Thuggery and bad behaviour
Have no place in school sport
By Sujith Silva and Lawrence Heyn
“A violent young troublemaker, typically one of a gang”. This is how the Oxford Dictionary defines a hooligan and attributes it to perhaps from the surname of a fictional rowdy Irish family in a music-hall song of the 1890s. This evolved into “hooliganism”, and many English newspapers of that era started to use it to describe the misbehaving youth gangs when reporting their heinous crimes on the streets of London.
Much later the terms hooliganism and hooligans found a permanent place not only in the English vocabulary but with English football. A hooligan is described as “A violent troublemaker whose behaviour is associated with or motivated by their support of a soccer team.”
With the passing of time, hooliganism is not a malady in just English football but a universal problem afflicting sport and society in general. Sri Lanka has had its share of hooliganism manifesting itself most prominently in school sport. We, at Quadrangle, feel the time is ripe to address this growing problem and offer some solutions and encourage our schools and sporting institutions to take a firm stand in dealing with bad crowd behavior.
Sri Lankans love their sport and when it comes to their alma mater their loyalties and passion overflow. This tends to spill over into the playing fields and most of the time ends up in causing disturbance to the game, a nuisance to players and an embarrassment to their institutions. Though not that aggressive or violent as English Football hooligans, some of our sports fans, especially those who come from some of the leading schools, are trying to emulate them with aggressive and abusive behaviour when supporting their teams. This is seen in so many ways – abuse of an umpire or referee, or provoking opposing teams and their supporters.
This is more prevalent among boys’ schools. Largely, some of the “‘Old Boys” or past pupils are responsible for instigating violence on sports fields or at least setting bad examples for the younger ones. At the same time, pushy parents who fail to understand the sport, leave alone the rules of the game, openly scream from the sidelines while abusing referees. Sadly, they forget that these are schoolboys who are playing and representing their alma mater and this is just a sport be it cricket, rugger or marbles. The spirit of the game has gone out of the window. School sport has become too professional, with big investments and pride at stake, for most it is now “win at any cost”.
Going through the annals of school sport in Sri Lanka during the past century, we can see that there have been incidents or misconduct by schoolboys and old boys at big matches or traditional matches. These took the form of dissent against referees’ or umpires’ decisions or invasion of the playing field. These actions were condemned and not tolerated by authorities and administrators. Most of these cases were promptly dealt with, and appropriate disciplinary action taken.
Sometimes school principals had taken extreme measures, such as suspending a team for an entire season or suspending the sport for few more seasons. These steps were taken with the best interests of the boys, the school and the game in mind. The actions or punishments would have left a lasting memory on many a boy and, a sound lesson learnt. This also enabled the teachers to inculcate the best values of sports in the minds of the students. The students, teachers and coaching staff were expected to conduct themselves well and uphold the spirit of the game. This was to promote sportsmanship, build camaraderie with opposing players and gain valuable lessons of participation and representation.
There had been many instances where sporty declarations made or decisions taken by captains and players on the field which lived up to the principle of playing the game in the true spirit. There are many fine examples of this and we document some of them below:
Royal College Vs S. Thomas’ College Battle of the Blues 1st XI cricket encounter
The Thomians were struggling to save the match at 76 for 8, chasing 188 runs for victory. S. Thomas’ College captain Roy Hermon graciously offered fifteen extra minutes to the Royalists to try and win the match in spite of his own team facing the defeat. However, Thomian grit prevailed and the match was drawn.
Trinity College Vs S. Thomas’ College 1st XI cricket encounter
- Thomas’ College, under the captaincy of L.S. (Shelton) Gauder, managed to beat Trinity College by innings within a day thanks to a sporting gesture by Trinity captain Edward Buultjens who allowed an extra over to be bowled.
Royal College Vs Wesley College 1st XI cricket
Its recorded that Harold Matthysz of Wesley College was given out to a catch that went off his boot. Whilst the batsman was walking off, Mahesh Rodrigo the Royal College captain, called back the batsman to the wicket.
St. Joseph’s College Vs Royal College 1st XI cricket
Mahinda de Silva, captain of St. Joseph’s College, sportingly allowed the Royalists to bat the final few overs so they could win the match. This was after the umpires wanted to call off the game due to bad light and also due to the slight drizzle. Royalists obliged, they batted and won the match. Later it was reported that Mahinda de Silva was carried off the field by the Royalists on their shoulders.
Royal College Vs Nalanda College 1st XI cricket encounter
Royal College captain Sarath Samarasinghe, also the wicket-keeper, who had the ball in his hands, refrained from running out the opposing batsman when he could have as the batsman had collided with a fielder in the middle.
