and his cronies in clover for an­other 12 years, the fault lines have been ev­i­dent from day 1. Re­cent news­pa­pers high­lighted the stu­pen­dous sleight of hand around the last few au­dit re­ports, with af­fi­davits be­ing thrown around like con­fetti. Ev­ery­one knows that one lie re­quires an­other and an­other to cover up those ex­pres­sions of un­truth. So it ap­pears that the sorry saga of the Foot­ball Fed­er­a­tion of Sri Lanka ( FFSL) and its fi­nan­cial drib­bles has fi­nally come un­stuck. And the Ref­eree, the Min­is­ter of Sports (MoS), is reach­ing for his Red Card!

Ev­ery­one knows that the Ex-Fi­nance Man­ager who was ev­ery­one’s dar­ling for quite a while, calmly trans­ferred a sum in ex­cess of Rs 25 mil­lion from un­der the very noses of the peo­ple at the helm. But those who have as­so­ci­ated with the FFSL over the years, know only too well that hold­ing of­fice in Foot­ball House is more of­ten that not, linked to the funds that roll un­ceas­ingly from FIFA and AFC. This largesse is what draws the bees to the hon­ey­pot. Those who talk of blue chips and in­ter­na­tional li­censes, with­out an iota of in­tegrity or fair play, are the very peo­ple who ex­cel in moves that plant them in of­fice and pro­vide them the av­enues to spirit away funds that should go to re­deem this sport from the nadir to which it has fallen.

The pow­ers that be, both lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional, have been very kind. Even stuck at # 201 in global rank­ing, lowly SL is in­ter­wo­ven into the fab­ric that keeps this be­he­moth in­tact. This we saw in the re­cent AFC elec­tion, where SL was com­pelled to vote against the very pol­icy of the State, prompt­ing the MoS to call for an ex­pla­na­tion from the FFSL hi­er­ar­chy. The ar­gu­ment that the vote to let nom­i­na­tions come from out­side one’s coun­try, which the AFC pushed hard to pass, could have let SL ab­stain with­out caus­ing any rip­ples. It is not nor­mal for FIFA and AFC to pe­nal­ize those who don’t tow the line, though SL has suf­fered from the strong arm of the Foot­ball fam­ily dur­ing the Blat­ter era! In­stead, our del­e­ga­tion prac­tised sol­i­dar­ity with the god­fa­thers be­cause bonuses and per­sonal re­wards are in­ex­orably linked to such grav­i­tas!

And so, our MoS is left em­bar­rassed and will no doubt re­ceive am­ple sup­pli­ca­tions to look the other way and keep the ball in play! No harm in­deed, be­cause SL now set­tles for morsels, when we once walked with kings. But the big- ger is­sue is the over­all game plan for SL Foot­ball. Where does it go from here? Foot­ball watch­ers have re­peat­edly called for an In­terim Com­mit­tee (IC) to cor­rect this sad state of af­fairs. But con­sec­u­tive MoS’ have been afraid to go where angels fear to tread! There­fore, where does the cur­rent MoS look, to help him carry this bur­den, when the pow­ers that be have left this pop­u­lar sport in a quag­mire from which it can­not ex­tri­cate it­self.

There is hope­fully one last re­sort, if the MoS chooses to al­low Cricket to look af­ter it­self for a while and spend some time play­ing Foot­ball. There have been re­puted peo­ple in the past, who have served SL Foot­ball with hon­our. One such per­son is Ran­jith Pan­dithage who was a mem­ber of the IC un­der DIG Navarat­nam. Those were the hal­cyon days of the sport and though, big dreams were not high on the agenda, hon­esty and de­cency was the or­der of the day, with real­is­tic plans sys­tem­at­i­cally put into place. There were oth­ers such as V.K. Aru­mu­gan of CFA fame, Dr. C. D. L. Fer­nando from Kandy, Top Ref­eree Per­im­panayagam and the in­de­fati­ga­ble Sports Min­istry Sec­re­tary, Siri Gu­nasek­era who brooked no non­sense, when it came to the fun­da­men­tals of or­ga­nized Foot­ball.

At a min­i­mum, the MoS should set up a Com­mis­sion of In­quiry to ex­am­ine what has and is taking place. It is good if we can work with the FIFA and AFC to avoid any con­flicts of in­ter­est and come up with a plan that will res­ur­rect SL Foot­ball. Other­wise, Vision 2030 will be a blur and only a capri­cious, poorly thought out long term plan of ac­tion. While FIFA and AFC is push­ing its writ, the FFSL has still not got its Con­sti­tu­tional re­forms based on a model of­fered by FIFA to its Mem­ber As­so­ci­a­tions. So, merely stum­bling along with a Na­tional sport de­void of con­crete de­vel­op­ment pro - gramme is an in­dict­ment that the FFSL can­not avoid any longer. A Red Card will only bring the game to an in­glo­ri­ous stand­still, and world­wide dis­re­pute, but it is, per­haps a nec­es­sary evil!

Where does foot­ball go from here - Anura de Silva (L), the FFSL Pres­i­dent and Min­is­ter of Sports Faiszer Musthapha (R) have met quite of­ten in the re­cent weeks to dis­cuss on pol­icy mat­ters, but the game is in a state of in­sta­bil­ity

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