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Indomitable spirit of true sportsmanship

Aug 26, 2011 2:30:48 PM - www.ft.lk

Much has been said and written about Arjuna Ranatunga, be it positive or negative, on the field or off the field. This is simply a parent’s perspective of what Arjuna represents in the lives of the young cricketers of today.
For two consecutive years I have watched this great legend being gracious enough to accept an invitation to be the chief guest of a very small cricket tournament involving around 150 young cricketers (under 13 and 15), some being from less privileged backgrounds.

Being a minor tournament which does not boast of heavy sponsorship in any form, which aims only at providing the youngsters with an arena to display their cricketing talent, there is no pomp or glory involved in being the ‘Chief Guest’ of this tournament. For two years now the highlight of this tournament for all these budding cricketers has been to receive awards and certificates from the great man himself.

This year as I watched Arjuna enter the cricket grounds to witness the latter half of the Under 13 final match, it occurred to me, and I hope to all others present as well, that here is one man to whom popularity, prestige and prominence means nothing. There was no press to greet him, no oil lamps to be lit, no garlands, no television coverage, not even an official photographer! Yet the attention he paid to these enthusiastic cricketers I’m sure made each of them feel as if they had just taken part in a World Cup tournament.
Many great sportsmen and women of Sri Lanka ‘talk’ grandly about promoting sports among all, irrespective of economic status, class, religion or race… but we are yet to see anyone actually ‘do’ something to achieve this goal without expecting anything in return… not even recognition.
Both years I watched as 150 youngsters listened spellbound as Arjuna delivered his speech not on cricket but on discipline, the importance of academic work and parents above everything else. It was also quite ironical to listen to him stress on the importance of parents not interfering in the cricketing lives of their children and ‘leave the coaching to the coaches,’ ironical considering the degree of interference that exists in most schools, starting from the very youngest of age groups.
This year, what hit me most as a cricketing parent was not the precious time that Arjuna separates to attend this small scale, inconsequential tournament but his instant reaction to get off his chair to attend to a young cricketer who collapsed at the awards ceremony after a hard-won match! For that youngster winning the trophy is not what will remain in his mind but receiving a sip of water from Arjuna’s own hands will be a precious memory forever. Unlike most ‘Chief Guests’ who give out a fine performance in front of the camera and then disappear immediately after the cameras are turned off, Arjuna gets on the field with the boys, giving them all an opportunity to talk to him personally and take photographs standing beside their idol to their hearts’ content.
Not once did I see him refuse or even glance at his watch. This is what promoting the true spirit of sportsmanship is all about. It is not winning or losing that these kids will cherish from this tournament, it is the lessons they learn from this mighty man who brought Sri Lanka onto the world map that will remain… how to be humble in greatness and how to share that greatness with humility.
In writing this article my only aim is not even to praise Arjuna, it is to share with all the other great sporting personalities that Mother Lanka has produced, how to encourage and guide our youth, not in words but through action.
Thank you Arjuna, you are indeed an epitome of sincerity.
A cricketing parent

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