Royal College Vs S. Thomas’ College Battle of the Blues 1st XI cricket encounter
Its reported two Royal College cricket captains Channa Gunesekera (1949) and Tuan Saldin (1976) on two separate occasions recalled their opposing team S. Thomas’ College batsmen to resume the innings after being given out by the umpire in controversial circumstances.
Do we see or hear any such sporting gestures, decisions or stories on conduct of sportsmanship by anyone these days?
A very well-known sports columnist of a bygone era, Eustace Rulach, former Trinity College cricket captain (1951) presumably spotted the corrosion setting in on local schools sport and penned his thoughts with a heavy heart as follows in The Ceylon Observer, 26th March, 1959. He highlighted two incidents which took place during that year’s Royal-Thomian “Battle of the Blues” and Josephian-Peterite “Battle of the Saints”.
According to the journalist, back then these were the worst he witnessed when reporting on Schools Sports.
Let’s have Cricket, not antics
STOP THIS ROWDY CROWD BEHAVIOUR
By Eustace Rulach (The Ceylon Observer, 26th March 1959. Page 09)
“How sporting are our Ceylon schools cricket fans? From the disgraceful behavior at the two big matches in Colombo during the past two weekends, it seems that although the standard of the game has improved considerably this season, the sense of sportsmanship displayed by those who watch the game has deteriorated immensely.
“The social significance of these big matches seems to be more emphasised than the cricket itself, particularly this year. There were hundreds who turned up at the Oval during the two weekends who did not give a damn for the cricket that was being played. They came there to have a good time, and in doing so nearly ruined the game both for the players and the cricket enthusiasts’.
“A demonstration of bad manners by a section of the crowd in the pavilion who booed the Thomian captain when he failed to declare the second inning closed during the closing stages of the second day’s play. Then at the Josephian Peterite match an unruly crowd stormed the Josephian dressing room and forced skipper Claude Perera to make a declaration.
“The bars were well-patronised and the liquor was guzzled down faster than the runs registered on the scoreboard.
“The final fifteen minutes of the game (Josephian-Peterite) was reduced to a farce with sections of the crowd walking on the field as though they were taking a Sunday evening stroll.”
How would Eustace have reacted to the following incidents, the worst recorded in the past two decades?
Please remove your rose-coloured glasses and read the following list of various incidents, the worst reported cases since 2000. This is not an attempt to point fingers at any institution or association or individual, but just to highlight the reality and escalation of hooliganism in school sport. This does not involve various on or off-field protests, complaints, withdrawals or walkovers by school teams.
A list of reported some of the major incidents at Schools Sports in Sri Lanka since year 2001 to 2016.
Year Match Incident
2001 Isipathana College, Colombo vs St. Anthony’s College Katugastota, Schools Rugby League Tournament Finals at CR & FC Grounds, Colombo.
St. Anthony’s College won the match (and became the Champions of the tournament) after a tense game. Soon after the final whistle was blown a section of the spectators went berserk by throwing around chairs and bottles. Pandemonium raged resulting in damages to property of CR & FC Grounds (including club house). However amidst the chaos in a sporting gesture both teams met inside the dressing room of the losing team to shake hands and embrace each other.
2002 68th Annual St. Joseph’s College Colombo vs St. Peter’s College Colombo, Cricket Big Match at Colombo Oval
Crowd invasions onto the playing field during the latter part of the 2nd day of the match and repeated interruptions to play caused delays. When the stumps were drawn both teams had realistic chances of winning the match. Chasing a target of 225 to win, St. Joseph’s College was placed 221/9.
2004 70th Annual St. Joseph’s College Colombo vs St. Peter’s College Colombo, Cricket Big Match at Colombo Oval
Crowd invasions onto the playing field; during the 2nd day of the match spectators invading the field caused delays. When the stumps were drawn chasing a target of 175 to win, St. Joseph’s College was placed 158/7.
2005 Wesley College Colombo vs Kingswood College Kandy, 2nd leg of Annual Blaze Trophy Rugby match cum Schools Knockout tournament Semi Final match at CR & FC Grounds
A tense game which went into ‘Extra Time’ after scores were deadlocked during the full time. A scuffle broke out in the middle of the field soon after the final whistle was blown. Players from the bench and spectators also joined in the melee. The award presentation was called off (and the Annual Blaze Trophy encounter was not played until 2013).
2007 Trinity College Kandy vs Kingswood College Kandy Rugger match at Pallekelle Stadium
Following the final whistle after a tense game, there were on-filed clashes between players and spectators and it was reported that the referee was assaulted by a then senior Sri Lankan Rugby player in the dressing room.
(The referee along with a couple of players from both sides were injured. SLRFU, Schools Rugby Association and Referees Union came together in taking action against the incident and Police arrested the offenders including school children. The Referees Union issued a statement boycotting matches hosted by Trinity College at Pallekelle. Kingswood College called off the remainder of their season as many players were unable to take part owing to injuries sustained during the clash)
2007 Wesley College Colombo vs Thurstan College Colombo Rugger match at CR & FC Grounds
After the game concluded, a bunch of supporters from both schools clashed on field and one of the touch judges (assistant referee) was injured.
