“We want to give everyone the opportunity to showcase their talent. In the past there have been many instances where athletes, or sports, have tried to use influence to go to an international event. I’m giving everyone the chance to show us what they are capable of,” said an upbeat Suresh Subramaniam, president of the National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka.
“It is a record number of athletes we are sending to the Asian Games. But the size of the squad has been inflated due to the fact that a number of team sports will be participating. We are doing this because we want to promote team sports, apart from supporting individual athletes too,” Subramaniam added.
The 28 sports are: Aquatics (swimming), Archery, Athletics, Badminton, Baseball, Basketball, Boxing, Canoeing, Golf, Gymnastics, Hockey, Judo, Kabaddi, Karate, Rowing, Rugby (sevens), Sailing, Roller Sport, Squash, Table Tennis, Taekwondo, Tennis, Triathlon, Volleyball (Indoor and Beach), Weightlifting, Wrestling and Wushu.
There are 138 men and 47 women among the total of 185 athletes who will be taking part. This will include a 12-member women’s team in Kabaddi for the first time. It is expected that more than 60 officials – managers, coaches, doctors, physiotherapists, trainers, masseurs etc. will also accompany the team taking the Sri Lankan contingent number to more than 250.
“We have submitted the entire list to the Ministry of Sports and it is subject to their approval,” revealed Maxwell de Silva, NOC secretary general.
De Silva believed the size of the Asian Games squad would serve as a clarion call to all local stakeholders that the National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka was keen to promote sports and provide opportunities for international participation.
“We want to send the right message to all the Federations – to let them know that ‘if you are serious, then we are serious too’. We will then give them the opportunities to represent Sri Lanka at major international events like the Asian Games,” De Silva said.
Four years ago, at the Incheon Asian Games, Sri Lanka sent a 126-strong contingent - 80 athletes and 46 officials. Sri Lanka returned home with two medals both won in cricket. The men’s team won the gold medal defeating Afghanistan in the final while the women won the bronze. Cricket is not a medal sport this time.
The Asian Games is the second-biggest multi-sport event next to the Olympic Games. A total of 45 countries will take part in 40 sports in Jakarta and Palembang, making it the second-largest sports program in Asian Games history.
Sri Lanka will mainly pin its medal hopes on athletics, kabaddi, judo, karate, wushu and rugby (men’s sevens) while there will also be a strong chance in boxing, weightlifting, golf and swimming.
“We have a number of realistic chances for medals, especially in the martial art events. In athletics, our men’s relay team is a good prospect while rugby also has a chance in sevens,” outlined De Silva.
Boxing and weightlifting, which earned the majority of medals at the Commonwealth Games will find the going harder with the opposition expected to be better than at the Gold Coast. In golf, hopes will be pinned on the shoulders of professionals Mithun Perera and Anura Rohana while all eyes in the swimming pool will be on Matthew Abeysinghe in the individual freestyle events as well as in the men’s relay event.