BIRMINGHAM – The huge jump in petrol prices in Sri Lanka had threatened to derail Ruchira Fernando’s sporting dreams.

A litre of 95 octane now costs around LKR 540 (S$2.10), almost three times what it did a year ago, the artistic gymnasts shares, leading to kilometres-long queues outside petrol stations amid an economic crisis.

So instead of a one-hour drive to training five times a week, Fernando, 22, switched instead to taking the train – and a longer two-hour commute – to practice sessions at the Torrington Gymnasium in Colombo.

In a way, he is more fortunate than women’s 3×3 basketball captain Chalani Perera who has to walk almost 20km from the bank she works in to her home and then to training.

According to reports, the Sri Lankan government’s foreign currency reserves have run dry, and it owes fuel suppliers about US$800 million (S$1.11 billion). A shipment of petrol and diesel arrived in July with a bill of about US$587 million, but there was only US$125 million in the bank.

With commuting made difficult, schools have been closed and half-day power cuts have been ordered to preserve fuel.

“It’s so tough now in Sri Lanka,” said Fernando, whom The Straits Times met on Monday (July 25) on a flight to Birmingham where the Commonwealth Games is held.

“Everything has become more expensive – rice, potatoes, onions, cooking oil… it’s sad really, and many people are thinking of leaving the country.”

Another Sri Lankan athlete, who declined to be named, told ST with a laugh: “Officials have told us not to run away and seek asylum here.”

Naturally, sports is an afterthought under such trying circumstances, and the country’s 110 athletes were told by their government to give up on participating in the July 28-Aug 8 Games in England.

Sri Lanka’s chef de mission Dampath Fernando told The Indian Express: “The Treasury said they don’t have money. Forget about it. We fell into a difficult, desperate situation.”

But the country’s cricket board, who are still in the black thanks to broadcast deals and ticket sales, stepped up to contribute LKR 22 million, which went towards covering flights, accommodation and competition attire.

Perera told Press Trust Of India: “We faced a great number of difficulties in getting here and now it feels really great that we are here,”

Austerity measures remain though – instead of lavish designer costumes, the athletes trotted out at the Alexander Stadium in basic tracksuits for Thursday’s opening ceremony.

Dampath said: “We are going with bare minimum… we are issuing only three t-shirts, one tracksuit and one bag to each athlete. Other than that, nothing. No new shoes, no new shirts… we can’t afford that. But we will make sure athletes are comfortable.”

Last modified: July 30, 2022