2008 – Off field incidents involving supporters (after games concluded) were reported during some of the Schools Rugby matches (Dharmaraja College Kandy vs Trinity College Kandy, St. Peter’s College Colombo vs St. Joseph’s College Colombo, Isipathana College Colombo vs Thurstan College Colombo) and also a stone throwing incident during the Bradby encounter (Royal College Colombo vs Trinity College Kandy) at Royal Sports Complex.
2009 All Island Schools Basketball Finals S. Thomas’ College Mt. Lavinia vs St. Peter’s College Colombo at Mt. Lavinia. A post-match brawl between schoolboys inside the school premises turned ugly which resulted in injuries to some of the students from both schools. The matter ended up at Mt Lavinia Police and the relationships between the two schools were strained to an extent.
2009 Kingswood College Kandy vs Isipathana College Colombo, Schools Rugby match at Bogambara Stadium.
Crowd troubles after a tense game resulted in injuries to players from both sides
2010 93rd Annual Battle of the Blues Kandy, Trinity College Kandy vs St. Anthony’s College Katugastota, Cricket Big Match at Katugastota
An unpleasant incident occurred at the St. Anthony’s College dressing room where a player was assaulted by a spectator. The game was held up for some time before order was restored.
2010 St. Peter’s College Colombo vs Isipathana College Colombo, Schools Rugby Knockout semifinal at CR & FC Grounds
Spectators started throwing objects on to the playing field and referee was forced to call off the game. St. Peter’s College was leading at the time match was called off.
(Later St. Peter’s College was awarded the match by the Schools Rugby Association and they were scheduled to play the finals against Royal College at the Royal Sports Complex. However the final was suspended at the last minute by the authorities due to a court order obtained by Isipathana College. The two teams, St. Peter’s College and Royal College, however still played the game albeit as a friendly encounter, with St Peter’s College winning 29–27. After two years, the court case was dismissed and the two schools – St. Peter’s College and Royal College were jointly awarded the Schools Knockout Championship Trophy)
2011 Royal College Colombo vs Isipathana College Colombo, Schools Rugby match at Royal Sports Complex
Play was suspended several times owing to spectators throwing objects to the field.
2012 68th Bradby Shield encounter, 1st leg Royal College Colombo vs Trinity College Kandy, Schools Rugby match at Royal Sports Complex
Minutes before the half time, a section of the spectators who were jeering after a refereeing decision started directing their abuse at the Referee while throwing plastic bottles onto the field. The referee along with his assistant referees walked off the field. There was an argument taking place between officials from the two schools while play was suspended. The game was nearly called off with crowd getting restless. However play commenced almost after a fifteen minutes break.
2013 84th Annual Battle of the Maroon between Ananda College Colombo vs Nalanda College Colombo, Schools Cricket Big Match at Colombo SSC
A clash erupted after spectators invaded the playing field on the 2nd day and Police had to use tear gas to disperse the crowd and bring the situation under control.
2013 Kingswood College Kandy vs St. Anthony’s College Katugastota, Schools Rugby match at Bogambara Stadium.
A scuffle broke out in the second half of the game, when a player who lay on the ground was kicked by the opponents’ players on the bench, and the match was subsequently called off. Scores of players were hospitalized after the incident.
2013 Royal College Colombo vs Isipathana College Colombo, Schools Rugby match at Royal Sports Complex
Royal players walked off the field in the 59th minute of play when the scores were level at 20-all alleging that Isipathana players were endangering their players with foul play. Then the Royal Principal announced that he asked his players to withdraw for their safety. He also announced that victory was awarded to Isipathana College.
(Later, an inquiry was held by the Schools Rugby Association and it was decided to call the match results as a ‘Draw’. Referees Union took action against the match Referee for poor handling of the game)
2013 St. Peter’s College Colombo vs Science College Mt Lavinia, Schools Rugby match at Bambalapitiya.
After a tense game a section of the (losing side) spectators and couple of players verbally abused the referee (while some spectators tried to manhandle the referee). The visiting team’s dressing room at St. Peter’s College Pavilion was also vandalized.
(The Referees Union protested against the incident and issued a statement citing their Referees would not officiate in matches involving Science College. Science College took immediate measures to han suspensions to their Vice Captain, Manager and the Coach)
2013 69th Bradby Encounter 2nd leg between Royal College Colombo vs Trinity College Kandy, Schools Rugby match at Royal Sports Complex
Disruptions to a pre match ‘Haka’ performed by Trinity College team by Royal College players
(The intimidating tactics used by players, without a provocation was not welcomed by many)
2013 St. Joseph’s College Colombo vs Dharmaraja College Kandy, Schools Rugby match at CR & FC Grounds.
After the conclusion of a tense game a section of the crowd along with a coach of the winning team started verbally abusing the referee (it was reported that the referee was assaulted).
