Watch: Sri Lankan ex-president's son Namal Rajapaksa offers to coach J&K women's rugby players

Written By: Padma Rao Sundarji WION
New Delhi, Delhi, India Published: Mar 16, 2018, 09:00 AM(IST)

Namal Rajapaksa spoke exclusively to WION on J&K's women's rugby team Photograph:( WION )

Story highlights

Namal Rajapaksa is 32 years old and a Member of Parliament in the Sri Lankan opposition. He is also the son of Sri Lanka’s former President Mahinda Rajapaksa

Namal Rajapaksa is 32 years old and a Member of Parliament in the Sri Lankan opposition. He is also the son of Sri Lanka’s former President Mahinda Rajapaksa who, along with his newly-formed Podujana Peramuna party, has emerged victorious in recent provincial polls and is slated for a comeback at the centre in Colombo. Relations between the Rajapaksas – a family of career politicians – and India were frosty towards the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war in 2009. The then President Mahinda Rajapaksa had sought and received help from China and Pakistan to defeat the terrorist group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).  Due to pressure from components from Tamil Nadu,  the ruling UPA coalition in India had restricted itself to providing soft equipment and logistical help to the Sri Lankan Armed Forces, but stayed away from forging a closer alliance with Sri Lanka’s most popular but also most controversial head of state to date.

Much water has flown under the bridge since then. Rajapaksa lost presidential elections in 2015 (he had hinted that India engineered his defeat but told WION in an  exclusive interview last year that he wanted to let ‘’bygones be bygones” and forge a new relationship with New Delhi).  Currently, President Maithripala Sirisena’s coalition is in power in Colombo. But under huge external debt, the current dispensation has forged even closer relations to China while ties to India have been pushed to the backburner.   Now comes the younger – and equally controversial – Namal Rajapaksa with an interesting offer to the Government of India via WION.  

Last week, WION’S J&K correspondent Khalil Shah had reported on Kashmiri woman rugby players. Days later, Rajapaksa Jr. contacted WION for an introduction to the team. The seasoned rugby player and coach Rajapaksa, offered coaching to the Kashmiri girls and told WION in an interview why he was doing so.

THE WION story on the Kashmiri rugby girls and the WION interview with the son of the former Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapaksa have gone viral, made headlines in the Indian and Sri Lankan media and – WION has again made an impact across South Asia.

WION’S Senior Foreign Editor Padma Rao Sundarji reproduces the entire content of her conversation with Namal Rajapaksa exclusively on WION WEB and why this time, the offer from the Rajapaksas is about passion, not politics.  Of course, the Government of India will likely not comment on the offer of rugby coaching. But this is no ordinary person and Jammu and Kashmir is not any Indian state.  And for all his alleged shenanigans, Namal Rajapaksa and both his brothers are seasoned international league rugby players.  Will the offer be a cautious beginning to a thaw in relations between New Delhi and Colombo? Read on.

WION: Namal Rajapaksa, you tweeted your enthusiasm for WION’s recent report on Kashmiri woman rugby players and requested WION for a contact to the players. What’s on your mind?

RAJAPAKSA: I came across this video yesterday. It was fascinating to see that the sport of rugby is being played across Asia and especially in a country like India, where cricket is widely popular. All of a sudden you see kids get together to play rugby and that too, village girls. As you know, rugby is an Olympic sport today.

For any participating country,  promoting such sports that can win medals matters a lot. But to see Kashmiri girls set all else aside, all difference, and come together and get involved in such a physical game is in the spirit of sports.

WION: But WION has just begun airing in your country so we are pleasantly surprised to see such an immediate and enthusiastic response to one of our stories and that too on rugby. We know you have been a professional league player but – what’s the connection between rugby and Sri Lanka ?

RAJAPAKSA : Yes, WION was not visible in Sri Lanka for these previous years and yet, the channel has been close to Sri Lanka and very active in coverage. WION has done a couple of interviews with my father too.

And I am sure that WION will be getting more involved in Sri Lankan news and taking it globally will give both Sri Lanka and the channel an opportunity to express ideas, views and send messages globally.  

As for rugby in our country – well, it came with the tea plantations more than 100 years ago.

In our family, everyone played rugby – even my mother and father. But unfortunately, Sri Lanka hasn’t ýet made a mark in world rugby yet. It’s a very physical sport which people interpret wrongly sometimes. It is not a violent sport. It’s all about discipline. And it’s taught all of us many lessons in life.

WION: All that is fine. But you are now a politician. And you are offering training to a rugby club not in any state of India but – Jammu&Kashmir. That has special significance. Some may say, even political undertones. Your father the former President is on the comeback trail. You, yourself, may find yourself in the central government in Colombo in the future. Relations between India and Sri Lanka during your father’s presidency were not very warm. So it is natural to ask: why are you making this offer ? Is it politics or – passion?

RAJAPAKSA: Purely passion. We do politics, yes. But at the end of the day, we all have our personal lives. And sports is a part of that personal life. My whole family has been involved in sports and in my personal capacity, I have also represented Sri Lanka. Look at a state like J&K. It makes a lot of news.

But it is not always positively taken by the people. So here is something – this woman’s rugby team – which we can all look forward to. As you know, sports is one way of reconciliation, one way of getting communities together, people together, countries connected.

Many Indian coaches come to Sri Lanka to train us. Similarly, we could contribute something to these girls in Kashmir by putting a group of rugby experts together and coaching them. We could get things moving.

WION: Is there a message in your enthusiasm for the government of India too?

RAJAPAKSA:  India and Sri Lanka have always had very strong bilateral, cultural and social bonds. Of course, we’ve had our ups and downs. But something like this can only strengthen people-to-people contacts. We would love the Indian people to understand what we Sri Lankans can offer them.

Then, India has a lot of human capacity and financial backing. India’s getting involved in women’s rugby will definitely help the game of rugby as well. And in that way, it will help the entire region to develop rugby as a sport. The government of India could get involved by providing infrastructure and bringing more global expertise into India. Maybe the World Rugby Organization could help. India could set up a professional body.

The Commonwealth Games are around the corner and women’s rugby is also included. Indian teams take part in all international sports fixtures. Rugby is an Olympic sport too. And finally, it would be great to help in reconciliation and rebuilding the hearts and minds of the younger generation in Jammu and Kashmir.

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