Sri Lanka investing in infrastructure and training

Vernon Manilal Fernando 57, has recently begun his third term as Chairman of the management committee of the Football Federation of Sri Lanka. “Put simply, everyone loves a winner”, he told Iain Cochrane of Sunday Times Sri Lanka, referring to the nation’s cricket obsession. “Look at Australia. They have always been a cricket nation but football is gaining popularity because they’re getting good at it. One-day cricket remains the number one sport in Sri Lanka but people cannot spare ten hours to watch it which is why football attracts more spectators.”

The fact that Sri Lanka sits above India in the FIFA rankings comes as no surprise. “India has a huge population from which to find players but Sri Lanka is easier to manage because of its size. You can’t compare the two,” he said, adding that improvement of football in Indian will also benefit its island neighbour. “The AFC awarded India US $1million per annum for the next four years. From that, the drip effect to other Asian countries can be substantial. For example; Sri Lankan cricket lives off Indian cricket. If India plays in Sri Lanka the match is worth around SL R/s 50m. Sponsors see cricket as ten hours of marketing time with adverts after each over, rolling adverts whilst play is in progress and so on. With football, there is less time for on-screen marketing and so more revenue goes to cricket”.

With the FFSL’s existing funding its primary concerns are the acquisition and improvement of facilities and training its personnel. “We have professionals from overseas providing guidance and we are putting more of our own people through coaching and management courses. This includes placements within top European clubs. We have people currently placed with Chelsea and Barcelona.” He also believes that investment in infrastructure, such as the new football stadium in Badulla, is more important that buying publicity for the game. “The FFSL’s product has to be good and marketable so that the media will be motivated into writing about it,” he said.

He was also instrumental in providing the National Football Training Centre at Beddagana with a view to adding to their acreage elsewhere. “The trouble up until recently was that football was time-sharing with other sports ... A nine month season like in the UK is unfeasible because of the ground-sharing issue. We have to share space with cricket and rugby,” he explained.