2013 St. Peter’s College Colombo vs Isipathana College Colombo Rugger match at Sugathadasa Stadium
The Referee was verbally abused by a few spectators of the winning team after the conclusion of the match. The game was played in the best spirit and it was a close game.
(The Referees Union issued a statement boycotting matches involving Dharmaraja College, St. Joseph’s College and Isipathana College and the schools rugby league came to a standstill before Schools Rugby Association and the Referees Union came to an agreement on safety of Referees and on how to conduct the schools matches. The coach of Dharmaraja College was handed a suspension for his action against the Referee while the Master in Charge of St. Joseph’s College was handed a suspension over the lack of security provided for officials when the school hosted the match)
2014 109th ‘Lovers Quarrel’ between Mahinda College Galle vs Richmond College Galle, Schools Cricket Big Match at Galle International Stadium
The match was abandoned almost one hours ahead of schedule (on the 2nd day) due to an unruly crowd invasion on to the playing field. Mahinda College were struggling at 126 for nine wickets in their 2nd innings in the follow on and still needing a further three runs to avert an innings defeat. Richmond College was awarded an outright victory by the Match Officials
2015 D.S. Senanayake College Colombo vs Mahanama College Colombo, Schools Cricket 50 over Big Match at SSC Grounds
Crowd invasion on-to the playing field ended with a brawl between spectators from both sides. Police had to get involved to disperse the crowd. The match was abandoned, however it was awarded to D.S. Senanayake College.
2015 24th Dr. R.L Hayman Trophy Water Polo encounter, 1st leg between Royal College Colombo and S. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia at the Sugathadasa Indoor Stadium. Post-match crowd troubles after (a section of) spectators from both sides clashed.
2016 82nd Annual St. Joseph’s College Colombo vs St. Peter’s College Colombo, Schools Cricket Big Match at Colombo Oval
Regular crowd invasions on to the playing field during the 2nd day of the match and repeated interruptions to play caused delays. When umpires called off the game owing to bad light St. Peter’s College chasing 66 runs to win in 12 overs were left stranded at 59 for four wickets in the tenth over.
(The Rector of St. Joseph’s College awarded the match to St. Peter’s College during the post-match award presentation)
2016 S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia vs Richmond College Galle, Schools Cricket under 19 (1st XI) League Tournament quarter final encounter at Mt. Lavinia
The match ended abruptly as players of the visiting team allegedly questioned an umpiring decision and refused to continue the game.
(Later, after an inquiry two players from Richmond College including a National youth cap were suspended by the Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association. The match was awarded to S. Thomas’ College as they were leading at the time of halting the match)
2016 St. Servatius’ College Matara vs St. Sebastian’s College Moratuwa, Schools Cricket under 19 (1st XI) League Tournament quarter final encounter at Uyanwatta
The match ended abruptly due to player agitation.
(Later, after an inquiry a prominent player from St. Sebastian’s College who was also a National youth Cap was suspended on disciplinary grounds. The match was replayed)
2016 Dharmaraja College Kandy vs St. Joseph’s College Colombo, Schools Rugby match at the Bogambara Stadium, Kandy.
A scuffle broke out late in the second half of the game, when a player who was given a Yellow Card by the referee threw a punch at an opposing player while stepping out of field and players in the bench joined along with few spectators from the sidelines joined in attacking opposing team. Scores of players were hospitalized after the incident with St. Joseph’s College forced to call off their remaining match (the traditional big match against St. Peter’s College) as some of their key players were severely injured.
(An inquiry was held under the direction of Education Ministry and several players of Dharmaraja College were suspended while the College 1st XV team was suspended for one season)
2016 Isipathana College Colombo Vs Science College Mt. Lavinia, Schools Rugby match at Havelocks SC
With the final whistle, the crowd invaded the field and referee was subject to verbal abuse by the spectators.
2016 2nd leg of 72nd Bradby Shield encounter Trinity College Kandy Vs Royal College Colombo, Schools Rugby match at Pallekelle Stadium, Kandy.
A scuffle broke out soon after the award presentation on the podium when both teams wanted to raise the Shield after the 73rd Bradby was declared a tie.
(At an inquiry which was held under the direction of Education Ministry for the incidents involving the Schools Rugby season, Trinity College 1st XV was handed a 06 month suspension for the post-match incident)
2016 Trinity College Kandy vs Science College Mt. Lavinia, Schools Rugby match at Pallekelle Stadium
After a tense game, the Referee was subject to abuse by spectators and was escorted off the field.
