Sri Lanka’s last Olympic Medal came our way, way-back during the change of the last millennium in the year 2000 at the Sydney Olympic Games when Susanthika Jayasinghe became the only Asian to win an Olympic sprint medal – a feat that stands up to date. Since, we Lankans have been scraping the bottom in search for something elusive even at the Asian Games level without any success – a medal of worth, to call our own.
Not that the authorities have not been concerned or the cause has gone unnoticed. But, always there has been something amiss – they fail even to qualify in most cases.
In reality we have failed to produce the Susanthikas, the Dharshas, Thilakaratnes and the Kulawansas who saw to that the Lankan flag fluttered during international events in the world in most cases. These names were familiar in the international athletic circles.
What we lacked in this sphere was a true blueprint that could be measured and checked back and was time bound. This led to lots of school kids giving up sports especially athletics, at the end of their school careers. They saw no solace in being a part of a system that is deflated.
Now the far sighted conglomerate Crysbro who has been involved in the development of junior athletics for many a season has found another very influential partner in the National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka (NOCSL) to come up with a project to change playing field. There they will sponsor young athletes from the tender age of 15-16 with eye to win international medals as a first step of their task of producing Sri Lanka’s next Olympic medallists.
Crysbro signed a landmark MOU with NOCSL to launch the 'NOCSL-CRYSBRO Next Champ' scholarship programme at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute where they are billed to invest over Rs 40 million over a period of two years.
The objective of this generous partnership is to uplift talented young athletes to the international sports arena. Under the agreement, Crysbro will serve as the sponsor of 20 deserving athletes scouted by NOCSL, with potential to qualify for the Youth Olympic Games 2022, Asian Games 2022, Commonwealth Games 2022 and South Asian Games 2021.
Scouting for potential athletes was done by a panel which included Olympic medallist Susanthika Jayasinghe (Chairperson), SAG medallist Ineka Wickremasinghe and former South Asia’s fastest in one era -- Shehan Ambeypitiya and Olympian swimmer Reshika Udugampola.
Spokesman for the project, Shehan Ambeypitiya stated they contacted all National Sports Associations to nominate their top Under-16 candidates for the said scholarship, and then interviewed each and every one of them. They have taken into consideration young athletes’ last two years performance and Youth Asian Championship and Youth Olympic qualification standards when short listing names, and have selected five athletes initially to launch the programme. They are -- 1. H.H.R.S. Jayasundara [M] - Athletics - 200m & 400m 2. D.M.T.D. Karunarathne [F] - Athletics - 400m 3. W.D.K. Kumara [M] - Weightlifting 4. R.L.S.R. Laksarani [F] – Weightlifting 5. Milka Gehani Elpitiya Badalge Dona - (F) Gymnastics.
Shehan Ambeypitiya explained “The committee will select the next five athletes at the end of this month and then keep next 10 slots open where young athletes with the hope that the next generation of our athletes will get the message and be motivated to perform in the upcoming events. We will then select those ten considering their performance at these events”.
He said the selected 20 athletes will be sponsored to the tune of Rs one million each annually, that will cover expenses such as nutrition, transportation costs, coaching fees, accommodation, logistics (such as clothing, sports gear), and medical expenses. Also included is a separate fund that will be maintained to cover expenses of international events.
“We are working towards providing at least two international events per athlete per year to give them much needed competition exposure which Sri Lankan young athletes are lacking,” said Ambeypitiya.
Their initial target will be the 2021 Asian Youth Championship, Youth Commonwealth Games and Youth Olympic Games.
Besides the above, Crysbro will see the launch of an online portal, which for the very first time in Sri Lanka entrepreneurs and members of the public could come out and sponsor rural athletes, school sports associations, sports clubs and chambers financially. All funds channelled through this portal will be fully disbursed to the entities they were contributed, a process carefully overlooked and strictly managed by NOC SL.
Meanwhile Olympic medallist Susanthika Jayasinghe said that this would be a golden opportunity for the next generation of Lankan athletes to revive their abilities. She said “During our time there were no sponsors to support junior athletics in this manner. I remember when I was a junior athlete I had to borrow spikes for my competitions. But now thanks to companies like Crysbro these young athletes will be given the financial backing so that they will have the necessary cushion to perform at the optimum level.
“Now the young generation of athletes will have to measure their success; develop themselves in stages – SAG, Asian Meets and Asian Games and then think of qualifying for the Olympic Games because getting to that point poses a lot of challenges.”
Besides the above; Maxwell de Silva – Secretary General, NOC SL, on the importance of the Partnership between Crysbro and NOC SL and how it will execute, – Mr. Amores Sellar, Senior Manager Sales & Marketing, Crysbro on the subject of “Contribution of Crysbro Next Champ to uplift rural buddy sport talent” and “The Importance of corporate sector contribution to uplift rural sport talent” by Mr. Suresh Subramaniam, President, NOC SL, spoke.