Sunday Times (Sri Lanka)

Dream of boxing gold lives on as Dian begins third term

- By Allaam Ousman

Boxing would have been dead in Sri Lanka if Dian Gomes had not ignited the Olympic dream and kept the flame alive by giving dynamic leadership during the past two decades with his strategic planning, visionary zeal and love for the sport.

After the doping disgrace at the 2010 Delhi Commonweal­th Games, boxing plunged to the lowest depths with fingers being pointed at Sri Lanka’s boxing chief who could have walked away from the sport hanging his head in shame. But you can’t keep a good man down for long and like a true champion he shrugged off detractors to rise phoenix-like to bask in the glory of the 2018 Gold Coast Commonweal­th Games where Sri Lanka’s pugilists won three bronze medals to end a 68-year-long wait.

It was a boxer Barney Henricus who became the first Ceylonese to win a gold medal at the 1938 British Empire Games in Sydney, Australia. Today boxing is on par with athletics and weightlift­ing as one of the few Olympic discipline­s which has the capacity to win medals at internatio­nal level. Never one to sit on his laurels or be floored by detractors, Dian Gomes has rekindled the Olympic dream and Commonweal­th Games gold as he embarks on a third term as President of the Boxing Associatio­n of Sri Lanka (BASL) just like an enthusiast­ic schoolboy begins a new term full of enthusiasm albeit wiser by the experience. Although he is willing to take bouquets and brickbats in equal measure, he insists it is not about personal glory but assembling a team that would help create an enduring legacy for the sport for the next decade at least.

“The whole concentrat­ion in the next two years will be our new talent of schoolboys and the youth. The current youth team is fairly strong and they have gone for couple of tournament­s in Sweden where we won several medals. We have the resources,” he said banking on the support of the new Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa.

“The biggest hope is the new Minister of Sports who has played serious sports. A sportsman himself, leading Sri Lanka in rugby and leading Sri Lanka sports now. He understand­s boxing and is young enough to dream of Sri Lanka’s long-term sports philosophy. I am sure with him taking a very serious role, we will be able to get the medals and take boxing forward,” said Gomes embarking on his third term as President of the Boxing Associatio­n of Sri Lanka (BASL).

The associatio­n will work on a four-year plan initially and another four-year plan for next leader.

"Internatio­nally at senior level we will take part in the Asian Men’s and Women’s Boxing Championsh­ip in 2021 and the world Olympic boxing qualificat­ion event in May 2021. At least one male and one female to have a last try to qualify. The South Asian Games (SAG) in 2022 in Lahore, Pa k i s t a n , Commonweal­th Games in 2022 in Birmingham, England, Asian Games 2022 in China and our dream of qualifying again at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris,” he said outlining his programme at a press conference.

“In the first four weights we are as good as anybody else in the world. We have some very good talent in the lower weights. We actually cannot fight in the heavier weights although we won a gold medal at the SAF Games. It’s very difficult specially to fight with the Asian countries like Uzbekistan and Kazakshtan,” he said.

The BASL President also made an earnest appeal for funding.

“Actually for 20 years boxing has not been funded by the ministry other than one or two tournament­s. All internatio­nal tournament­s have been self funded. I expect the honourable minister who understand sports and understand­s that boxing is one of the major sports which can bring medals at the Commonweal­th Games level, that he would help us with the funding part because at the moment the corporates are not there to fund because of this current economic situation specially in the next two years. Therefore, lot of assistance is requested from the government itself. Boxing, weightlift­ing and athletics are the only three sports which have brought the majority of medals. So obviously we must invest in these sports which are showing results,” he said.

Gomes credits his success to a sixth sense which helps him identify talent. “Getting the right people for the right job is the key to success, be it in business or in sports administra­tion – it is the right team that produces the best results,” he stated.

“I achieved the impossible dream of taking a boxer for the Olympic Games. To make a Sri Lankan among the first 28 boxers in the world. It was an impossible dream at that time because for 40 years after 1968 no Sri Lanka boxer has ever gone for the Olympics. It was with greatest difficulty… defeat after defeat, we never gave up. The great team managed to get Anuruddha Rathnayake to qualify at the World Championsh­ip to take part at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. It was my moment of glory – myself, Rathnayake and the Boxing Associatio­n and for Sri Lanka boxing,” he recalled proudly.

“We didn’t stop after that. We created a succession plan both in leadership and boxers. There were really good people to look after boxing like Gen. ( Rtd) Jagath Jayasuriya, Udeni Kiridena, Aubrey Peiris, DIG (Rtd) Rohan Abeywarden­a who succeeded me. And I was still around helping them out with strategy. We managed to get closer to the Commonweal­th Games. We had some issues with Manju’s (Wanniarach­chi) doping incident but we never gave up. We just started thinking freshly how to go forward,” he explained.

“In 2017 I again took over as the President of Sri Lanka boxing and went about getting this medal at the Commonweal­th Games. After 68 years Sri Lanka managed to get three medals in Gold Coast and the dream still goes on. Today I have been elected the president for the third time unanimousl­y by all my colleagues. To lead the team and to pursue this goal - first at the Commonweal­th Games and then to qualify for the Olympic Games at least next year or maybe 2024 (Paris),” he said.

He would like to leave behind two things as his lasting legacy – developmen­t of a young leadership and women’s boxing.

“A great young succession of leadership. I have specially now a young vice president Wasantha Kumara and also a young Assistant Secretary Abdullah Ibunu who would become matured with experience of running the associatio­n. Obviously with rest of the senior guys who are there, we will be bringing some more younger people. Secondly having a strong women’s commission which is requested by both AIBA and the IOC. We will have more women in the women’s commission so that women’s boxing will also prosper,” he said.

What is left for Dian Gomes to achieve?

“A gold medal at the Commonweal­th Games and maybe another qualificat­ion at the Olympic Games would be my dream but more than that a great succession of young leadership who could take on the mantle of leadership for the next 10 years because otherwise boxing will be dead,” he reiterated selflessly.

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Dian Gomes

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