The connection between young people and sports is one of the strongest. The progress of local and global sports is carried upon the shoulders of young people. Similarly, sports open doors to young people, provide a stage for them to express their talents, and excel at bringing them together to teach them valuable life lessons.
Sports are also a powerful force for sustainable development through its innate qualities to promote health, strengthen social cohesion, and facilitate economic progress. Shedding light on this topic, the Youth National Dialogue hosted a webinar on 25 February on the link that young people have with sports.
The National Youth Dialogue brings together voices of the youth to build a better and more sustainable future for all. The webinar engaged with a diverse group of individuals at the wicket facing some challenging deliveries of inquiry from one of the best in the business, as they discussed how the sports landscape of Sri Lanka – a proud sporting nation – is changing, thanks to the efforts of young people.
Speaking at the webinar were Jaffna Stallions Co-Owner Rahul Sood, Sri Lanka women’s T20 cricket team Captain Chamari Atapattu, ESPN Cricinfo Sri Lanka Correspondent Andrew Fidel Fernando, Jaffna Stallions cricketer Vijayakanth Viyaskanth, Gamer.lk e-sports athlete Nadeeshani Jayasinghe, and Team Nixo Leader Nisal Kodithuwakku.
They discussed what the future holds for any young person in Sri Lanka who wants to be on a fast lane to international sporting excellence, and explained that factors such as gender and disability are no longer hurdles in their run for success.
The role of sports in shaping the world
Starting off the webinar, Andrew Fidel Fernando explained: “As we move into the decade of action, young people are pushing sport beyond its boundaries and changing the rules of the game. Dreams of many young people from all around Sri Lanka of representing the country at the international level, in our beloved sport cricket for instance, are very much alive.”
With e-sports developing and earning more recognition, Nisal Kodithuwakku explained that technology can also help a lot with more conventional sports. In a very impressive act that has revolutionised the lives of many visually impaired athletes, Kodithuwakku has developed a prototype that can point out the exact moment these athletes need to jump while they compete in long jump.
Explaining how it works, he said: “I noticed that many visually impaired people fail to run in a straight line, so my device helps them learn to run straight in a short period of time using sensors. They will also hear beep sounds at the right point, which prompts them to jump.”
Touching on the impact of sports in the world, Chamari Atapattu stated that sports is a language understood by any one, no matter where they are in the world. “It is something that connects us universally. When we are in a team, we don’t see what nation we are from, rich or poor, or what religion or race; what brings us together is our love for the sport.” She believes that with sports, we can spread a message of unity to the world.
The evolution of sport
The discussion noted that young people are itching for new opportunities with much enthusiasm to showcase their talents. Sports are no longer confined to a physical nature; in this day and age, e-sports has become quite popular. Commenting on this, Nadeeshani Jayasinghe stated: “Look elsewhere and new playing fields are emerging for young people with the rise of newer forms of sport such as e-sports. In all this, the audience is beginning to take notice of young women and girls who are challenging stereotypes and saying this stage is ours, equally.”
Adding to this harsh atmosphere are people with a mission to change the world around them, from global business people ready to invest in the potential of youth in Sri Lanka to young entrepreneurs who are determined to develop their innovations that will improve inclusivity in sport.
She added that as a gamer, she is proud of Sri Lanka for gazetting e-sports as an official sport back in 2019, putting Sri Lanka on the map as the first country in Southeast Asia to do so. Now, anyone of any age can engage in e-sports, as Sri Lanka organises many tournaments for kids in schools, university students, and even adults and employees from both the government and the private sector. Over the years, the number of people engaging in this sport has increased tremendously, breaking the stereotype that “online gaming is not a real sport”, Jayasinghe added.
The future of sports
Not many sports are spread so widely around the world, and Fernando observed that even though cricket is a well-loved sport in Sri Lanka, it is not that famous around the world. Taking e-sports into consideration, as Jayasinghe noted, it is not yet recognised as an official sport in many parts of the world.
Commenting on this, Rahul Sood added: “On the cricket front, the LPL (Lanka Premier League) was a good start, but we need more to make it possible for these franchises to develop into worldwide brands. There needs to be more participation from the government and more involvement from the teams, as these types of brands take time to build.”
Speaking on the ground of e-sports, he said: “People need to be educated on what e-sports actually are; there are many misconceptions surrounding it. Parents also need to embrace it and understand that not every kid is going to become a professional cricketer or football player – they may have talent in video games, and they should be encouraged to follow what they love.”
There is a stigma that needs to be broken first. Once that is done and opportunities are provided for kids from a young age, sports will change the world, he concluded.