Honored to have shared my thoughts on this topic at the ‘Start Up India International Summit’.
Sri Lanka is an island nation in the midst of the Indian Ocean whose strength and potential is vast mainly because of its geographical location in the region and the high literacy, skills qand talent we possess among all our age groups.
Sri Lanka has infact produced some great minds in all professions over the years and has produced startups which have set an example for other entrepreneurs in the region. Infact today, Sri Lanka’s economy is mainly driven by the SME’s and the private sector whose skills and innovative ideas have put Sri Lankan products in the international market.
In developed markets, about 90% of the businesses are SMEs which contribute to about 60% of the job market and 40% contribution to the GDP. However in Sri Lanka, SMEs account to about 75% of the businesses but only contribute to 40-45% of the job market. Hence, there is massive potential for growth with the right level of resources and support
Today, Sri Lanka has produced startups which have gained international fame. The products and brands by these businesses are exported world over and have been commended for its quality, leading to a greater demand in the international market. Further many have had the opportunity to open their outlets in leading countries, taking Sri Lanka’s worth to the international community. This is also mainly due to the end of terrorism in May 2009, and under the strong leadership of then President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who gave the youth the opportunity and enouragement to blossom into entrepreneurs and showcase their talent.
Following the re-election of the Rajapaksa government last August I was sworn in as the Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs and one pledge I made was to continue working hard for the youth sector and create an ecosystem where more youth could be encouraged to become entrepreneurs. Today, 5 months on, I have received so many proposals by the youth, from every part of the country and the ideas and talent for startups is truly remarkable. However due to financial constraints they are unable to move forward, especially now following the hardships faced amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
But considering the talent which Sri Lanka possesses and the strong commitment of this government and my Ministry, this weekend I was honored to be invited to address the inaugural session of the ‘Start Up India International Summit’ which brought some of the world’s leading minds on one platform virtually and enabled governments and international organizations to share their views to ignite the minds of young innovators and entrepreneurs. In the summit, I was given the opportunity to explain Sri Lanka’s dedication is continuing with a startup ecosystem under President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Policy Manifesto Saubhagyaye Dakma – Vistas of Prosperity and Splendor and the role my Ministry is now playing in encouraging youth to get more involved to take Sri Lanka’s entrepreneurship ecosystem to greater heights.
In order to execute an action plan and not limit these ideas to words, my ministry has already launched an entrepreneur focused loan system worth more than Rs. 1 billion to promote innovative entrepreneurship, will provide tax benefits for corporates who help Startup Ecosystem to grow, has launched concepts such as “Q shop” – a simple Retail Franchise model startup eco
system launched in a 40ft customized container and we have even partnered with both state and private media houses creating entrepreneur based reality shows and highlighting entrepreneurs not only through traditional media but on social media platforms as well.
Further, under my Ministry we have already planned to launch a crowdsourcing
platform to draft a “crowdsourced policy” to launch a government backed eco-system to drive innovative entrepreneurship in Sri Lanka. This will be established to ensure we capture the pulse of the entrepreneur in order to remain relevant and current with the emerging ideas.
From nurturing innovation to educating what innovative entrepreneurship is – to
connecting these new entrepreneurs and SMEs with investors, it will all be a part of our new policy. For any successful ecosystem, we must attract resources of all sorts, drawing in capital, partners, suppliers and customers to create cooperative networks and the right talent base. This is why, as explained during my inaugural address, I explained it is vital that we work together as members of BIMSTEC sharing our resources and our knowledge creating linkages for our entrepreneurs and networking them – generating both the supply and the demand.
It is only by supporting each other that we can grow our startups and SMEs and eventually the national economy. I truly believe that entrepreneurship is the best solution for the 20% unemployment among the 4Mn youth population of the country.
Sri Lanka is a lower middle-income country with a GDP per capita of 4,065 USD and a total population of 21.5 million people. Following 30 years of civil war that ended in 2009, Sri Lanka’s economy grew at an average 5.8% during the period of 2010 to 2015, although unfortunately there were some signs of a slowdown in the last few years.
Our economy is transitioning from a predominantly rural based economy towards a more urbanized economy oriented around manufacturing and services.
My Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs is now dedicated to take forward the startup ecosystem and will continue to interact with the youth sector. A lot needs to be done but we have already begun work. We hope to make a change soon.
ஸ்ரீமத் எஸ்.டப்ளிவ்.ஆர்.டீ.பண்டாரநாயக்க அவர்களின் 122ஆவது ஜனன தின நிகழ்வு
ஸ்ரீமத் எஸ்.டப்ளிவ்.ஆர்.டீ.பண்டாரநாயக்க அவர்களின் ஜனன தினத்தை முன்னிட்டு எமது தாய்நாட்டிற்கு வரலாற்று ரீதியான மாற்றத்திற்கான ஆரம்பத்தை பெற்றுக் கொடுத்த தலைவரான ஸ்ரீமத் எஸ்.டப்ளிவ்.ஆர்.டீ.பண்டாரநாயக்க அவர்களின் 122ஆவது ஜனன தினத்தில் அவரை நினைவுகூர்ந்து இந்த செய்தியை வழங்க கிடைத்தமையை ஒரு பாக்கியமாகக் கருதுகின்றேன். 1956ஆம் ஆண்டு பொதுமக்கள் யுகத்தின் நிறுவுனருடன் அந்த அரசியல் கலாசாரத்திற்கு பெரும் பலமாக திகழ்ந்து அமரத்துவமடைந்த டீ.ஏ.ராஜபக்ஷ அவர்களின் பேரன் என்ற வகையில், அத்திட்டத்தின் ஊடாக முன்னேறிய எனது அன்புக்குரிய தந்தையான மஹிந்த ராஜபக்ஷ அவர்களை ஸ்ரீலங்கா சுதந்திர கட்சியானது, பாராளுமன்ற உறுப்பினர், அமைச்சர், பிரதமர், ஜனாதிபதி என்று உச்சத்தை அடையச் செய்தமையால், எனக்கும் அரசியலின் கையேடுகளை மீட்டிப்பார்க்கும் அதிஷ்டம் கிட்டியது. அவரது தத்துவ பார்வையின் அடிப்படையில் நிறுவப்பட்ட இடதுசாரி அரசியல் முகாமை பாதுகாப்பதற்கு நாம் அனைவரும் ஏக மனதுடன் உறுதிபூணுவது ஸ்ரீமத் எஸ்.டப்ளிவ்.ஆர்.டீ.பண்டாரநாயக்க அவர்களுக்கு செய்யும் உயரிய மரியாதையாகும்.
இளைஞர் விவகார மற்றும் விளையாட்டுத்துறை அமைச்சர்
Sri Lanka, compared to other countries in the South Asian region has a very high literacy rate as education is free and mandatory among all children. Even in some villages, where poverty persists, local state officials on ground ensure that children receive an education and are sent to school.
Sri Lanka has adult literacy rate of 93.2% (2017), which is above average by world and regional standards. Even with such a high literacy rate, Sri Lanka, is facing a staggering problem, that is the high levels of unemployment among youth. Today, Sri Lanka’s youth population number is estimated as 4.4 million out of the country’s 21.6 million population which is about 20% of the total population but youth unemployment is at 20.8% which is a high youth unemployment ratio in a developing country.
High unemployment in Sri Lanka has been attributed to unrealistic expectations, to queuing for public sector jobs, and to stringent job security regulations. For years, successive governments have been looking to solve this issue, but the stark reality is that Sri Lanka faces a shortage of skilled labor and jobs are scarce. Especially now, in the new COVID-19 world, the levels of unemployment will only widen, leading to several issues among our most vital social segment.
Following my appointment as the Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs in August, I have been holding extensive discussions with the youth, from across the country. And the leading problem discussed in each district, is the high levels of unemployment, which results in many social and personal issues facing the youth. As a result, it was discussed that many of our youth then prefer to go overseas, in search of jobs, driving away Sri Lanka’s crucial workforce.