(Both the Referees Union and Trinity College were at loggerheads over the incident. The Referees Union issued a statement boycotting matches hosted by Trinity College at Pallekelle stadium owing to the lack of safety and Trinity College protested against the poor standard of refereeing by the referee appointed by the Referees Union. Later Trinity College took steps to beef up security at the venue including providing security to players and officials)
Off these 33 incidents, seven incidents have been recorded in the years 2013 and 2016 (so far). Compare these to isolated incidents reported in the 90’s or ‘80s or even the ‘70s this is a very high figure. Granted there are many sports being played nowadays and many schools are involved. Yet that should not give rise to sports violence as such violence defeats the whole object of engaging and following a sport. The enjoyment, experience, participation and nurturing good values limited to words.
If examined closely, one can notice that most of the incidents (23) were related to schools’ rugby and stemmed from ill-tempered player behaviour or abusive spectators who reacted to refereeing decisions.
The present-day rugby followers are very much in tune with the game and the laws. The media, internet and the advent of social media has made it easy for rugby enthusiasts to follow the game, closely. At the same time whether they can interpret t21he laws correctly or not is a different question. Admittedly, there have been poor decisions taken by referees during some of the games. But this is not something new and not confined to Sri Lankan schools rugby. It has even happened and continues at the highest level, at IRB Rugby World Cups, international rugby matches etc. This is an issue faced by the IRB too.
While we push the authorities, Referees Unions to get their houses in order, as sports loving spectators, administrators and old boys we must continue to respect and obey the referee’s whistle. If one feels hard done by or wants to challenge the decision, there is a system in place or a process to follow. Taking the law in to our hands is not the way. Needless to say, by doing so, we set the wrong example to young ones.
Spectators can now capture action through their mobile phones and stream them live via multiple social media platforms or post them later after editing. Any mistake, error or act would be therefore subject to scrutiny in the public domain. You don’t need commissions or panels to inquire. Opinionating, implicating or crucifying on social media an offender or a fellow human being, who made a simple judgmental error within a split second, can put an end to a career.
Therefore, the administrators of the game, including the respective schools need to realise the gravity of the situation, the demand and the challenges. They need to ensure they conduct these tournaments and matches in safe and secure environments; their decisions need to be transparent and not biased, and should be centered on the welfare of the students. In order to promote the game and keep its interest alive, punitive action needs to be taken as and when required. We urge students, their parents and old boys to enjoy the game and take a win or loss in the right spirit. This will help all stakeholders uphold the sportsmanship and its values.
What is alarming in school cricket is bad spectator behaviour at Big Matches. That too, is caused by some old boys who come to big matches only to have a jolly good time, meet old acquaintances and spoil the party after a couple of drinks. This year’s Battle of the Saints cricket big match is a case in point, likewise the same with Kandy’s Battle of the Blues in 2010, Battle of the Maroons in 2013 and Lover’s Quarrel in 2014.
It has been a tradition, in most of the big matches where spectators invade the field, to congratulate a player when he has reached a milestone. More than the thrills of running into the field chased by security guards and poor college prefects on duty, these invaders assume it’ll give some cheap entertainment to the public too. It has now gone a step further, where invaders pause for a moment to take a “selfies” in the middle with umpires or players and upload it to social media. Hats off to the organisers of the blue-ribbon big match, the Battle of the Blues, as they have managed to curtail pitch invasions while others have failed to do so properly.
Maybe the venue they have picked, the Sinhalese Sports Club to host Royal-Thomian matches, provides that extra security and proper fencing compared to Colombo Oval or Asgiriya which is open and easily accessible for invasions.
Sadly, pitch invasions are being used by some camps tactically to delay the proceedings or delay the inevitable loss. This has been the root cause of the incidents listed above. Running on to the field or walking on the field must be banned.
Also, as responsible Old Boys, we need to discipline ourselves and not disturb the play or spoil the enjoyment of others.
With my little knowledge, in event management and sports administration, here I am sharing a few things to be done or avoided to ensure we conduct sports encounters in a much safer, secure and enjoyable environment.
Things to Do
- Encourage students to uphold the spirit of the game at any cost when participating in sports or when supporting their teams.
- Encourage parents, Old Boys and well-wishers to abide by the principles of the school and conduct themselves in an exemplary manner.
- When hosting matches, strengthen all security measures including crowd control.
- Provide adequate security for match referees, umpires and visiting teams.
- Arrange proper seating and shelter for spectators.
- Put up notices at match venues on security measures and rules and regulations of the venue that need to be followed.
- Do not let spectators invade or walk on to the playing field until all players and match officials leave the field.
- Employ zero tolerance by warning and ejecting all misbehaving or abusive spectators from match venues.
