Oct 6, 4 years ago

Sri Lanka building for long-term success

Sri Lanka building for long-term success

It is rare that football takes its place in the headlines of Sri Lanka’s sporting pages. That honour is invariably the preserve of cricket in the teardrop-shaped nation located off the Indian sub-continent near the Bay of Bengal.

It is an ethnically and culturally diverse country, which is in part owed to Sri Lanka’s British and Portuguese history. Football has thus long maintained a foothold, but civil conflict has hindered a game that can now point to significant interest among a younger demographic in the new millennium.

This past week has seen a continental focus on the nation formerly known as Ceylon. The capital Colombo is this week playing host to the AFC President’s Cup – Asia’s third-tier club competition – with domestic hopes represented in the week-long event by local kings Sri Lanka Air Force SC.

Grabbing a share of the spotlight
The Sri Lankan representatives made a competitive start to their campaign on Friday taking the lead against Nepal’s Manang Marshyangdi before succumbing to a 2-1 defeat. A second group outing against Turkmenistan’s FC HTTU will likely provide an even stiffer test of their credentials. Proving their competiveness on an international stage is important, but in many ways successfully hosting the tournament could have a more lasting effect.

“Sri Lanka needs an image build-up for the sport,” Football Federation Sri Lanka President Ranjith Rodrigo told FIFA.com when asked about the importance of the tournament. “Cricket being the No1 sport in the region means they have many international matches in Sri Lanka.

“This is the first time a club from Sri Lanka has qualified to participate in this tournament which is also considered an achievement. It will also create an impression to other clubs participating in our own league that there are opportunities for our clubs to play at higher level in the Asian region. It is a golden opportunity and sets a trend for young football aspirants.”

Sri Lanka football

Building for the future
The popularity of football among the youth of Sri Lanka, where the English Premier League is hugely prominent, is being tapped into it by the national governing body. So too their long-term planning covers multiple facets of the sport, including women’s football.

“Football is popular among young people in the country and there are considerable number of EPL fans in the country who watch the matches over Pay TV,” Rodrigo says. “So matching cricket’s popularity will be a long term plan.

“The schools development programme with 1,000 schools teams playing will also help (youngsters) follow the game with a passion. All in all our national team should perform to attract a fan base, which is not impossible.

“Girls and women football too are now being developed specially in over 100 girls schools they have taken to play football as a curriculum sport. Also the first ever women’ football league played last month will add to the popularity, and enhance the popularity in the future.”

Under newly appointed Serbian coach Nikola Kavazovic the next milestone for Sri Lanka at senior level will be the 2015 South Asian Championship, followed by 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifiers. And Rodrigo hopes junior development will soon start to pay dividends at senior level.

“We now have U-17, U-20 and U-23 feeder teams to our national team. They, we hope, will bring results and as a result we hope to have a bigger fan base and better popularity.”

Source : The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA)

Photo : Maldivsoccer

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