In order to provide some solution to this staggering problem, I held discussions with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa recently and proposed to establish atleast one industry in each AG division across the country so that, youth in that particular division will be provided jobs and will also be trained with the necessary skills. Presently industries are set up only in particular industrial zones, which leads to an influx of youth having to leave their homes and travel into the cities in search of employment. The practicality of this is now thin, with the world having to maintain strict health guidelines and social distance and working in environments with a minimum workforce due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
If corporate giants, including the leading industrialists can be encouraged to open up industries in different divisions, they can operate with the work force of that particular area, where they can be trained in a particular skill and this will also help Sri Lanka to manufacture more of its own products, which is the vision of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. This will enable to create more jobs among the men and women, and strengthen the GDP of that particular district. Further, the establishment of industries will also create many indirect jobs as well which will help alleviate poverty in the poorest of the poor districts.
Initially, I proposed that we identify the districts where the GDP is low and the rate of unemployment is high. Both the President and Prime Minister, reacted favorably and agreed to hold further discussions on the matter. The matter was also discussed with Minister of Industries, Wimal Weerawansa and Minister of tourism Prasanna Ranatunga and D.V. Chanaka who is the state minister of the development of export zones.
The government will look at discussing, to offer tax concessions to industries who look to get involved in this project and who agree to establish their factories in the AG divisions. Further discussions will also be held with the BOI and all stakeholders in the coming days. I have requested the President and Prime Minister and the concerned ministers to expedite discussions on this matter.
In my several articles before, I have mentioned the importance of the youth sector of any country. They are the backbone of the economy. I strongly believe the success of any government starts by addressing the issues of the youth and the education of the youth. While skilled labor is short in this country, as a responsible government we must now look at immediately providing a solution to this so that Sri Lanka can retain its workforce and strengthen its local markets as well. I will ensure that under my tenure as the Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs, a suitable solution is found to end the unemployment issue facing this country, and will work with all the ministries concerned.
Afterall, youth will decide what the future will look like for this nation and with right attitude, guidance and resources I am certain it can only be positive and bright.
Sri Lanka is always a nation we can be proud of. The unity, the strength, the commitment our citizens uphold especially during troubled times, is a fine example to the world.
Amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic, Sri Lanka also has been plunged into a health crisis, especially since we are recovering from a second wave. But even in the midst of this we did the unexpected – and that was to successfully hold one of the greatest sporting tournaments this country has ever hosted – the inaugural season of the Lanka Premier League.
The LPL was a turning story for many during these trying times. It exposed some great young talent to the international audience who will now go on to further their career in cricket. It also placed Sri Lanka on the global map of sports as a nation who could be an ideal ground for international tournaments even during difficult times, in the new COVID-19 world. The tournament also welcomed many leading international cricket legends to lead the teams and provided great entertainment, which in some way we were yearning for in this new normal world. It also strengthened our sports economy, encouraged all those who were involved in organizing this tournament including Sri lanka Cricket and most of all it united all of us. When some thought this was an impossible task even while Sri Lanka was facing a second wave of the coronavirus, we made the impossible possible.
Whilst finding and grooming the right talent from around the country and giving them the international exposure was the main objective, LPL surely has helped and will impact positively in developing a sustainable sports economy in Sri lanka. With the massive reach of more than 800Mn viewership globally via online, streaming and broadcast, LPL has got a massive social media exposure around the globe. Analysis say More than 22mn were streaming online during a match, quoting brand watch. During every match, more than 23,000 hashtag exposure for LPL has been calculated within an hour. These numbers are a proof that LPL is not merely a cricket tournament focussed only on Sri lankans but a global sports fest which attracted the attention around the globe.
Today, I take this opportunity to congratulate the Jaffna Stallions for a remarkable victory. Their story is one that will go into the records of Sri Lanka Cricket. I could not be more happier than to see this team win for their outstanding performance throughout the tournament and it was a proud moment for me as well when I handed them the trophy.
Along with the Jaffna Stallions, I also congratulate all the other teams who participated. Their performance was beyond excellence and they played a gentleman’s game which kept the audience hooked on to their television sets. I also especially thank the foreign players who arrived here to participate in the LPL. Their support and patience in undergoing the mandatory quarantine period, undergoing all the health protocols and leading their teams for the matches is outstanding and appreciated. I welcome them to take part in all future international cricket tournaments including the next season of the LPL in 2021.
