By Shanaka Amarasinghe
The Nittawela Farce
So I woke up early in the morning. Dragged myself out of bed and drove to Kandy last Saturday with a gut feeling in me that CR were somehow going to pull off a victory in the Kandy Lion’s den that evening. I got to the grounds early and realised that I represented about 10% of the Colombo contingent at the grounds. Watching the teams warm up, I realised the gulf that separated the Kandy boys from the rest of the rugby playing populace in this country. To a man, they looked fit, healthy and in peak condition. Rippling muscles, low body fat and spring in their collective step, it was easy to see why Kandy have been making mincemeat of less mortals for nearly a decade now.
In contrast the CR team looked young and not battle hardened. They were fit, yet lacking that final bit of athleticism that is required at the highest level. Their big boys had a higher body fat percentage then their rivals and the threes lacked the physical presence of players like Pradeep Liyanage and Sajith Mallikarachchi in his prime.
The game, live on TV, was one that was eagerly anticipated as CR had been edging ever closer to Kandy with every meeting. It was also Nalaka Weerakkody’s last game and many a fan had come to pay him homage. Before the game, the Nalaka Weerakkody stand was also opened ceremonially behind the goal post on the near side of the Nittawela ground.
All in all the game was shaping up to be a corker. However, in all the leadup we had forgotten something of vital importance. Something we all take for granted, but in the Sri Lanka context, given the politicking behind this game - we really shouldn’t have. That one thing was the referee. Dilroy Fernando was objected to before the game by Kandy. Nizam Jamaldeen had been objected to during the season by CR. This precluded the best two referees, and in my opinion the only two referees, in the country, from handling the game. The lot, unfortunately for him, and for us, fell to Orville Fernando.
What followed was the most atrocious excuse for officiating I have ever witnessed in my admittedly short rugby life. Regardless of biases, one thing that players and coaches (let’s forget spectators for the moment), expect of a referee is clarity. More often than not this game involved a whistle blast, an incomprehensible speech for about 10 seconds and a half cocked arm which required clarification as to whether it was a scrum or a penalty. There were no clear signals, and towards the end players were left plaintively crying ‘but Sir, what did I do??’ with their heads in their hands.
The Kandy try to even the scores at half time, came from a reversed penalty for CR skipper doing nothing more than gently helping Kandy scrum half Saliya Kumara on his way. What irked the visitors further is that the referee did not see the incident but seemed to react to the partisan crowd. Rugby is a contact sport, and jersey pulling is hardly a crime. Despite that, if the letter of the law was nevertheless satisfied it imperative that the referee sees the incident, or consults his touch judge, who by his non-involvement did not seem to think that the incident required any further action.
The disallowed try for CR also left a lot to be desired. Television commentators, and the player concerned, seemed to think the decision was wrong. Nevertheless, be that as it may, what was blatantly obvious was that the referee was in no position to allow or disallow the try given his positioning at the time. The touch judge, even if he was in position, was never consulted. It was a match changing decision, and should players be deprived purely out of bad positioning by referees.
Late on in the second half there was a clever driving maul set up in open play that Kandy fly half Marija could not stop legitimately. Instead he chose to come around the maul, in a blatantly offside position and TACKLE the feet of the players on the CR side of the maul. It was a violation completely unacceptable from the point of view of the rules, as well as being completely against any safety standards. It went unnoticed and unpunished and could have ended up in serious injury.
These are a mere few of the most obvious, unambiguous, indefensible errors made on the day. It was testament to the fortitude of both teams that the frustration they felt did not overflow into violent conduct. While I have always come readily to the defence or referees who are at times unjustly vilified, I do not find it at all possible to excuse or justify a performance of this nature.
What is even more worrying is the complete silence, either by design or sheer ignorance, that the media has shown in this regard. Such a pitiful display should have raised hackles in every sphere of sporting society, and even Kandy stalwarts have expressed embarrassment at the manner in which victory would have achieved. The lack of media pressure and objective analyses, will allow daylight robbery of this nature to carry on unabated. It is inexcusable that in a professional era, where players train hard and sacrifice much for their trade, that they should be so cruelly robbed of the respect they deserve as top level players.
The silent acquiescence of the larger section of the sporting public also needs to be condemned in no uncertain terms. It is all well and good to point fingers at politicians and blame them for our woes. However, we keep voting them in. In the same way we can never expect improved standards in our sport if we continuously tolerate mediocrity.
“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” - Edmun Burke
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Sunday, August 26, 2007