FOC GOING FROM STRENGTH TO STRENGTH OVER TWENTY YEARS
Dr Tilak S. Fernando
Festival of Cricket is organised by the Sri Lankan Old Boys Associations in London. Each OBA is made up of representatives of prominent and leading schools in Sri Lanka, resident in the UK. 25 school OBAs will once again participate in the Festival of Cricket this year. The Committee is elected annually and work entirely on a voluntary basis to make the event a great success. On the eve of its 20th anniversary Dr. Tilak S. Fernando ( from The Colombo Post) spoke to Mr.G.C.Perera in London, the founder and a life member of the Association on the concept, development, progress and the future aims of the Association
TSF. If we talk about the OBA and FOC concept in the UK, am I right in thinking that it was your brain child initially that has become the most popular annual Sri Lankan social event in the UK among Sri Lankans today, and we are celebrating its 20th successful anniversary? How do you feel about it when you think back?
GC First of all let me thank you for taking the time and the trouble to talk about the FOC, much appreciated; you asked me about how I feel. Well, the feeling in a personal sense is very satisfying, also I feel the effort put in at the early stages was very worthwhile. Besides, it is a humble experience when I think of it, collectively how we were able to face and surmount many challenges and obstacles on the way and to have arrived at where we are today. The Organisation is now strong and healthy with much enthusiasm to move forward. As a group, we respect and safeguard its basic principles and values, which simply are the vital foundation or the corner stone of our Organisation. We owe an enormous appreciation to all the members of the FOC committee in the past and present for their integrity, dedication, hard work and the sacrifice made in order for the FOC to arrive on this long journey for twenty long years.
TSF As I understand the original main objectives were to establish goodwill and harmony amongst the Sri Lankan OBAs in the UK; to raise funds towards the development of education in the participating member OBAs in the UK and to raise and contribute funds and equipment to a national charity. How far have you succeeded in your aims?
GC In our first year in 1989 FOC started its membership with only 6 OBAs. I would like to say initially the way it developed and the pleasant atmosphere it continued to create over the years made the event extremely attractive and inspirational for others to join. Today in the year 2008 FOC consists of 25 Sri Lankan OBAs. The Organisation’s principle objectives are such that the Committee has to work hard each year to generate not only funds but deliver higher standards. As a consequence over the years many schools in Sri Lanka have been nourished by their respective OBAs, who enjoyed the membership of the FOC. Equally each year FOC Children’s Charity continued with their donations to Maharagama Cancer Institute with valuable medical items and facilities. In addition to the donation to Maharagama Cancer Institute in Sri Lanka, the Charity Section in 2007 made a donation to the Cancer Research in the UK. Children’s Charity will extend their gratitude to all those who will support this worthy cause. For more details I would like to refer anyone to the FOC website.
TSF. It was once mentioned that an expensive Blood Analyser donated out of the OBA charity funds to Maharagama Cancer Hospital was allowed to ‘corrode’ without making any use of it, due to unexplained reasons! Don’t you regard it as a total wastage? Also if I may put it in a somewhat harsh form, a slap in the face of all those expatriates who donated to the FOC charity out of genuine feeling for a worthy cause! Why have not the FOC taken this matter up with the Minister of Health in Sri Lanka?
GC I believe you are referring to an incident that happened over 10 years ago. It was certainly regrettable. From what I recall, according to the hospital, the Blood Analyser donated got damaged whilst it was in storage at the hospital waiting for calibration prior to its use, and because the repair costs were far too expensive and not cost effective the matter was not pursued further. One valuable lesson learnt from that episode was, the need to carry out a full facts finding survey of the environmental conditions, expertise, skills, facilities etc required to obtain the maximum benefits of the item that would be donated. Often charitable organisations donate valuable items simply because of the request made by the host institute and take it for granted that all would be successful once the donation is made. The above can be taken as an example and one could learn lessons how to avoid such mistakes in the future.
TSF. When we talk about the work of OBAs and the FOC, we automatically tend to scratch the surface only because we see only the end product on a single day. In other words, we tend to take it for granted. But how have several representatives and committee members managed, over past two decades, to carry out this function smoothly and harmoniously? How do you arrive at final decisions without any splits and disagreements? Cynics might say that it’s a miracle to find at least 10 Sri Lankans working in harmony under one umbrella at any given time or in any project?