A special appreciation and mention to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. Without their support this tournament would never have been possible. A special appreciation to the government who showed equal dedication towards the success of this tournament and gave me and Sri Lanka Cricket all the encouragement. A special mention to Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi, Army Commander Lt. General Shavendra Silva and the COVID-19 prevention task force, and all the officials from the Health Ministry, I am grateful to them all. They guided us throughout this tournament with the necessary health protocols and guidelines to ensure the safety of all those involved in this tournament including the players.
I also take this opportunity to thank the sponsors of the LPL tournament and the owners of each teams and the IPG Group. When we were at a discussion stage as to whether the LPL tournament could be held this year, it was a concern if we could find the necessary funds. But with the sponsors showing great interest and commitment and with team owners stepping forward, it set the foundation for us to begin work. Since their commitment, there was no stepping back.
I also thank the match referees who showed equal commitment as the players, the commentators for their spectacular work because without them, we would have to admit that the audience can never be glued to their screens, the ground staff at the Mahinda Rajapaksa Cricket Stadium, the commando units which provided the security and the health staff who were on ground. It was indeed team work by all.
The hotels and hotel staff which stepped in to provide accomodation to the players, where they could undergo their quarantine as well, I thank all of you. To ensure that the comfort of the players was maintained at all times, is truly appreciated. The beauty of the hotels was also appreciated by the international players who enjoyed a comfortable stay while being in the country.
A big thank you to Sri Lanka Cricket for their dedication, hard work, commitment and unity from day one to ensure the success of the inaugural session of the LPL. The SLC has been through many ups and downs in the past but their hard work to make this tournament a success is truly remarkable and spectacular. I thank each and every individual in the SLC who made the LPL a reality especially in these difficult times, and ensuring that transparency was maintained and working and coordinating with the Ministry of Sports and all other officials on the ground level. It definitely goes on to the say that without the strong commitment of the SLC, no cricketing tournament will ever be a success in this country.
Lastly and not the least, a big thank you to the media and the fans without whom the LPL would never end in such a high note. As much as I, as the Minister of Sports and all other officials made this a success, this tournament would have never reached its height if the due publicity was not given and the fans had not supported us. I have followed all the comments and the excitement on social media over the LPL and the great unbiased coverage the tournament received by the media. It was a great encouragement to see the number of fans seeing the tournament live from several parts of the country and world. Thank you for trusting us.
The inaugural session of the LPL was an impossible task in this COVID-19 world, which all of us made possible. It united every district of the country, forgetting any barriers which existed in between. It proved that Sri Lanka is one nation, one land. We are back as a strong country ready to face any challenges. And I say, unity is the real victory of LPL!
The Lanka Premier League 2020, which will become Sri Lanka’s topmost T20 league of international flavor, kicks off this evening with a spectacular virtual opening ceremony, using a combination of augmented and virtual reality technologies.
LPLT20 isn’t all about sportainment. It’s also a platform for young players to showcase their talent & compete at the highest level. Wishing Sri Lanka Cricket , all the teams, team owners & players best of luck! May the best team win! LPL – Lanka Premier League
The youngest Rajapaksa in Parliament and the youngest Cabinet Minister of the present Government has been under severe criticism by the well-seasoned politicians and the public who have been very vocal about the choices he has made in appointing certain individuals to committees and councils, be it the sports sector or the youth sector.
This week, The Sunday Morning managed to sit for a full-length interview with the Cabinet Minister for Youth and Sports Namal Rajapaksa, to set the records straight and ask him some questions that the public has been eager to hear the answers and explanations to.
Excerpts of the interview;
You said that you are looking to restructure the entire sports sector by building a dialogue with all stakeholders to add value in taking the industry forward. What is the expected outcome of these dialogues?
