It has been weeks since I was appointed as the Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs, a task which I value so much that it has become my priority to work for the betterment of the youth and development of sports in this country.
As a sports lover, from a very young age, I have done much to work towards the development of the sports sector, even during my father’s presidency between 2005 to 2015. We successfully launched the Carlton Rugby Sevens which eventually turned into an international sporting event, exposing our local talent to international players and trainees and earning them much recognition.
Today, as I now head the Ministry, within weeks we have made plans. Firstly, within a week since I was appointed, I appointed the new Sports Council which consists of members who are masters in their own respective fields and is headed by cricketing legend Mahela Jayawardena. The main aim of forming this sports council is to identify ways to restructure the entire sports system in Sri Lanka, which has been neglected to a great extent in recent years. A new Sports Act will also be introduced, keeping in line with the domestic and international trends. Training for several new sports need to be launched in Sri Lanka and talent has to be identified in all districts. I am confident that our youth and children have immense talent and if properly trained can have the capability of competing in international sporting events.
Also my believe is governmental departments or ministries cannot work in silos for the betterment of the country. Cross functional teams should be created among different ministries to increase the productivity of certain projects. Thus my ministry is also in discussions with other ministries such as Education etc to develop sports at the school level. Being an active rugby player when I was in school myself, I do know the importance of further strengthening sports among students and in schools, so that children are trained at an early age. This leads to physical fitness which is extremely important, and also helps us in the governing level to identify the correct talent to represent the country in local and domestic games. Training at an early age is followed in all sporting countries and it is something I will now pursue closely with the schools.
Further while work has begun in transforming the island’s sports sector, work has also begun in strengthening the youth sector. I have always maintained and highlighted in my previous articles that the youth are the backbone of any country, the strength, the future and an unimaginable asset. Sri Lanka must not forget that we are a nation who has suffered much, going through two youth uprisings in the past which cost the nation heavily. While times have now changed, I am determined to work for Sri Lankan youth who have the talent and capability to transform this country into a super power in the region as well as compete in international forums, which will bring much repute to the island country.
From the Youth Ministry side, I am now looking at restructuring the youth council and all other organizations which come under this ministry and to launch a digital platform to bring everything under one umbrella so that I can make it more accessible for the public.
I am also looking at introducing a new youth act as the last act was introduced in 1979, which to some extent is now outdated as the world has entered a new era of data and technology. I will look at having a new approach to address the issues facing the youth and will also work closely with other ministries such as Housing, Skills Development, Foreign Employment, Education etc, to provide more opportunities and affordable housing for the youth.
In the days ahead as the Minister, I am committed to make a change in the fields which have been allocated to me. While it is a great responsibility for me it is something I assure you all I will work towards. Sri Lanka has long faced severe obstacles and a civil war which shattered us as a whole. Then last year’s Easter attacks pulled us back once again and just when we were recovering we were hit by the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Sri Lanka has always risen from its struggles. There has never been a time where we have plunged further into chaos and that is because of the hard dedication of our citizens. While I will now work dedicatedly for the sports sector and the youth of our country, I invite you all to join me. To reach out to me with any proposals you have and to join me as we transform Sri Lanka into a great sporting nation as well and transform this country into a strong platform for our youth.
Today I assumed duties officially as the Minister of Youth & Sports. We’re committed to seeing Sri Lanka rise up in its respective fields & find its winning edge again. Youth empowerment & excellence in the sporting arena will be a mainstay.
On Wednesday, Sri Lanka’s political culture took a turn for the better when a 26 member new cabinet was appointed along with 39 state ministers by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Following SLPP’s astounding victory in the General Election, with the people bestowing their trust upon the leadership and the party, Sri Lanka is now headed towards a path of development, prosperity and hope, for a better and stronger future for all our citizens who have desperately been waiting for a change.
While our journey as legislators has now taken a new path, we assure all our voters we will work dedicatedly with vigor and passion to lead this country towards a better future. The trust of our voters will never be in vain.
