Brilliant rugby career hangs on a
lifeline for ill-fated Bistamin

‘He is not the first to fall from the location’

By M Naushad Amit
There are instances in history where we learn of heroes, rulers and kingdoms being brought down in certain eras for various reasons. But the tragic misfortunes of the past few weeks that befell Imran Bistamin, a rugby idol who is rated as Sri Lanka’s best No.8, were not of his own doing but brought on by unfortunate and unforeseen circumstances. The Nation visited the location in Kandy where Bistamin faced this calamity and met some of his closest team-mates of Kandy Sports Club to dig up some untold versions of the story.

Bistamin, a product of St. Anthony’s College, Kandy, became the centre of controversy when he was unreasonably axed from the Sri Lankan team for the Asia 5 Nation tournament held in Chinese Taipei a month back. But, according to Bistamin’s friends, the quiet and down to earth human being, who is a total contrast on the rugby field, had bowed down to the decision made by top administrators of the sport saying that his career in rugby had just begun and he had a long way to go.

According to Saliya Kumara, Bistamin’s closest pal at Kandy Sports Club, the night he met his unfortunate fate was the first time he went out without his team-mates in the recent years. “We just returned from the USA after a short tour. Usually we phone each other at night to find out the whereabouts of our team-mates. That has become a habit of ours. The day he met with the accident I called him around 8.00pm and Bistamin said that he would meet us in an hour. But from 9.00pm we could not reach him on his phone. That made us nervous,” Saliya said.

According to reports, Bistamin had been enjoying a night out with some of his office colleagues on Saturday, November 22 after a tour from the USA. Around 9.00pm, the group of friends visited an eatery in the heart of Kandy which they usually frequented. The cafe which operates after 6pm is located on the first floor of a day bazaar - a popular place for readymade garments and fancy items. This supermarket is also popularly known as ‘Torrington’ in Kandy.

According to a witness who wished to remain anonymous, Bistamin and the group of friends had ordered some food and were sharing a light moment shortly before the tragic fall. After they had their dinner Bistamin had tried to lean back where he was seated on the first floor of the complex. But, for his misfortune, two iron poles were missing from the top of the protective railing resulting in him falling backwards, a distance of 10-feet, and hitting the back of his head on the cemented ground floor.

With the help of a few workers of the supermarket, Bistamin was rushed to the Kandy National Hospital where he had to undergo immediate surgery at the Neurological Unit. It is learnt from reliable sources that the back of his head and two spots of Bistamin’s spinal cord had been badly damaged. The energetic rugby player is now on bed in a coma battling for his life in the ICU Unit.

The Nation learnt that Bistamin is not the first to fall off from the same location. Some of the vendors of the supermarket who are ardent rugby enthusiasts said that two others had also fallen off the identical spot due to the protective railing not being repaired by the Municipal Authorities of Kandy. “The first to fall from the place was a two-year-old toddler around a year ago. Fortunately the kid escaped without a scratch. The second person to fall was a 26-year-old employee of a devala in Kandy. That person fell sideward and took some time to recover but is limping when he walks now. It is sad to see these youth spending the best years of their life as handicapped persons,” said a Kandy merchant.

Most of the vendors were blaming the Municipal Council authorities for not repairing the damaged railing which has become a serious hazard. “They (authorities) did nothing when the previous accidents happened. But now it’s high time they act fast and repair these damages. It has claimed the career of a promising rugby player of Kandy. He (Bistamin) is a very humble person. He is very popular among everybody in Kandy especially among the ordinary people. We are great fans of his. Now his future is in the hands of God. Not just because he is an excellent ruggerite, but we would like to have him back because of the good person he is. We hope this will be an eye-opener to the municipal authorities,” the vendors voiced with considerable emotion.

As his fellow Kandy townies pray for Bistamin’s speedy recovery, medical sources say that his condition has slightly improved but recovery would be a long process. The initial operation has been successful but Bistamin has not come out of the coma state. His is on a life-supporting unit until he comes out of the coma. But on Wednesday Bistamin moved his arms and legs slightly which was a relief to his family, friends and fans. Medics say that Bistamin has to go through a few more MRI scans before deciding on the next step. They further say that his recovery depends mainly on his regaining consciousness. If not it is felt that his life might be at great risk.

Bistamin (23) was a regular member of the Kandy Sports Club since he joined in 2004. The same year he played his final year of school rugby captaining the St. Anthony’s team. He is a talented forward who could switch from a flanker to No. 8 at any given time. His team-mates call him a great warrior in the rugby field despite being a lovable character as a human being off the field. Bistamin was called for national duty in both versions of the sport. Experts of the game have predicted Bistamin to be a successful captain of the national 15s and 7s judging by his temperament and style of play.