GC. Tilak, this is an excellent question!! You have really touched the very nerve centre of the FOC. I believe the most challenging task for any organisation whether large or small, is how one could continue to operate without damaging its own structure and foundation. In my view, the way we have achieved this in the FOC is by persuading the representative of each OBA who joins the Committee to believe in the basic principles practised in the FOC. Mainly to leave prejudices and discriminations associated with political, religious or racial differences aside. In other words, it has enabled representatives from all backgrounds, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Islamic, Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher, up country and low country, old and the young, wealthy and the poor, academics & non academics and so on, to join hands and work together towards a common cause. Most of the newcomers to the Committee tend to learn the process quickly and realise its wider benefits. The senior members in the organisation take the responsibility to guide and groom the fresher. Members are free to debate and also agree to disagree with mutual respect for each other. With kind support and encouragement many of those who lose in a debate learn not to take such a situation personally or act negatively, but for few it may have been quite a challenge.
TSF. According to the FOC Constitution it appears that the funds collected can only be channelled through respective OBAs to their alma mater. Fair enough, I can understand the sentiments attached to it, but now after two decades, we experience a different problem in our motherland. The country fighting a terrorist menace has come to a final stage and even the President is making a personal appeal to expatriates to contribute towards the Api Venuwen Api Defence Fund to eliminate this peril for the sake of everyone in the country. Why can’t the FOC either amend their rules and move with the times, especially with regards to the needs of the country, and make some kind of a contribution out of your charity proceeds this year to the Defence Fund as well,? After all, don’t you agree in the first instance that the country has to survive first, before schools and alma mater can exist?
GC From time to time requests and appeals from various parties were put forward to the FOC Committee, including the inconceivable Tsunami disaster in 2004. On that occasion FOC Committee unanimously agreed and made donations for the Tsunami rehabilitation projects in SL. One has to understand that such decisions are made according to majority vote within the Committee. Therefore it is not a matter of bending the rules but very much a practice of democratic principles. Here I would like to clarify something that is very important, and that is, no one member in this organisation is greater or powerful than the group itself. Therefore it is important for the individual who makes a request or making a proposal to persuade the majority for the request to be granted, and that’s the way FOC goes about making major decisions.
TSF Here we are talking about our mother country and it’s not a number game of majority vote decision. It is an issue that needs one hundred percent patriotic feeling in evaluating such proposals and treated as a democratic principle! On that back drop, can I make use of this column to request the members of the Committee to think about this issue seriously and make adjustments to ‘the Democratic Principles’ that you just mentioned. Surely this kind of a proposal cannot be regarded as partisan politics ?
GC. Please do not think that I have not understood the importance of your request. Actually, as I have explained earlier, the decision making process in the FOC, is very simple i.e. majority decision. Why? Simply because the organisation consists of several members. Therefore, as requested, even any alteration to its principles, irrespective of the passionate nature of the request, could only be achieved if the proposal itself is approved by the majority. Otherwise, the alternative would be to accept the practice of a ‘minority view’, or else, adopt an ‘autocratic’ process. In my view, neither would be acceptable to FOC. Any FOC member could propose new ideas, requests etc to the committee including what you have suggested above, and if it is accepted by the majority, then the request will be granted, if not it will be left out.
TSF Critics may point a finger at the FOC and say that it has moved away from its original concept and now become very much a business orientated affair with trade marquees concentrating on selling - from food products to promoting various businesses such as freight, insurance, banking etc, while Cricket Tournament ( except the final match) is the last thing in the minds of the spectators of the majority who visit this venue on a public bank holiday as a picnic, to spend the day with their families and mainly to intermingle with other friends and associates whom they had not come into contact with for some time. How do you justify such statements?
GC. From the very inception we have maintained a certain tradition, which is to create a festival/carnival atmosphere on the day for everyone to come and have fun and enjoy the cricket, if they so wish. That theme is still in progress on one side but, on the other, one must try to understand the fact that as the event grew in its size and popularity so did the cost of operation simultaneously. Fortunately, the event has created an opportunity for the commercial sector in our community to support us and be a part of the festive atmosphere. We welcome their support. They too are part of our community and offer us a vital service for all our compatriots in the UK. Their inclusion is not at all a hindrance to the cricket tournament but in fact an added bonus. Many such enterprises genuinely respect what the FOC stands for in our community. They have come to realise that the FOC is a very unique organisation which coordinates and operates an exclusive event that takes place once a year only in the UK! - A unique social event that should not be missed out.