The expected outcome of these dialogues is to introduce a structure. What Sri Lanka’s sport sector is lacking is structure. I believe we have the talent, we have the infrastructure; maybe for certain sports, we have a lack of resources. But what is lacking in Sri Lanka is a structured system. This is the biggest challenge that I had when I took over the Ministry, which is why I invited people like Mahela (Jayawardene), Kumar (Sangakkara), Kasturi (Chellaraja Wilson), Supun (Weerasinghe), Dilantha (Malagamuwa), Sanjeewa (Wickramanayake), Julian (Bolling), Rowena (Samarasinghe), and Rohan (Fernando) to join the Sports Council to formulate a proper structure to improve performance and develop the sports sector.
What are the suggestions that the Sport Council have brought to the table during your meetings?
I must take this opportunity to thank these individuals for volunteering to set up this Sports Council on my request. All these people are very busy in their own respective fields. For example, Mahela Jayawardene is involved in the IPL (Indian Premier League) at this time and Kumar Sangakkara has his responsibilities towards the MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club) and all the others are leading figures in the corporate sector. But they all allocate time to attend the Sports Council discussions that take place on a weekly basis, to revamp the sporting structure in Sri Lanka and also work on the Sports Act and at the same time, on the Budget for 2021.
Basically, we have given the mandate to the Council through the State Minister to restructure the sporting system in the country as well as to look at the necessary budgetary allocations required, and to put in place a long-term plan in intervals of five, 10, and 15 years on high-performing sports.
We have appointed a National Selection Committee that will be responsible for picking the national selectors and coaches, and to set up transparent selection criteria when it comes to national selections. At the moment, we do not have criteria and each sport has its own criteria and sometimes, it depends on the selectors or the relevant association that has been elected.
What we are looking at now is to have a proper structured selecting process, which will ensure that no athlete will be left out and there will be transparency in the selection process when it comes to selecting the national pool.
That selecting procedure will have to go through the Sports Council, so they will be given the mandate to oversee the selection process and ensure that the selections are done in compliance to the listed criteria, and then send it to the Ministry.
So, all this time the associations selected their own selectors and the minister just placed the signature on it and it is the association which selected the team, which was presented to the minister in writing, which he signed off on.
There was no proper following up or a mechanism to do national selections. I personally believe that we should have proper national selection criteria for all sports.
If a person has the IAAF (International Amateur Athletic Federation) qualification or world rankings in tennis, badminton, and other such sports, I believe they should be allowed to be part of the national squad.
Even when it comes to team sports, we should have compulsory tournaments for all team players to participate in to qualify for national squad selections. For example, in rugby, we have to select the sevens squad out of the 15s squad. You can’t look at a 15s tournament and select our national sevens squad.
These are a few of the areas that we have been working on in the past three months. Hopefully, in a couple of weeks, we will be able to work on the Sports Act and open it for public opinion.
I believe it is not the minister’s Act, but it is the Sporting Act and the entire sporting fraternity should be responsible and have the right to contribute towards drafting it.
What purpose does the corporate sector personnel serve as members of the said Sports Council?
Sri Lankan sports lack corporate culture. Anywhere in the world, sport is an industry, but for Sri Lanka, it has become a burden. If you look at all the infrastructures that we have built, the Government is finding it very difficult to maintain it. In the media, you see news of some stadiums being abandoned, not being used, not maintained properly; that is simply because we do not have a corporate structure; revenue needs to be generated through this infrastructure.
If there is revenue generation, then naturally, the people in sports will get paid and the infrastructure will be maintained. What I am expecting from corporate Sri Lanka and those who are involved in the Sports Council is to set up a corporate structure, where we look at new models of revenue; like franchise models, sports tourism, and the manufacturing of sporting equipment, sports gear, and sports goods. I believe sports can even be turned into an industry that generates $ 1 billion per year.
There are four projects that were initiated by the previous Government. Will you see these projects to their completion?
All those projects were actually initiated during former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s term in office in 2013. But unfortunately, the last Government did nothing to continue those projects. These were projects that were abandoned by them, and I remember the previous Sports Minister went to Kilinochchi and commissioned the ground, but it was never utilised.
The last Government did not start any projects. They only announced that an international stadium will be established in the Northern Province. Then, they announced that the stadium will be established in Polonnaruwa – that was the exact Government that criticised the Sooriyawewa Stadium (Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium) and the Dambulla Stadium (Rangiri Dambulla International Cricket Stadium).
