Sunday Times (Sri Lanka)

WPRFU becomes bystander even as SLR top guns bury hatchet

- By Allaam Ousman

The Sri Lanka Rugby ( SLR) president- elect Rizly Illyas is confident of getting the backing of the five provincial rugby unions who are eligible to vote at the forthcomin­g AGM (annual general meeting) after the Western Province Rugby Football Union (WPRFU) were barred from voting because they had not paid their subscripti­ons to the governing body.

Just when it seemed it was all over bar the shouting after the incumbent SLR president Lasitha Gunaratne declared he would not seek another term if there was a contest, Illyas encountere­d another hurdle on Friday when WPRFU, who had agreed to nominate him for the top post were stripped of their voting rights by the Election Committee ( EC) appointed by the Sports Ministry.

This was the latest twist in the build- up to the SLR AGM scheduled to be held on August 29 which saw a cat and mouse game being played out by the two potential contenders who were not on talking terms for months before deciding to bury the hatchet at a joint press conference on Friday which was postponed to Monday.

Following a complaint made by the SLR secretary and CEO that some affiliates were in arrears of subscripti­ons, the three- man EC decided that in accordance with Articles 16, 17 and 18 of the SLR constituti­on the WPRFU and some other affiliates were not to eligible to vote at the AGM. As a result only five affiliates of SLR – Central Province Rugby Football Union (RFU), Ruhunu Province RFU, North Central Province RFU, Sabaragamu­wa Province RFU and Wayamba Province RFU – had voting rights.

“We will go through the process. The election committee didn’t have an issue regarding his ( Illyas’) nomination. We have the backing of provinces. Our legal team will figure out what to do,” said WPRFU president Nazeem Mohamed.

Ironically WPRFU comprising seven ‘A’ division clubs and carrying some 26 votes, will be a bystander at the SLR AGM.

“I don’t think any other candidate will come forward now. I have the support of the other provinces. The situation is even if I wanted to withdraw, I can’t because I will put everybody in a conflict. The headache was enough. We have to go through this motion,” Illyas told the Sunday Times although the closing date to submit nomination­s is tomorrow.

The Central Province RFU which has six votes, confirmed they were backing Illyas.

Most observers believe it will be a one-horse race, especially since Gunaratne has endorsed Illyas as the next president of SLR.

“I have told Illyas whatever happens I will not take advantage of this. We will get others to support you. If we fight what will happen, it will only tarnish the image of game. I have to wish and support him. If I pull the rug, I am not a genuine sportsman,” said Gunaratne regarding the complaint made to the Sports Ministry for non-payment of subscripti­ons by some affiliates of SLR.

Gunaratna says he has no ill-feelings against Illyas.

“I think it is a genuine misunderst­anding because there were some difference­s and we did not meet. I did not want to do the wrong thing. The reason I didn’t want to contest is because I don’t want to corrupt the system. If it happens I don’t want to be a bad person. I have done so much for rugby and I love the game. I don’t want people to go to that level and bring disrepute to the game,” said the former Sri Lanka number 8.

Illyas for his part said he never indulged in mud-slinging and only unveiled his manifesto.

“I spoke to him (Lasitha) and said it was nothing to get angry about. I asked him from December whether he is going to continue. I don’t do dirty things in rugby. I had not earned a bad name in rugby. I will fight for what is right for me. All of a sudden when I came to know something is going wrong, I put my manifesto out. Otherwise he would have got nominated and I would have been left in the lurch,” said Illyas, who insists Gunaratne should admit his mistake.

“I told him to tell the truth. There is no hidden agenda between him and me. I have worked under so many people. I have seen Y.C. Chang and have worked under Dr. Maiya Gunasekera, Mohan Balasuriya and Daya Jasyundara. I was very open but I was caught with my pants down,” he said referring to the fact Gunaratne had produced signatures backing him to continue as president at the last SLR Council meeting on July 7.

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