Things Not to Do
- Pushing children to “Win at any cost” when taking part in sports.
- Engage in acts, publicity campaigns or announcements to students or Old Boys that ignite hatred or animosity towards opposing teams.
- Allow easy access to stands or pavilions without security checks.
- Allow spectators to carry glass bottles and cans into the stands.
- Allow spectators to walk on the playing fields while a match is in progress.
We spoke to Rev. Fr. Travis Gabriel, Rector of St Joseph’s College, Colombo 10. He had to make some tough calls and had to face challenging situations during this year when it came to sports at Darley Road. Two of the toughest incidents he faced were in two contrasting situations. One was at the annual big match where ill-disciplined crowds disrupted the match and the other was at Bogambara where his 1st XV rugby team was mercilessly beaten up by the host team and their supporters.
Here Rev.Fr. Travis Gabriel shares his views: ‘It’s really good to see people coming in numbers to see students playing and representing their alma mater. They also make it a point to meet their friends and to have a good time. However, whether it’s a big match or just a friendly match all should remember these are schoolboys, children playing sports. What we tell the players and students is that no matter who you play with what matters is not the score at the end of the day but how you play the game. We try to teach them from early days to play it well, play it clean. Also we promote the values of sport and what they can gain from it’.
“We want them to be competitive but uphold the spirit of the game out there. At the same time, as spectators we (Old Boys and parents) have a big role to play. We need to ensure we enjoy the performance of the players and conduct ourselves in a responsible manner without disturbing the game, the players or the others. It’s good to see old boys rallying around their respective schools. But they need to adhere to the rules and regulations. They don’t have any right to disrupt the proceedings or the game.
“When you look back at what happened during this year’s Josephian-Peterite big match, there were disruptions where some old boys were regularly invading the field. It was clear on that day, one team, that was St Peter’s College, was heading for victory and some of the supporters of St Joseph’s College were deliberately trying to delay the game. Unfortunately, we couldn’t control the crowd too.
“As the Rector of St Joseph’s College, I felt leaving aside our alliances, attitudes or egos, we need to ensure, at the end of the day, the game of cricket should win. Nothing else should stand between it. We teach children to uphold sportsmanship and be fine sportsmen. We teach them to play well, play right and play to win but not to win at any cost. Here, right in front of us was an opportunity to teach the young ones these principles through example”.
“I did not hesitate to take the call, that too the right one (to award St Peter’s the match). I was confident that I was taking the right decision, and when the umpires called it off, I spent some time alone on deciding what the correct decision should be. I was not concerned about how people would react to it and what they would think about me. All I wanted was to take the best and the right decision, in the interests of the game and also considering this as an opportunity to teach a lesson or two to children. It was obvious, some were not be happy with it but when you want to take the right decision, I cannot become the popular or the favourite person of all”.
“So after I decided, I prayed for a few minutes silently and got the blessings and then went up to the stage and announced my decision that St Peter’s College deserved the win and the trophy should be awarded to them. It was not a hard decision. I’m pleased I took the right decision at that moment.”
Talking about the incident at Bogambara, where Josephian rugby players were beaten up during a match, Fr. Travis had this to say: “The principal of Dharmaraja College was very cooperative. They accepted their mistakes and lapses and apologised for what happened. I didn’t want to pursue the matter further as I wanted the school and the Schools Rugby Association to take the right decisions in addressing the issue. Which they did”.
“I told them what we needed to do is to promote sportsmanship, not only among players but across the school community. They (students, Old Boys and parents) should be taught how to behave at a match, how to enjoy a match and how to accept the victory and defeat. As a team, as parents and as spectators all are responsible for their conduct. If they cannot understand this and fail to act accordingly, there is something wrong. Then they should not take up sports”.
“When a school is organising a match they need to take all proper measures to ensure crowd control and security. There cannot be any lapses. I know it’s not easy but schools need to put their maximum effort towards this aspect. Unfortunately, on that day there were many lapses from the organisers and the situation got out of hand. Some of the boys who were beaten up are yet to fully recover and some parents are still hesitant about sending their children for rugby. We may take some time to recover. I Hope these things would not happen again.”
Talking of addressing hooliganism, Fr. Travis said: “I like to call upon all the young ‘Old Boys’ who come to watch matches to behave responsibly. As much as they come to cheer their team, to enjoy the game, they should conduct themselves in a manner which is not a disturbance to others or to the players or not even to spoil others’ enjoyment. I have already taken steps to address this through the OBU and made a request from the Josephians. We want them to support the boys and at the same time they should be sporty. I hope other schools too will address this issue.”
We interviewed the Warden of S. Thomas’ College, Mt Lavinia, Rev. Marc Billimoria to get his insight on the present situation of sport and the challenges faced by the schools.