TSF. Every year FOC has a special event to attract the crowds, like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat! What have you lined up this year in this regard?
GC. In 2008 the major attraction will be the proposed plan to exhibit the ODI Cricket World Cup 1996 (won by Sri Lanka) at the event. Sri Lankan Cricket Board has agreed to send the trophy to the UK for the event as part of the fund raising exercise for a new project – i.e. ‘Sri Lanka School Cricket Development Fund’. In addition, a 7 a side match will be played between the winners of the FOC tournament and a team of Sri Lankan international players. What we really need on the 13th of July is a good ‘Indian Summer’ with plenty of sun shine.
TSF. How is your sponsorship this year and why do you think your sponsors spend chunks of money towards your cause if they do not get anything out of it?
GC As I said earlier, the event is very attractive to major commercial enterprises. Year on year respective FOC Committees have tried their best to improve standards and offer best facilities and opportunities for sponsors, trade stall holders and other charitable organisations to join us on the day. The event offers an opportunity in the UK that no other could offer. Many thousands come and intermingle together and it is a wonderful occasion to promote their products and businesses as well as to get recognition both in the UK and in Sri Lanka.
TSF. I cannot see some prominent Sri Lankan schools, for example, Prince of Wales College, Moratuwa which has maintained a good school track record for decades, from the time of H.I.K Fernando, Lasantha Rodrigo, Polonowita, to quote a few in the game of cricket, are not in your present OBA membership. Why is it?
GC. If they wish to join the FOC all they need do is to contact the FOC Secretary and formally submit an application. However, currently there are no vacancies for new comers, so if there are new applicants for membership the Committee will have to take it up at the next AGM to consider an increase in the FOC membership.
TSF. Have you had any problems with Any OBA in particular with regard to breaking of rules of the constitution so far? If so how did the Management Committee deal with such situations?
GC From time to time you hear a member making mistakes, errors or breaking of any rules of the Constitution. But the Committee is generally very reasonable and tolerant. After all we are human. Senior members often would encourage the respective member to resolve the matter and put things right. Of course, if it is a serious matter then it will be dealt with at Committee meeting level with a full enquiry and the final decision or the outcome will depend on the majority view of the Committee.
TSF What are your goals and expectations About the FOC in the future?
GC. Well, as I observe, the future of the FOC in each year is dependent on the actions and successes of the preceding year. This year, therefore, will be of no difference. We take each year at a time and that approach has really worked for the betterment of the FOC.
TSF. Rather than continuously funding the OBA connected schools in Sri Lanka on an open ended basis, why can’t the OBAs suggest to their respective alma mater to concentrate on recruitment campaigns of young cricketers also as a forward planning exercise for the sake of the game of cricket in the future? Don’t you see the need for this, as the very name of the event (FOC) itself relates to cricket?
GC Any member of the FOC could forward new ideas to the Executive Committee and they will have to persuade the majority to accept their proposal. That is how the Committee agreed to facilitate the launching of the new project ‘Sri Lanka School Cricket Development Fund’ organised by a new ( independent) Cricket Committee from Sri Lanka with the blessings of the Sri Lankan Cricket Board. Therefore, it does not mean that the FOC has to abandon its established winning formula in order to accommodate new items to the FOC Agenda.
TSF. I think you misunderstood my question. It is not a case of abandoning the ‘established winning formula’ but in my mind FOC should be like a tree and not be like a huge mountain. Mountains are big structures to be seen but stationary, but the trees grow and branch out to various areas accordingly. Likewise it would help the FOC and its worthy cause to be more flexible and accommodative rather than ‘sitting on a set of formulated principles’ over the years but to move with the times and the trend in which the Mother country is moving. This same formula will relate to my earlier question also touching on the Api Venuven Api fund.
GC: Actually, if you refer to few of my responses to your earlier questions, there you could see the replies to the very thing that you have mentioned here. In other words, how FOC have moved forward with time, creating opportunities for other organisations to join and share benefits. Also, in the process, how they faced up to numerous challenges, demands etc., to meet its objectives.
In my view, the strength for its survival and success over two decades is, its firm dedication and commitment to uphold it very basic principles - ‘Collective Responsibility’ and ‘Mutual Respect’ for each other, undoubtedly an excellent winning formula!!
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