We need to rethink how we are going to spend money on such infrastructure. But definitely, we have a larger plan to develop sports infrastructure. We are looking at developing sports schools and laying 130-metre synthetic tracks in 10 schools. In addition, Kurunegala, Torrington, and the Alfred Duraiappah Stadium will also be fitted with synthetic tracks.
Down Kirimandala Mawatha, we are looking at establishing a high-performance sports centre to accommodate field events such as javelin and shot put, long and high jump. These projects have been included in the next Budget and we are working on the procurement at present.
Probably by January or February, we will be able to commence work on these projects.
At the same time, we will see through to completion the projects that were abandoned or stalled during the last Government.
Allegations were made against the Cricket Board and the cricketers during the pre-election period. Would you be investigating the matter further?
Investigations are going forward and I am sure that the Police Department and the Attorney General’s Department are looking to conclude the investigations as soon as possible.
We are conducting investigations over these allegations and we need to ensure justice is served, because allegations of this nature do not damage individuals, it damages the image of Sri Lanka Cricket and the entire sports sector of the country.
Sri Lanka Cricket is known around the world, so I am sure the Police is keen on completing the investigations, and we have advised them to conduct these investigations impartially, with no interference, to follow the due process, and based on the findings, to take a justifiable decision.
Will you be strictly enforcing the Sports Betting Act to put an end to the alleged corruption that is rooted in the sports sector?
At the end of the day, it is all about how you structure your sports. So, if we have a proper Sports Act covering all sectors and have anti-corruption regulations embedded in it, then we do not have to worry about it.
But if we have loopholes in the system, then people will play out the system. You cannot blame an entrepreneur for playing out a weak system. So, if there are loopholes for them to play with, then it is the system that needs to be blamed.
When the Sports Act is enacted, it will allow the people involved in the sports sector and the associations to be more transparent.
You cannot target individuals or their businesses and bring acts or laws to a country. All these allegations are brought out targeting one individual, that will not help sports.
The corruption has to be out of sports; the match-fixing and other forms of corrupt practices need to be halted by strong anti-corruption regulations, which need to be implemented. But it cannot be addressed looking at one individual person.
What plans do you have to improve the track and field events and ensure proper sponsorship and training is offered?
The high-performance sports centre will have tier one, tier two, and development squads and will look after those athletes and their needs. But I agree that there is a shortcoming in the rural areas, which we have to approach, and we have to identify those athletes and help them. Whoever joins the high-performance centre will be looked after.
Then we need to have a mechanism to look after the rest of the sportsmen and women. What I propose, and have already started from the Hambantota District Secretariat, is to have a district sports fund with district corporates, where they can participate and be part of the sports fund.
Matters will be addressed district wise, and we’ll address issues such as the provision of a pair of football spikes or any equipment or providing them transport facilities for them to participate in national sporting events.
Under the 13th Amendment, sports became a devolved subject. There is more power with the provincial governments than the Central Government when it comes to sports development or rather the development of sports.
Only the ones that get selected to the national squads work with the Central Government; the school teams are looked after by the relevant schools and the Education Ministry, and the rest are from the provincial sector. What I am trying to do is bridge the gap and bring these three organisation structures under one proper structure.
We have invited the corporates based in each district to step in and assist us and be part of the district sports fund. Also, we will bring them all to one digital platform by early next year, which will establish a monitoring mechanism.
The Sugathadasa Stadium is in very bad shape. What plans does the Ministry have for it?
The Sugathadasa Stadium has become a huge burden; the Treasury has to pump Rs. 16 million monthly to pay salaries for the staff at three stadiums – Sugathadasa, Bogambara, and Nuwara Eliya.
We have to think of restructuring the Sugathadasa Stadium and we have looked at a couple of options. One is to get the Football Federation involved in putting the football stadium to good use, because it is the Football Federation that brings in the highest revenue for the stadium. So, we are looking at sharing the property with the Football Federation. Then, we have the Sri Lanka Cricket Board which is part of the Khettarama Stadium (R. Premadasa International Cricket Stadium), so we might as well get them involved fulltime in maintaining and putting the stadium to use, rather than the Government taking on the full burden in maintaining such sections.