Rev. Billimoria said: “I don’t think administrators of school sport understand their role or the gravity of the situation. As an example, in school cricket, the recent decision to increase the number of fixtures to accommodate the teams which are gaining promotions put lot of stress on players and schools. If you look at it, students are now playing cricket on Monday, Tuesday and Friday and Saturday. I wonder when they are going to be in classes.
“Before this decision, students used to play cricket traditionally on Fridays and Saturdays with a maximum 16 matches overall on the annual calendar, allowing them to study on other days. Now, with about 24 matches, including eight traditional fixtures, followed by 50-over encounters and a T-20 tournament, all together they play close to 40 matches for a 1st XI season – leaving them no room to continue their studies”.
“We, might have to take a difficult decision, whether to be a part of these tournaments or not. Then the impact on the academic life of the children need to be assessed. Are we going to take part for the sake of the participation or to take part in traditional fixtures and trophy matches without being bothered about tournaments? However, absence from tournaments may deny the children an opportunity to represent the national age group teams”.
“It is important to play with some of these lesser-known schools that come through tournaments, to give them exposure or an opportunity to show their talent. However, increasing eight more matches in the tournament makes life difficult for children. Where will students find time to study? It is a concern for us, we have appealed to the Education Minister, Schools Cricket Association to revoke their decision. We are not against having tournaments, it is good to have tournaments to assess the standard of cricket and schools cricket programme is one of the best in the world, but we seek for balance, and not go overboard”.
“Also on the age group issue, the Schools Cricket Association said they are changing the age group of the tournament. In March, they sent a letter saying the tournament will be under 20, so we kept the students who can play, so they didn’t pursue their higher studies or looked for jobs. Also we got to know that in some other schools, students have decided to skip AL’s to play in the tournament, and represent their teams for one more time. Just one month prior to the tournament, the association sent another letter saying the tournament had been changed back to under 19 instead of under 20. They should have at least proceeded with the decision for this year and changed the tournament back to under 19s next year. Students are affected by this decision”.
“Taking part in sport will be futile when at the end of the day school sports doesn’t benefit nor contributes positively to students. Tournaments should not be held for the benefits of sponsor, the associations or for the schools. It should be ultimately beneficial to the boys who participate. Hope going forward, all stakeholders will keep this in mind when making their policy decisions.”
On hooliganism Rev. Billimoria said: “Before any major match, I tell the boys not to get ruffled by whatever supporters of other schools say or by what your opposing players do. You are the advertisement of S. Thomas’ College and you should behave upholding the true spirit of the game. I tell them that it’s not the action that gets the penalty at times, but the reaction. If people provoke you, please don’t get provoked”.
“At matches I have informed our prefects and old boys to be alert about our own conduct. If the opposition is being booed or hissed at, those boys will be told to behave. If a student breaks the code in public and is reported we’ll be taking necessary disciplinary actions against the student”.
“I don’t think any Thomian has assaulted a referee or an umpire. I always tell them that, just remember the referee or umpire is always right, even if he makes a wrong call. That’s the rule of the game. Unfortunately, due to bad decisions we may loses matches, but that is the nature of the sport. You don’t challenge the referee or umpire on field, there are processes to follow and we should adhere to that. And we are coming close to having television umpires or a TMOs during school games. This may help in taking a lot of pressure off referees and umpires”.
“If school children can be taught the basics of how one should play the game in true sportsmanship, and to respect their opponents we can address this issue. I always tell the boys, opposition is not our enemy, they are our rivals. There is a big difference between an enemy and a rival. If you regard your opponent as an enemy then how you approach the game and the attitude changes but if you treat that person or team as a friendly rival then you build a sense of respect and your attitude too changes”.
“So respecting officials, respecting players – these are fundamentals of sports. If you don’t have such fundamentals then there’s no point in taking up sports. Mr. M. U. C. Perera, our coordinator for junior rugby, is not too concerned about developing rugby skills but for him the main responsibility is how one should conduct himself as a gentleman on the field. He teaches young Thomians how to address each other, how they should address their opponents, the match officials etc. After a match, even if we lose, to clap and cheer the winner and shake hands. Not just to run away and cry inside the dressing room”.
“Boys need to enjoy sports and should not whine about defeat. Learn and do better next time. If we win, be gracious and humble. If these lessons are being taught within the school system then there wouldn’t be any hooligans out there”.
We met the Principal of Trinity College, Mr. Andrew Fowler-Watt, who had to deal with a couple of issues on their home grounds during this year’s school rugby season.
Mr Fowler-Watt said: “What I feel, especially if you want to arrest hooliganism in school rugby, the first step should be to scrap the competitions and tournaments. Get back to square one, which is schools should concentrate on playing their traditional friendly fixtures. Unfortunately, these tournaments have now become too competitive and with so much money being pumped in, the stakes are high. So no one wants to lose. Let each school be responsible for their own performances, conduct, security and crowd control. It has been done like that in the past, for a very long period”.
