Sri Lanka president's son faces rugby misconduct claims

Rohitha Rajapaksa Rohitha (centre) - dealing with the powerful Rajapaksas is a delicate matter

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Sri Lanka's rugby authorities are investigating President Mahinda Rajapaksa's rugby-playing son after claims that he assaulted a referee.

One report says Rohitha Rajapaksa has been suspended from the game but the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union (SLRFU) denies this.

Witnesses said they saw Mr Rajapaksa, 22, physically attack the referee after his side lost a match this month.

Rugby is the island's most popular sport after cricket.

A top rugby official said he believed the incident was merely verbal but must be looked into.

The case is politicised: all three of the president's sons play in the Navy SC team and the second son, Yoshitha, is captain of the national side.

That appointment prompted some senior players to quit, although the team has since won promotion back to the top tier of the Asian 5 Nations tournament.

Eyewitnesses at the Navy SC vs Police A match on 5 May said that after the defeat Rohitha Rajapaksa, the president's youngest son, grabbed the referee, Dimitri Gunasekera, by the collar and assaulted him.

'Unnecessary words'

Other match officials and Yoshitha Rajapaksa reportedly intervened to defuse the situation.

The Lankadeepa newspaper says Rohitha and another player have been suspended pending an inquiry by a special SLRFU committee.

The SLRFU Chairman Asanga Seneviratne told the BBC he did not believe there had been a physical assault but thought "unnecessary words were exchanged".

"I'm surprised [Rohitha] is involved," he said. "It's very unfortunate it happened, and must be investigated."

The secretary of the SLRFU, Rizly Illyas denied the account in the Lankadeepa newspaper, saying there had been no decision to suspend Rohitha and that the inquiry was continuing.

Reports say the special committee was appointed after the SLRFU's regular disciplinary committee refused to take up the matter.

The president's eldest son, Namal, said on Twitter that the "entire incident was a misunderstanding" but did not answer questions on whether an assault took place.

Dinka Peiris of the Society of Rugby Football Referees declined to comment but said referees were seeking better control over the conduct of matches.

Days after the alleged assault there were more allegations of misconduct - by a school rugby team which is trained by Rohitha Rajapaksa.

In recent newspaper interviews, the youngest Rajapaksa son said his hobbies include working out and motorbike racing.

He also said he planned and designed a Sri Lankan communication satellite launched into space from Chinese soil last year.

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