We have to refurbish the athletics tracks and the ground. I am looking at talking to the Football Federation to get them involved in the development work of the Sugathadasa Stadium, to make it their home ground.
The swimming pool and indoor complex need to be considered under a different marketing model. The indoor sports complex can be turned into a very good revenue-generating model, as we have ample space around it. For that, we are looking at a public-private partnership.
Even Bogambara, we will do a synthetic track, and with regard to Nuwara Eliya, again, we are looking at a public-private partnership.
How will you improve the utility of racing tracks to promote motor sporting events in the country?
I think the Sri Lanka Motor Sporting Association has a problem themselves, so they have to sort their internal disputes. I have had discussions with them, and they need to get their act together.
At the same time, there are enough tracks (motor racing), but whether they are up to the required standards is a question. I have expressed my interest to the Drivers’ Association to allocate a track for them in Tissamaharama, the Ranminithenna track, so that the association can base themselves there and do their training.
Motorsports is a very expensive sport to pursue at this stage, so we need to get more sponsors involved and improve the level of professionalism of the drivers. So far, their response to the discussions and suggestions has been positive.
I am sure that motorsports can be a foreign revenue-generating venture in Sri Lanka, if they work on a proper management structure.
Will you be bringing back the night races that were very popular during your father’s tenure as President?
They became too popular. The association has to decide that and I will support any association that will think out of the box. It may be night races; it may be a different sporting event.
Associations have to work towards improving their sporting events, because they get elected annually, and most office bearers spend a lot of money to get elected, so they have to work. I will help them to make their sporting events a reality.
How will Mahela Jayawardene be able to focus on the Sports Council activities as Head of the Council?
I thought the IPL will create an issue with the Government for getting Mahela involved in the Sports Council, as he allocates a considerable amount of time to take part in the weekly Sports Council discussions. But I admire his commitment towards the Council, as every Monday at 6 p.m., they have a conference meeting and Mahela has been part of that conversation every Monday, whether he has a match or not.
His contribution towards the developments that are taking place in the Sports Council is tremendous; he is a very structured person and is very methodical in what he does, which I believe needs to translate to Sri Lanka’s sports sector.
I believe that Mahela and the team in the Sports Council can assist us in taking forward the restructuring plan.
How involved has Kumar Sangakkara been with the Council, given that he is the MCC President? Was this just a PR stunt?
I must say that all the members of this Sports Council, even when you take Kasturi, Supun, Julian, Sanjeewa, Dilantha, and Rohan, have been contributing a lot. They have been more active than any member in the Sports Ministry I must say.
Every Monday, they have allocated time to discuss the formulation of the sporting structure and their office will be ready soon. We cannot forget the contribution of the Commander of the Sri Lanka Army Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva, who has been very involved with most of the decisions that are taken during the council meetings, regardless of the other responsibilities that have been assigned to him in preventing the Covid-19 outbreak in the country.
Lt. Gen. Silva ensures that he allocates the necessary time to take part in the sports-related discussions with the council members. The entire Council is working very hard. I must say that they are doing this on a voluntary basis and do not get anything out of it. At the end of the day, what we get is self-satisfaction when the country wins medals or sets records.
How are you working with the challenges that are presented by this pandemic, especially having to stage team sports events such as the upcoming Lanka Premier League (LPL) tournament?
When you take the LPL, that type of event can work within a travel bubble. The world has proven that it works – the Indian Premier League is a good example and India’s tour of Pakistan is a good example. All over the world, they are holding matches under this method. It is tested and proved to be successful; it is not going to be a big issue for us.
In terms of rugby, yes, New Zealand and Australia are conducting matches; it is proven that you can move forward in life even with a pandemic. So, it is about time that Sri Lanka also moves with the new normal lifestyle.
The person who was advising us about taking health precautions, the World Health Organisation (WHO) Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has also contracted Covid-19, so he advised us on what measures need to be in place.
We need to learn from our mistakes, and see how we can incorporate inter-organisational structures and create safe bubbles where we can continue with our sporting activities, tourism, or any other sector and open up the country.
That is the only way forward for the country and for its people.