“With regard to crowd troubles at games, we had a few issues this year at our home games. Though we provided security for referees, a few spectators who were agitated by some poor refereeing decisions at some of our home matches became abusive and caused trouble after games. In order to arrest this, we have installed CCTV cameras at the grounds and tightened security during home matches at Pallekelle. Especially for the dressing rooms and the passages in the grandstands”.
“So going forward, I am confident we can host matches in a more secure environment. I like to request all Trinitians, young and old, who are coming to watch matches at Pallekelle or at any other venues that they should remember what Trinity is and what Trinity stands for. We must be disciplined and conduct ourselves exemplarily well. No matter what happens in the middle or whether you are being provoked by others which would lead you to behave in a manner that is not acceptable to this great institution, you should not lose your temper or rise to the bait.”
We interviewed Mr. B.A. Abeyrathna current President of Sri Lanka Schools Rugby Association (SLSRFA) and Principal of Royal College, Colombo. Here he shares the actions taken by SLSRFA on arresting hooliganism in Schools Rugby which has escalated over the years.
“Rugby is an exciting game and a contact sport, it is now widely gaining popularity across the Island. Sri Lanka’s schools Rugby has a big following with schools actively participating with their respective Old Boys and Parents getting involved in the game either in organizing matches or helping the students to compete in tournaments. There is a lot of time, money and resources being spent by the schools and Old Boys. So they are really passionate and also expect a good result or their teams to do well on the field. Due to the nature of the sport there are more chances for confrontations, players to get in to heated situations or lose their temper. Players who are playing aggressively may at times engage in intimidating tactics on the field or may conduct themselves in unsporting manner. Invariably Old Boys, spectators and parents tend to get carried away by what they witness from outside. This has led to many unpleasant situations”.
“Everybody wants to win and some go to any length to see their team win. Most of the spectators nowadays are well conversant with the laws of the game at the same time there are a few who are not updated with the law or are not sporty but support their team mainly due to the passion and loyalty they have. With game being played at a fast pace, the players or referees on the field may make some wrong calls in split seconds. This could also be due to negligence or based on their view. Some spectators will pick these incidents up and start verbally abusing the referees or the opposing teams. With the advent of social media and mobile phones, they will go to town. This is not done. We need to be mindful that these are school children who are playing out there. Humans who are refereeing, of course they have a duty to perform to their best ability. But the spectators need to be sporty and behave in a manner which is acceptable. Players need to uphold the values of the game.
“In the same way, respective schools and their authorities have an obligation to control their spectators, provide adequate security for officials and teams. If not we, as the custodians of Schools Rugby, will have to take drastic measure. No one likes to play Rugger in front of empty stands or to have the presence of Police Officers armed with batons at venues. It will not give the right message to the students. We need spectators, we need to see that energetic and exciting atmosphere at match venues. Sponsors come on board for this. They will invest when the sport is popular and there’s a wider participation. But discipline comes first. We like to see all spectators enjoying a good game of rugby and leaving a ground without any animosity or anger against another player or spectator or even the referee”.
“We have commenced a series of programmes creating awareness about these developments and what measures need to be taken among schools. We started informing school authorities including the masters in charge of the game (rugby) at all schools about what is expected of them. We’ve had several discussions on this with the Ministry of Education including with Hon. Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam and special sports consultant Mr. Sunil Jayaweera. We will have several workshops and programmes to educate Principals and masters in charge giving them guidelines starting from recruitment of coaching staff, assessments of their skills levels, the training recommended for students, how to organize matches, crowd control, security measures, how to get the medical support (doctors and ambulances), safety requirements, etc. We have initiated this already at Royal College where we have briefed the boys and parents about their duties and what is expected from them. We also informed the Old Royalists about their roles and the support we need when hosting matches or play in the tournaments. We have taken steps to ensure our players will always uphold the spirit of the game and for us to host matches at RC Complex in a safer and conducive environment for spectators or visiting team”.
“Sri Lanka Schools Rugby Association will take all necessary means to educate and inform all those who are involved with Schools Rugby about the need to lift the standards of discipline among both players and spectators. We will take action if schools fail in their duties. We (SLSRFA) had several lapses in the past but we have now addressed them all. We have also formed a joint committee with the representatives of SLRFU in getting their expertise to run the School Rugby smoothly in the coming season which will also involve the Ministry of Sports working closely with the Ministry of Education. There will be national level programmes directed at developing the sport across all age levels. We believe all these are steps taken in the right direction to eradicate the Hooliganism from schools rugby and also to develop the game further. We need the support from schools, spectators, parents and media for this. We are looking forward to a better Schools Rugby season ahead!”
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