Sri Lanka Sports since Independence | Sunday Observer

Sri Lanka Sports since Independence

The people in Sri Lanka celebrate the 70th Independence today with great patriotism. It’s time to have a good look at the sports in Sri Lanka since Independence. We Sri Lankans have seen sportsmen and women bring honour to our country through their dedication over the years.


Duncan White in action

After becoming a free state, Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) was represented by Duncan White at the London Olympic Games in the 400 meters Hurdles along with world’s top ranking athletes from all parts of the world. In his first attempt at the Olympics, White was able to bring glory by winning a medal to enter the history books of sports in Sri Lanka, as the first athlete to win a medal in Athletics for the country.

White, before entering the Olympic arena was a competitor at the Empire Games in Auckland, New Zealand in 1948 (now known as the Commonwealth Games). Here too he was on the podium having won a gold medal for Sri Lanka.

Since his departure from Athletics, Sri Lanka had the opportunity of fielding an athlete in 1960 when Linus C. Dias was a competitor. With him two sportsmen too were seen in action - Number one shooter at that time Ravi Jayawardene and Boxer from Police, Dharmasiri Weerakoon. Though they could not get on to the podium they were able to go past their best performances.

In the past, many sportsmen and women have represented the country at Olympic Games in many sporting disciplines. Though over 100 participants got the opportunity, only two athletes came up with flying colours to get their names included in the annals of the Olympic Games.

The only Olympic for the country was won by Susanthika Jayasinghe who won a silver medal running in the 200 meters.

R.J.K. Karunananda (a.k.a. Marathon Karu) the athlete who competed at the Tokyo Olympics is hailed as one of the heroes in sports in Japan for his courageous completion of the 10,000 metres event. It is stated, Karunananda who faced the starter along with other runners was the last to finish the race as the 39th competitor.

The organizers declared the race completed and were planning for subsequent events. But, Karunananda who held the theme ‘win or lose does not matter, what matters is to finish the event,’ stuck to it and finished the event.

He was initially booed by the full house of spectators, greeted with stunned silence in the penultimate lap, followed by a standing ovation, for his determination to show the world what the Olympic motto stands for.

In Japan, his act is considered as one of the best examples shown by a Sportsman in completing a task and the schools are said to have taken steps to teach children, about Karunananda’s resolute lesson.

Mohamed Junaid Mohamed Lafir became the first sportsman to bring the biggest honour for independent Sri Lanka when he won the World Billiard Championship in 1973. This Championship was held in India and he was the sole representative from the country. On his return after winning the Championship he was accorded a Red carpet welcome by the government.

Sri Lanka has been competing at the Asian Games since its inception in 1956. The Asian Games was mooted by the late Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. In the first Games held in India another record was set by a Sri Lankan Athlete Nagalingam Ediriveerasingham who cleared the bar over 6 feet, also to become the first Asian to achieve this landmark.

From 1948, Sri Lanka has been fielding teams for the Commonwealth Games in different sports disciplines and have had fair successes at various venues. This year, the National Olympic Committee is set to send a big contingent of sportsmen and women for the Games to be held in Gold Coast, Australia.

Rugby is a sport introduced to Sri Lanka by the British during their period of rule and was generally played by them. As the game was played mostly in Colombo, leading schools in Colombo and Kandy got involved and now it has become a leading sport in the country, at School and Club level.

Football is also a sport that has its beginning in the foreign rulers, though it was a game picked up by most of the ordinary people of the country. Beginners of this game played barefoot and later adjusted to suit the international level. Once it was done many clubs sprang up with the support of the wealthy people. Now, the game has reached a level where locals are able to compete in the Asian Region.

Motor racing too has become a sport that attracts large crowds. With many riders, the young and the old alike, are taking a keen interest in this sport, and many leading Companies have come forward to support it. With their support the motor racing sport has reached a great height, which has also helped racing clubs to invite foreign racers to compete here.

Their participation helped our local young riders and drivers gain experience which paved the way for them to enter the international racing tracks. Dilantha Malagamuwa became the first Lankan Driver to enter the international tracks, who made his name competing for over 25 years and brought glory to the country by winning international championships on many occasions.

Volleyball was a game played mostly by the rural folk in Sri Lanka. The Sports Ministry’s decision to name it the National Sport saw it rise to a high level.

The past few decades saw many leading local business and manufacturers take a keen interest to promote the game. With their benevolence the sport improved greatly and our Spikers got the chance of competing in the Asian Region. This also helped the Sri Lanka Volleyball Federation to take a keen interest in promoting Beach Volleyball in the country.

Though Beach Volleyball was a late introduction our men and women Beach Volleyball players came up with flying colours winning many international tournaments held in various parts of Asia, in the recent past.

Cricket too is one game that was brought to our country by the English during their rule. During its introduction, very few schools and clubs took to the game. But, it soon became an important sport with its expansion to Schools and Clubs. Though we were engaged with the game for a long time the World Governing body (ICC) accepted us as a Test playing country after a long delay.

The ICC granted Test status to Sri Lanka in 1981, and the first test against England was played in the year 1982. Though we were not a Test playing nation we had the opportunity of playing in the First One Day World Championship played for the Prudential Cup in England after winning the ICC Championship Trophy, to qualify.

Sri Lanka Cricketers who suffered immensely since their entry to the One Day World Cup Cricket managed to record a historic win taking the World Cup in the year 1996 under the captaincy of Arjuna Ranatunga with a star-studded team. Sri Lanka led by Duleep Mendis recorded their first Test victory against India captained by Kapil Dev. 

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