On a personal note, Wednesday was a historic day for me. As this year I complete my 10th year as an MP, I was for the first time appointed as the Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs, becoming the youngest member to serve in this existing cabinet while also becoming the youngest minister of Sports ever to be appointed in Sri Lankan history.
I thank President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa for bestowing their trust upon me, and I also thank all those who wished me and believed in me, including my family who were with me through thick and thin and for never losing hope.
Now a new journey has begun for me. While it is a coincidence that I received the portfolio of Sports and Youth Affairs on International Youth Day, it also marks a beginning of a new era as I look to strengthen the country’s sports sector, and work tirelessly to address issues faced by the youth and work for their betterment. Although tough responsibilities lie ahead for me, I am ready to work with new, innovative ideas while also restructuring the existing system and to develop a strategy which would create a strong local eco system. If decisions are made, it will be after consulting all the relevant stake holders, because although Sri Lanka, has come a long way in sports, a lot more remains to be done.
I am not interested in criticizing the systems which were implemented in the past. But I will now look at restructuring the entire sports sector after intense discussions with all ex players, private sector, corporate, journalists and all those who would be able to add value in taking this industry forward. Public ideas will also be taken. Decisions will never be made on anyone’s own will. It will be a joint team effort where decisions will be made only for the betterment of the entire sector. Not for only one sport or one group. I will also hold discussions with the ex ministers to discuss the challenges they faced. Irrespective of which political party they belong to. Their proposals will also be studied and applied accordingly.
Further, following my appointment yesterday, I received many inquiries as to how I would restructure cricket. While cricket is everyone’s passion, and while this will be a priority, I am not only the minister of cricket. I will now look at restructuring all sports, to which I know Sri Lanka has immense talent. Even sports like volleyball, swimming, rugby etc will all be strengthened and talent for these sports will be hunted for, from all parts of the country. So that our children are exposed in international arenas and we can start competing in global competitions. Its a long road ahead but a road I am committed to take and fulfill.
I will now look at dividing sports into four main pillars, the first being at developing leisure sports. As Sri Lanka has emerged into a leading tourist destination, we need to develop this industry further by having more opportunities for leisure sports as this will also contribute towards the economy as well as create job opportunities within the youth. Secondly, I will also look at developing the competitive sports sector, by targeting world cups and global competitions, even the Olympics. Thirdly, I will also look at strengthening sports as forms of entertainment which will strengthen the sports economy while fourthly I plan to introduce a new norm into the country, and that is E-Sports. I personally know there is a lot of talent in Sri Lanka for E-Sports, especially among the younger generation, and now in a post COVID-19 world, Sri Lanka has to concentrate on this sector.
I will also look at the development of sports on the junior level and strengthen sports in school levels and will soon begin discussions with the relevant stake holders on this matter.
Meanwhile, as the Minister of Youth Affairs, I will take immediate steps to study the challenges faced by the youth in Sri Lanka as well as the globe in this post COVID-19 world, especially with the global economic down fall. In my several articles posted earlier, I have mentioned that the youth are the backbone of any country and their challenges should be prioritized and addressed for the benefit of the entire country. Sri Lanka has long faced high levels of unemployment and issues facing youth have long been sidelined. Sri Lanka must not forget that we have already faced two deadly insurgencies in the past and we cannot afford to face any obstacles. I will now work with all other ministries including education, higher education, labor, foreign employment, skills, etc to work towards the empowerment of the youth.
I am also looking to work closely with the SME sector towards the possibility of creating more job opportunities for the youth as well as encourage more youth to be entrepreneurs. Self employment and self sustainability is a strong path I hope the youth will take. I will also work closely with the law and order ministry to look at ways to rehabilitate youth who have fallen into drugs and see for ways where they can then come back into society with equal opportunities.
It is a long road ahead for me and for all of us. But it is a road I am now committed to. Sri Lanka has to get back on the global map with its sports and opportunities for youth. I request you all to join me on this road ahead.