The 2016 edition of the South Asian Basketball Championship started on the 6th of July 2016 in Bengaluru, India.

To everyone`s surprise Sri Lanka, who is ranked second in the region, having won the silver medal in the previous edition, has declined to participate in the 2016 tournament.

The 2016 SABA tournament functions as the qualifier for the FIBA Asia challenge which is scheduled to be held in Iran in September 2016. The tournament will also act as the preliminary qualifier for FIBA`s maiden Continental Cup in 2017 that will feature teams from both the Asia & Oceania regions.

ThePapare sought answers regarding this from the Sri Lanka Basketball Federation where General Secretary Thakshila Hettiarachchi gave us the official word on the situation.

We were informed about the tournament two weeks ago; it’s too much of a short time period for us to compile a team and send in for the tour. We might at least need a month and a half for preparations. Hence the request was declined.

Sri Lanka National Team when they won the Silver Medal of the tournament in 2015
Sri Lanka National Team when they won the Silver Medal of the tournament in 2015

It all comes down to the common problem that Sri Lanka Basketball has been facing for a long time: the absence of a national pool. A national pool is an essential feature of any successful team as it allows players the opportunity to be in constant touch with the game, fosters competitiveness and provides an environment to groom newly identified talent and potential.

The Sri Lanka Basketball Association usually adopts the following process; once a tournament is announced, the federation calls for trials and selects a team based on the players’ performances during the trials. So naturally, as conveyed by the General Secretary, when a tournament is announced without proper notice being given, it makes it almost impossible for Sri Lanka to field a team.

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However, the question remains, is this the right process to be followed? Is this the process that will allow Sri Lanka to field the best possible team and have the best possible preparation? Is this what has stunted the growth of a country which is rich in talent and potential in achieving greater heights?

There is no doubt that Sri Lanka possesses talented players and coaches, however what Sri Lanka basketball does lack is proper financial backing; this has sadly been the case for many years. When it comes to funding for basketball, the answer has nearly always been a resounding ‘No’.

Is there nothing the SLBA can do about this? What if Sri Lanka starts small and goes from there? Maybe we can start with a select set of players who have participated in the national tour, form a pool and develop from there. With the development of the quality of players and officials, maybe there would be a possibility of attracting sponsors, which will in turn help the growth of the game.

The point is that if we do not start somewhere, this will not be the last time we will have to say ‘No’ to a major tournament. That in itself will stunt the growth of the game as players will have no incentive to represent Sri Lanka if we are not going to be participating in international tournaments of this sort and this is something the SLBA cannot turn a blind eye towards.

In 2017, it will be 100 years since the game was introduced to Sri Lanka. During those 100 years, there has no doubt been some growth, the women`s team are the reigning champions of the women`s SABA edition, the men won the Silver medal at last year’s championship; how unfortunate is it then that they will not be given the opportunity to better their achievement at this year’s tournament?

100 years, No national pool? Wake up Sri Lanka Basketball. Wake up.