The first step on the long march to Olympic glory was taken with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe launching the ‘Prime Minister’s Sports Fund’ at Temple Trees last evening (7th).
In an unprecedented boost to local sport, the Government of Sri Lanka has set up a special fund solely for the use of elite athletes in the country. The initial allocation to the Prime Minister’s Sports Fund is Rs. 50 million and it is expected to rise to Rs. 200 million annually.
“We are keen to ensure that our talented athletes get every support and help in their bid to win gold for Sri Lanka in the international arena. Sports is an area which has been neglected in the past, and we hope with the help of the corporate community we can redress this situation,” Prime Minister Wickremesinghe remarked.
The Prime Minister later presented a cheque for Rs. 50 million to Suresh Subramaniam, president of the National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka on Tuesday. The NOC will oversee the fund.
“Sports unites all communities together and I hope this fund will help bring all our people closer and in support of our athletes,” the Hon. Wickremesinghe told 154 athletes bound for the Asian Games at a felicitation ceremony on Tuesday.
Ten of the athletes received their national colours from the Prime Minister. Sri Lanka will be represented by 177 athletes in 29 sports at the August 18-September 2 showpiece in Jakarta and Palembang.
Susanthika Jayasinghe, one of only two Olympic medalists the country has produced, said at the launch of the fund: “It gives me great happiness to see the government getting behind our talented sportsmen and sportswomen. In the past, we have had to conquer many hurdles to reach the top and I hope this money will make it easier for the athletes today to achieve their goals.”
The Prime Minister’s Sports Fund will be handled by the National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka who will set up a special committee to administer as well as make recommendations as to worthy recipients of the money.
The committee will be chaired by Saman Ekanayake, Secretary to the Prime Minister, and will include Dinesh Weerakkody, chairman of Hatton National Bank and close aide to the Hon. Wickremesinghe, Maxwell De Silva, secretary general of the National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka, as well as one senior official each from the Ministry of Sport, Treasury and President’s Secretariat.
“This is a massive boost for local sport. For the very first time, the government of Sri Lanka is rolling up its sleeves and getting involved in sport. This is just the start for we have been assured of more funds in the future. There will be an annual provision for sport and I expect it to be in the hundreds of millions,” said an elated Suresh Subramaniam, president of the NOC of Sri Lanka.
The fund will solely be used to help elite athletes realise their dreams of winning medals at the Olympics, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games, World Championships, Asian Championships and South Asian Games. It will not be used to develop athletes at the grass roots level.
The initial target will be to identify athletes in three or four sports which have the best chances of winning medals at international multi-sports Games.
“This fund will be a huge help for talented athletes. There are many young athletes, especially from the provinces who have no access to funds and this will help them focus on their training without having other worries,” De Silva added.
The long-term goal of the National Olympic Committee is to use the Prime Minister’s Sports Fund to set up an elite sports academy styled on perhaps the Australian Institute of Sports which is focused on giving the country’s best athletes the best environment to train and pursue Olympic glory.