However, Bistamin’s accident has brought the entire rugby fraternity of the country together at a time when the governing body of the sport is going through a major administrative crisis. The traditional Colombo-Kandy rivalry has temporarily ceased at least to hope and pray that Bistamin’s life is saved. The saddest news for the local rugby fans would be to learn that Bistamin’s return to the rugby field will be uncertain. The past week brought many of the tough and fearless rugby players who battled against each other to gain victory on and off the field down on their knees praying for one good man’s life. This indeed is a valuable lesson for all the administrators and players of rugby and other sports that nothing at all is certain, not even life.




            Comments from Bistamin’s Kandy        
                    Sports Club team-mates                 

Sean Wijesinghe – Captain

“I met him in 2004 when he joined Kandy. He is a very silent, caring and well disciplined person. Any responsibility could be given to him without a doubt. He is more like our caretaker when we go out together. As a friend the only thing that matters to me is his recovery. For us that’s enough.”

There’s no doubt that he is an excellent player. He does not deserve to be on the bed. He deserves better than this. He has not done any harm to anyone. He was very helpful to others. The whole of Kandy knows him. That the reason why everybody’s so upset.

We can’t do much now. At the moment the whole control is with the doctors. A good team of doctors is looking after him. If he needs to be taken out of the country the club will look after him. Right now what we can do is to be with the family and support them.

If this happened to any player in the country we would be giving the same support. It’s nice to see all clubs and players from Colombo calling up to give assistance.

We are praying for him every day. I have faith in God. I know he will not turn his back on Imran. We would really love to have him on the field. But I want him back as my friend. For his parents he should come back as their son. I was really upset when his parents held my hands and asked for their son. It was a different feeling. It’s not all about rugby. It’s about life. We learnt the value of life with this incident. He’ll be OK. He has the guts. We didn’t lose him. We still have him but not active. He’ll be back.”


Nilufer Ibrahim –
back division player

“I have known Imran for quite a long time. We played together since 2004. He is a talented player and was at his peak at the time he met with this accident. I wish that nobody would have to face such a tragedy, not only him. He was a very good friend of mine, more like a brother.”

“I visited everyday to see him recover. Today he is in this state even because he is a fit person. If somebody else had the same accident I think it would have been worse. He is a spirited person. But I was upset to learn that he might not be able to play again. I know many players who had to give up the sport due to various accidents. If not for this accident he would be the Kandy and Sri Lanka captain by 2010. Overall he is a talented player.

“His popularity as a human being was evident with the crowd gathered on the night of the accident. All the players of Kandy SC, his family, our families, friends and others even the public of Kandy were gathered in the hospital praying for him. We all pray and I urge everyone to pray for him. Even if it is not as a player I want him to see him on his feet as my usual friend.”


Farzil Marija – fly half

“I knew him even before we joined Kandy. We were not close then but now we are good friends. He is a very nice human being, very caring and supportive. As a player he is the best No. 8 in the country at the moment. I never dreamt that such an awful thing would happen to a person like him.
My hope is that he gets well soon and returns to us as our friend. Even if it takes longer I would like to see him back playing with us. It was an honour to play with him for four years. And I hope he would return to rugby. Even if he plays or not in the future we will still be with him as good friends.”


Saliya Kumara – scrum half

“I knew him from schooldays. After we joined the club we became good friends. He was very popular among all. All the players from Colombo are inquiring about his well-being. Undoubtly he is the best No. 8 in the country now. But he went through some bad times recently.

I was the first to get the call from one of his office friends saying he was hospitalised. Then I called all the others and we were in the hospital until we got good news from the doctors after nearly 24 hours. All were shocked.

With the latest developments I am happy to hear that he is moving his arms and legs. It’s a relief for us to have a good sign of his recovery. Nevertheless, we will have to depend on the doctors’ reports and advice. I’m sure he will recover fast. About his return to the field I have a doubt, but he will be able to return someday.

Both as a friend and a team-mate we were really close. Even on the field He is No. 8 and I’m No. 9 and we had a very good combination when it comes to playing. He knew how to read the game fast. I hope he could make it. I would still like to have him back as my friend.

We are conducting religious rituals in the temple hoping for his recovery. All team members got together once we heard of the news. But we can’t give him anything at the moment other than our prayers. I know he is strong. He will recover. The best we can do as friends is not to visit him in the hospital because he is still in a coma. If we went there it will affect his recovery. Even the doctors advised us not to come for a couple of weeks till he recovers. I think that’s the best we can do now.”