Senior rugby players avoid national team

A group of Sri Lanka’s most senior national rugby players are staying away from the national team after being overlooked for the captaincy.

The unprecedented decision was taken after the President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s son, Yoshitha, was appointed captain in February for the HSBC Five Nation rugby Asiad in the Philippines.

Two of the senior players, Fazil Marija and Roshan Weerarathne of Kandy Sports Club (Kandy SC) are playing in New Zealand while the national currently tours Philippines.

The former vice captain Marija is currently the most senior national rugby football player in Sri Lanka.

“I can’t say whether Marija was disappointed for being overlooked for the captaincy but obviously there are reasons for him to be disappointed,” says Malik Samarawickrama, the trustee of the Kandy SC.

“He has been playing for the country for eight years and is the most suitable to be appointed the captain in my opinion,” he told BBC Sinhala service, Sandeshaya.

Former captain Pradeep Liyanage, Gayan Weerarathne Shan Wijesinghe and Dilshan Lewke are among the others who have decided to stay away from the national team for various reasons.

Writing in Ravaya newspaper, journalist Tiran Kumara Bangamaarachchi says the “courageous decision” might even mark the end of national career for many of the players.

Addressing media before the national team’s departure for Philippines, new captain Yoshitha Rajapaksa has described the players who stayed away from the team as “traitors.”

“I view the decision by certain senior rugby players to play for other countries or take rest instead of playing for the country as a treacherous act,” Rajapaksa, a young naval officer, said.

But Mr Samarawickrama, a strongman of the main opposition United National party (UNP), says both Marija and Weerarathne were given prior permission by Sri Lanka Rugby Rugby Union (SLRFU) to travel to New Zealand.

“Any player has a fundamental right of deciding whether to play for the country,” Malik Samarawickrama told BBC Sinhala service.

“And how can Yoshitha describe them as traitors when he himself returned from the team just before the crucial final game against Singapore to take part in a car race in Colombo,” he questioned.

BBC Sandeshaya could not contact Sports Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage or SLRFU president Asanga Senevirathne despite repeated attempts. (BBC Sinhala)