Srinagar, April 28 (Rising Kashmir): Lakshman Namal Rajapaksa, Sri Lankan Member of Parliament and national rugger player, has invited Jammu and Kashmir rugby teams to participate in the Sri Lankan Rugby League through an exchange program.
Namal Rajapaksa was on a special visit to Kashmir along with his 10 member delegation from Sri Lanka to impart training to Jammu and Kashmir rugby players by organizing a week-long Special Rugby Training Seminar.
The development came after Rajapaksa – the elder son of former Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, saw the inspiring video of Kashmiri rugby playing girls and was motivated to arrange a Special Rugby Training Seminar for J&K rugby teams, comprising both boys and girls teams.
Rajapaksa told Rising Kashmir that his team will provide the local players with an opportunity to visit Sri Lanka and participate in rugby matches there.
“We are seeing how we can develop their skills. We will definitely invite players from Kashmir to play in Sri Lanka and vice versa to boost exposure. We will organize a tournament back home in couple of month’s time and that is going to be the next step,” he affirmed.
“We will talk to J&K rugby coaches besides the Rugby Union and the Asian Football Rugby Association to seek ways to develop and promote this game with mutual support and cooperation,” Rajapaksa added.
Sri Lankan rugby has a long history and she has got much exposure as compared to other countries in the South Asian region, he pointed out.
He however admitted that Sri Lanka hasn’t made a mark in international rugby.
“But from the last couple of years we have been in a good program. Hopefully Sri Lanka will do well in the future,” he said.
Rajapaksa, who was on his maiden visit to Kashmir, said that it was the excitement and passion of these young rugby players in J&K which inspired him.
“It’s the excitement of these rugby players which induced me to embark on this journey and be part of the training of J&K rugby teams,” he said.
The 32-year-old Rajapaksa said that sports enthusiasts should be provided with an opportunity and should be guided and professionally trained.
“There should be political willingness to break social boundaries,” he said.
A former captain of the Sri Lankan Union Rugby team, Rajapaksa says that sports should be separated from politics and controversies as it has the potential to bring about a change in the perception and discourse on Kashmir.
“Sports can bring change in attitudes, which in turn, strengthens the relationship between the countries,” he said.
There should be an open sports policy to encourage children from different countries to take part in sports as sports has no boundaries.
“I’m sure in the long run, sports will play a huge role in strengthening relationships in the SAARC countries. The region should look at developing unions, and developing sporting clubs as sports will help bridge the gap between communities, states, countries,” Rajapaksa said.
Rajapaksa has played for the Cardiff University rugby team from 2005-2006 and had been part of the City University London team from 2006 to 2009, besides representing Sri Lanka Union Rugby team as a captain in 2013.
After witnessing the enormous caliber among both boys and girls of J and K, Rajapaksa said that there is no dearth of talent and skills but these kids need exposure and training on professional lines. He further said that there is a need to develop sports infrastructure in the State.
“The State and Central governments should encourage these children to indulge in sports besides building proper infrastructure and providing these kids with the best possible facilities,” he said.
Rajapaksa, was mesmerized by the beauty of Kashmir. “I’ m here for the first time and it’s quite an amazing destination. I will visit here again with my family.”
the rugby workshop started on April 19 and ended on April 24 in which both senior and junior rugby players of the state participated.
J&K Rugby Chief Coach, Irfan Aziz Botta, said that such exchange programs will add a spark and give a wake up call to kids.
“The players feel encouraged with such steps and in turn they take part in games with much enthusiasm and motivation,” he said.
“Such sessions with foreign coaches should be held more often,” he added.
He further confirmed that J&K rugby teams were invited by the Sri Lankan delegation to participate in their Rugby League besides capsuled programs.
A female rugger player from Kashmir, Natasha Majeed, said that it was wonderful to get training under Sri Lankan coaches.
“Such programs encourage players especially girls to take part in sports. I’ve been playing rugby from long time now. I want that many more girls come into this game and break the conventional boundaries raised by society,” she said.
While appreciating girls for coming out to play by overcoming odds, Sri Lankan female trainer Inoshi Priyangi said that they saw great enthusiasm and passion among players especially girls.
“In order to boost female participation in sports, the management should be able to convince the parents regarding the safety of their children besides maximizing the sports activities meant for girls,” she said.
Captain of J&K Rugby team, Salim Bhat, said that Sri Lanka is one of the top rugby teams in Asia and by getting training under these experienced coaches local players will benefit.
“These coaches have a great knowledge. They came all the way from Sri Lanka to share their knowledge with us. This opportunity of getting training under experienced coaches will prove advantageous for all of us and will definitely enhance our skills and knowledge of the game,” he said.
Kashmir government Secretary Sports, Waheed-Ur-Rehmaan Para, termed it a significant move and said that it will certainly boost both players and coaches of J and K.
“It will be an important move to promote exchange programs. We are at a stage where we have to organize things,” he said.
He further said that constraint of funds is major obstacle that halts development of sports arena in the State.
To provide learning experience, many players from the state participated in training sessions in foreign countries.
“This year we have sent nine players to foreign countries for training and are planning to send players to the US and Australia .But that will take some time,” Waheed said.
(The image at the top shows Namal Rajapaksa training Kashmiri girls in rugby)