Colombo, May 6 (Daily Mirror) – Amidst mounting criticism against the government for allocating a staggering Rs.625 million to establish 500 outdoor fitness centres amidst the rapid spread of the COVID19 pandemic, Sports and Youth Affairs Minister Namal Rajapaksa yesterday said these monies could be used by the government towards any emergency situation if it arises during the COVID-19 spread.
Social media has been up in arms against the Cabinet approval which was obtained earlier this week of allocating such a large sum for establishing outdoor sports centres with many stating that while the country was being dragged down due to the rapid spread of the virus and bodies mounting, it was a poor decision on the part of the government to allocate funds for such a project.
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However, minister said this project was part of the budget proposals for 2021, which was approved in Parliament and the funds would remain untouched till the country returns to normalcy.
The minister also said that if the Finance Ministry requires this budget to be utilized towards an emergency, the government could go ahead and use these funds. “We will not be utilizing these funds till the COVID-19 pandemic normalizes.
During this time we will only do the preliminary work to kick off this project. In the meantime if the Finance Ministry needs to utilize these funds for any other project they can use it because we are not going to utilize it till things get normalized,” he said.
Under this project, 500 outdoor exercise and fitness centres will be set up countrywide using containers in selected places in the country.
The estimated cost of the project is Rs.625 million, and it will benefit 100,000 members of the public and about 5,000 athletes a year, the government has said.
Namal said once the health crisis eases, steps will be taken to set up 300 centres this year while the remaining 200 centres will be set up next year. He also dismissed allegations that he had partnered with GS Sports to carry out this project, stating that tenders would be called for to purchase the equipment for the gyms and the entire process would be transparent.
GS Sports by George Stuart Health also recently launched a sports and gym equipment store offering both commercial and at-home fitness equipment, raising questions if the tender to purchase equipment for these 500 outdoor centres would be awarded to them. “There is no link to GS Sports.
I have not partnered with anyone. We will go for open tenders and anyone can apply for this tender. The entire process will be transparent,” Namal said.
The project is aimed to create a more healthy nation and also provide an opportunity for athletes to train for international competitions, even amidst the COVID-19.
This year, six athletes have already represented Sri Lanka in international competitions even amidst the global COVID wave. Namal said more over, the outdoor centres, once established will be given to sports clubs across the country, for them to manage. (Jamila Husain)