Federation Focus: Sri Lanka wants to become one of Asia's baseball powerhouses

Federation Focus: Sri Lanka wants to become one of Asia's baseball powerhouses
Baseball was introduced in Sri Lanka in the 1980s. The federation has set a five-year goal of climbing the baseball ladder in Asia.

Sri Lanka aims to become one of the top baseball hotspots in Asia. The baseball community counts right now around 4,500 players, so it may sound like a bold goal in a region where world superpowers like Japan, Korea and Chinese Taipei have been dominating for decades and where China is emerging.

Sri Lanka’s first ever baseball facility, the Japan-Sri Lanka Friendship Baseball Ground, was officially opened less than 10 years ago, in December 2012, in Diyagama.

"I agree with you," Romario De Silva, the Head of Development of the Sri Lanka Amateur Baseball Softball Association (SLABSA) told the WBSC. "Our target is to narrow the gap and get into the top tier within the next five years."

Currently 37th in the WBSC Baseball World Rankings, Sri Lanka won the West Asia Baseball Championship in 2017 and 2019, defeating in both cases the higher-ranked Pakistan, the world No. 27.

De Silva joined the baseball community as a sports administrator: "I was a rugby player, turned sports administrator and media person. I'm not a baseball player, but I've always loved baseball and I am privileged to work for Sri Lanka Baseball since 2018."

SLABSA celebrated the Air Force Baseball Club this past March, winners of the Malinda Arumadura Memorial Trophy.

"It's a national tournament where the top four teams in the country don't participate in the first phase," said De Silva. "The six top finishers then play the top four teams in a 10-team tournament. Our National Baseball League, which is another competition altogether, features eight teams."

Youth baseball in Sri Lanka is played across five different age-brackets: U-12, U-14, U-16, U-18 and U-20.

"The U-12 tournament is played through a round-robin. Each team gets the opportunity to play a minimum of three games. There are no trophies for champions. The reason is to encourage more schools to take part and enjoy the sport rather than playing just to win. However, we have U-12 tournaments at the district level where the winners receive trophies," explained De Silva.

"In the U-14, U-16, U-18 and U-20 age categories, we have competitive tournaments, played in the double-elimination format."

The main tools to develop baseball in Sri Lanka are known as 'Baseball Awareness' Programmes.

"These programmes happen in three stages," said De Silva. "The first is the Try Stage. We use this first phase to go to the rural areas, where we conduct awareness sessions. We select 6-10 schools from a district. First, we get two teams to play a match to get an idea of what the sport is, then we run our awareness programme along with fun games."

The second stage is the Play Stage: "We visit the same district after three months and donate equipment to the schools. We encourage each school to send a number of people, either teachers, sports administrators or alumni, to be trained as coaches."

The final step of the Awareness Programmes is the Stay Stage: "We organize a tournament within the district to be played with a minimum of five teams. This way, we are able to take the game around Sri Lanka and not only introduce and play the game, but we are also able to sustain the game of baseball in these areas."

Sri Lanka is not yet ranked in women's baseball while softball is very much in its infancy.

"We introduced women’s baseball in Sri Lanka with the blessings of Yamada Hiroko, a member of the WBSC Women's Development Commission chaired by Beatrice Allen.

"Currently, women's baseball is played by the military, in universities and schools. We are in the process of introducing women's baseball to clubs," said De Silva.

Sri Lanka has recently discovered Baseball5, the urban version of baseball/softball.

"Baseball5 is perfect for countries like Sri Lanka," commented De Silva. "Baseball5 requires minimum equipment and space. We plan to introduce it to the schools along with our Awareness Programmes. Sri Lanka has about 13,000 schools, 4,000 welcome both boys and girls. It would be ideal to introduce Baseball5 to those schools. Our biggest challenge is to train the coaches and to get the equipment. We recently had a video conference with WBSC to start the training programme for 12 coaches."

Sujeewa Jayantha Wijayanayake of Sri Lanka has been appointed as a Deputy Technical Operation Manager for Baseball and Softball of the Organizing Committee for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

"He is now working full time with the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee. He is also a talented baseball umpire. He is the only international umpire from Sri Lanka."

The game of baseball was introduced to Sri Lanka in the mid-1980s. Former Minister Festus Perera was instrumental in getting the US Embassy to introduce the game to Sri Lanka. Lee Ann Ross, a dynamic lady from the US Embassy, took the task upon herself to lay the foundation for baseball to be established in Sri Lanka.

American instructor Jim Dimick was the first coach to teach the game in the country. The first four teams were the Sri Lanka Air force, Shakthi Baseball Club, Gold Fish Baseball Club and Royal College. In the beginning, the staff of the US Embassy played friendly games with the local teams at Havelock Park, Colombo.

The first ever baseball tournament was played in 1985 and Sri Lanka has passed many milestones since then.

In the early 1990s, junior baseball players from Japan toured Sri Lanka and played games in Colombo and Kandy. This led to the invitations of six players from Sri Lanka to the World Children's Baseball Fair in 1992.

Sri Lanka, despite being a newcomer to the game, managed to secure a position to compete in the first-ever Asian Baseball Cup, which was held in the Philippines in 1995.

Sri Lanka has been one of the countries that best succeeded in tackling the COVID-19 outbreak, although the country still suffered 1,7917 cases and 11 deaths. Nearly 3,500 people have been quarantined in 45 centres. After a 52-day lockdown, most of the activities resumed on 11 May.

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