Susanthika Drama

Daily News Editorial

There is a lot of brouhaha these days surrounding Olympic Silver medalist Susanthika Jayasinghe, with certain quarters blaming the government for turning the back on the one time Asia’s ace sprinter, which has forced her to auction her Medal for survival- or so she says. Being the loose cannon that she is it is not certain if Susanthika is serious about what she is saying. Controversy, though, is not alien to the “black gazelle” as she was known in the world athletics field for her phenomenal dash to breast the tape. On more than one occasion she has fallen foul with officialdom and had a famous spat with a onetime Sports Minster which kept the nation entertained. The Silver Medal is Susanthika’s to do as she pleases but she cannot target the government in her bid to camouflage the fact that she is after the mega bucks that would invariably come her way by the sale of the Medal. 

Some media even went onto lambaste the government which they claim was obliged to provide for the sustenance of the former athlete on the basis that she brought international fame to the motherland. These media which have recently taken to attacking the government with gusto even went so far as to unnecessarily dwell on the government’s import of luxury vehicles for Ministers to place this starkly in contrast to the alleged plight of Susanthika, as if the government should cut down on all wasteful expenditure and divert these funds for the upkeep of the aging Olympian.  

We are here not attempting to belittle the signal achievement of Susanthika Jayasinghe who placed Sri Lanka on the world map of athletics by winning a Silver Medal at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and for her subsequent feats on the Asian circuit. What is more, she deserves all the not inconsiderable largesse showered on her by the then government and the governments that followed. Susanthika was the recipient of a luxury flat, vehicles, monetary rewards, sponsorship packages and the spin offs, that placed her on easy street, perhaps for the rest of her life, if one considers the sum total of the wealth acquired, that was in the public domain.

Nobody in their right senses would begrudge the riches showered on her, for making Sri Lanka proud by her prowess on the track. On the contrary all Sri Lankans would have exulted in the rags to riches story of the lass who hailed from the outbacks of the country and was born into poverty. Her decision therefore to sell off the Olympic Silver Medal to overcome her straitened circumstances would no doubt have been received with shock and dismay by a majority of her countrymen and sportsmen and sportswomen who held her up as a model to be emulated. What is more, the announcement made by the Sports Minister that the government was prepared to purchase the medal in the event it was to be sold by Susanthika too would be perplexing to most. We say this because there is no guessing that the Medal, if indeed it is up for sale, would be bartered away by Susanthika for a considerable sum and the government will be spending public funds for the purpose, if the Minister is serious about the offer.

This, after the state investing millions of rupees for the training (which included training overseas) of the athlete and her other needs such as nutrition, accommodation etc. over a considerable period that eventually made her achieve the rare feat of an Olympic Medal for the country. Does the public now have to bear the additional expense to pay for the Medal won by Susanthika after forking out for her training and other expenses at the initial stages? Are the public obliged for the permanent upkeep of Susanthika for winning an Olympic Medal? Will not the public feel cheated, especially at a time when funds are sorely needed to tide over one of worst natural disasters to hit the country in recent times, uprooting tens of thousands of people from their homes?

One is constrained to ask as to what became of the wealth amassed by Susanthika in the immediate aftermath of her Olympic success and what is her utter desperation to be driven to part with her prized possession? One has to recall that Susanthika also contested the 2010 General Election from the Rajapaksa camp and could not have been in penury to face major a hustings that require considerable financial resources.

Be that as it may, Susanthika’s insistence that the government has neglected her by failing to consider her bravura achievement smacks of an expectation that the state is obliged to look after and maintain achievers in the sporting field as an article of faith. There have been other achievers who had faded from picture unsung and unwept. World Amateur Snooker Champion *M. J. M. Lafir died in penury, for his feat was accomplished in a different era when there were no sponsors or giant corporate interests to lend assistance to sportsmen and sportswomen. Susanthika indeed was fortunate on that score. 

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* He happens to be the first World Champion Sri Lanka has ever produced in the field of sport or whatever the other feat