The path of an athlete heading towards the international centre stage is riddled with strenuous training and capacity building. The commitment, dedication and ‘never-give-up’ attitude are key characteristics that would give way to achieving their dreams.
Most budding young athletes from rural regions in Sri Lanka lack the support they need financially, physically and mentally to show their true potential. However, the ‘Next Champ’ programme initiated by Crysbro in tandem with the National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka (NOCSL) has demonstrated the importance of private sector contributions, as it has uplifted over 150 talented youth athletes to help them reach the international sports arena.
The programme aims to provide financial assistance to more competitive youth from underprivileged regions, who have the potential to enter flagship events such as the Youth Olympic Games 2022, Asian Games 2022, Commonwealth Games 2022, and 2023 South Asian Games. The initiative has also successfully produced a collection of athletes who secured gold and silver medals at the 2019 South Asian Games in Nepal.
Much like how a doctor must go through a step-by-step learning experience through degrees and master’s degrees to finally achieving the PhD., a world-class athlete’s single stint at a single event is followed by years- sometimes decades of hard work and dedication.
But the support isn’t just the athlete’s capabilities and potential, especially in Sri Lanka, as the collective coalition of the National Olympic Committee, Ministry of Sports, Department of Sport Development and the private sector to support and provide exposure to the athlete is critical in local as well as international events, according to NOCSL Secretary General, Maxwell De Silva.
“There must be a step-by-step process in place to ascertain how we are going to progress, and first and foremost is the proper identification of talented athletes, which is very important. For potential athletes, we want to find out whether they are fully committed and also whether their parents are committed- because it is a very tough choice,” Maxwell De Silva said.
Applications are called for from the National Federation, which are then shortlisted and monitored by a team from the NOC for progress. This step is also challenging as young athletes may drop out or get injured, so the committee has to be cautious throughout the process.
To support the potential young athletes, private entities would generally sign up as sponsors and join the athlete and the NOC through the journey of training, execution and achievement. At this stage, most athletes would be highlighted and exposed through these private entities, and their financial, training and nutritional requirements would also be supported by them.
While thanking Sri Lankan poultry producer Crysbro for their prompt initiative, De Silva noted, “I am very thankful to the Crysbro team for coming forward at a time when no one else came to support the athletes, and through the Crysbro Next Champ programme, we found over 20 very talented athletes who are being supported in every aspect”.
Bringing an example on the athlete’s commitment from the Indian Gold Medallist Neeraj Chopra, who won the Men’s javelin through event at the Tokyo Olympics, De Silva said that India came up with a world-class athlete within 3 years, and that goes to show the dedication the athlete, the training and the commitment.
“We need athletes like that as well, keen and resilient individuals who are willing to go the extra mile to make things happen,” he said.
Exposing local coaches to superior training methods, training athletes and using research – which hasn’t been done yet – will not only attract the private sector, but will bring everyone together to produce world-ranking athletes.
Moreover, no country has produced athletes who can master every sport, and it is ideal for the relevant bodies to identify which sport Sri Lanka is good at, to go ahead with that decision and master the sport.
In today’s context, unless the athlete is ranked in the top 20 or top 50, that athlete is viewed as an unfit medallist. However, the possibility still persists. What needs to be ideally done is set realistic goals and envision realistic outcomes, so that all stakeholders can plan, execute and ensure success on a step-by-step basis.
Further, an important area that still lacks attention in Sri Lanka is the psychological and mental health of athletes. In 2010, the NOC brought down mental health experts from Australia for a five-day programme and unfortunately, most of the national federation did not send their top athletes for that training, for the simple reason that it would disrupt their ongoing training for the Asian Games.
“Sadly we never won a medal, but they could’ve learned something. The athlete also needs to understand the importance of this. You need to understand how to manage the pressure,” he also said.
This year it was highlighted more by Yupun, who was running at the Tokyo Olympics. “It’s a good lesson for all of us, but that area has to be relooked at and athletes, as well as the National Federation and the Ministry of Sports need to pay more attention to mental health.
“We’ve taken the simple step of promoting youth in this country with Crysbro. If there are more to target, I’m sure we need to look at the talent in this country, harness them and help them, similar to what was done during the time of Hon. S.B. Dissanayake, who did a great job in producing world-class athletes,” De Silva also said.
“Crysbro’s success is they started in rural areas and they developed their business in a very hard way. That is a lesson I learned from them, their Chairman had a very tough time bringing the company to where it is today. So he had a dream and he turned it into a reality by working hard. So that is the lesson to athletes. You have to dream, you have to walk that dream and be successful,” he added.
“Athletes have to show that they are fighting, that they want to produce something, and if everyone gets together and puts a plan in place, I’m sure with the current minister we can produce results. The one thing I want to say is, “less talk and more results,” he noted.