Hemaka – Lanka sports’ saving grace

By Sa’adi Thawfeeq
Hemaka Amarasuriya is a name not only synonymous with Singer (Sri Lanka) Ltd but with Sri Lanka sports especially cricket and rugby football. The fact that he is stepping down from the pedestal of Managing Director of the company at the end of June after serving it for 37 successful years is something that all sport lovers would be sad about. During Amarasuriya’s tenure many sports thrived through Singer’s generous sponsorships without which they would have struggled to exist and in some instances may not have produced the results or players that made Sri Lanka a proud sporting nation.

Sri Lanka is fortunate that a sports loving personality like Amarasuriya was at the helm of a company like Singer (Sri Lanka) Ltd. Had it not been for his passion for rugby and cricket, sports would never have got the kind of financial backing which it so desperately needed to help sustain it.
“The idea that prompted me to use Singer on sports was the love I had for sports. I played rugby and a little bit of cricket for Royal College,” 65-year-old Amarasuriya told The Nation. “Also to promote your brand you need that kind of something to back the customers and make the brand known to the mind. When you associate sports with a brand, teenagers and all the other age groups get associated with it. Some of the most successful brands like Pepsi and Coke have sports connections.”

Cricket and rugby are the country’s two high profile sports and sports benefactor Amarasuriya very proudly states that Singer played a major role in enhancing its stature internationally.
“Sports sponsorship has been a really rewarding experience. There is reward in the sense that we have seen sports developing in this country. That Singer has played a part in it and contributed towards the development of sports in some way I am proud to say,” Amarasuriya said.
“Every household in this country knows the Singer brand because of our involvement with sports. Sometimes when I go out of Colombo even in market places people come and speak to me that is in recognition of the brand. It was a very old brand with Singer sewing machines but it was rekindled because of sports sponsorships,” he said. Singer also sponsored other sports like hockey, basketball, tennis, cycling and motocross.

Singer’s sponsorship of sports in the country began when Amarasuriya was promoted as Managing Director in addition to his role as Chairman of the company in 1985. He will continue to be Chairman in an unexecutive capacity playing a rather minor role in the company’s affairs which will now be handled by his successor Finance Director Asoka Peiris.
Recounting the role his company played in the promotion of sports in the country Amarasuriya stated: “It was Singer who pioneered the inter-provincial cricket tournament in the eighties. Criticism was very harsh and many people said that it was a useless tournament because four days was too long and some of the matches were over in 2½ days. Some teams were strong, others weak and there were some others who couldn’t even raise 11 players. The long game experience was vital at that time because then it was only Test cricket and fifty-overs was just starting.

“There wasn’t also a certain amount of loyalty because different groups came together to form a team. It was a difficult structure to maintain but it was essential for the future of the game. We expected some of the local sponsors to come up and sponsor the teams but that didn’t happen and the Cricket Board had to fund all the teams which was also a problem. Anything at the beginning will have teething problems which you have to overcome with experience and patience. I am glad that in the last few years they have brought the inter-provincial tournament back.”

Singer’s second major, commitment was to organise and host the Singer World Series in 1994 when the Cricket Board at the time didn’t have any funds but gave its blessings. Australia, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka took part in it with Zimbabwe replacing Pakistan in 1996.
“It was the starting point when money started flowing from TV rights with World Tel coming in to sponsor the matches. That was really a ground-breaking tournament because we had to do everything well,” said Amarasuriya. “We had to go to the different Cricket Board’s and invite them. It was not easy to get these teams to come and play in a tournament because they had other international commitments. We hosted it in 1994 and 1996 and then the Cricket Board realised that there was a lot of money in it and they took it over.”
Singer’s third major commitment with cricket was undertaking the sponsorship of the Sri Lanka team in 1995. “At the time the team was wooden spoonists in one-day cricket but we were prepared to take up the challenge. We went in hesitantly but then it turned out to be a fantastic sponsorship because we won the World Cup,” said Amarasuriya.

“We never expected Sri Lanka to do that well. The team was gradually moving up and everyone felt that there was a chance because it was a brilliant side and they had a superb captain who was also a strong leader. Winning the World Cup is not easy and it’s a once in a lifetime achievement. When Sri Lanka came to the final I knew that they were going to win. I would say that it was a gamble that we took sponsoring the team and it came through. The time we signed up we never expected the team to win the World Cup.
“Singer became a household name after that. It was well known before but even today people still associate Singer with Sri Lanka cricket. We went upto 2001 then the bids became too high for us and Dilmah came in and now Mobitel. Cricket has become very expensive and sometimes we wonder whether it is worthwhile spending so much because it takes a big chip off your advertising budget. Also, if you spend one million dollars on sponsorship, to make it work you’ve got to spend another one million dollars on ground advertising,” Amarasuriya said. Today Singer sponsors only Mercantile cricket.

Singer’s association with rugby started with the sponsorship of the annual Bradby Shield tie between Royal and Trinity in 1988. They still continue to sponsor the time-honoured event. For the past ten years Singer also sponsors Kandy Sports Club, the local kings of rugby in the country and for the past six years the schools rugby tournament. They also sponsored the national rugby team for three years but pulled out when they knew it was not producing the results they expected.

“There was no enthusiasm to continue because we didn’t see a structure for the national rugby team. We would like to have a winner. You want to be with a winner or somebody who is trying to win. This is something that sports bodies must also remember. People are not ready to sign cheques and give them sponsorships without getting something in return,” Amarasuriya said.
“From the time we started sponsoring till now, schools playing rugby have increased from 25 to 75 which is a remarkable achievement. To bring the smaller schools in is a great joy, like Mahinda, Richmond, Moratu Vidyalaya, Science College and Vidyartha. These are schools without support from us probably would never have made it,” noted Amarasuriya. “We sponsored about 30 schools along with the tournament, but we have stopped that because expenses are very high. We have given them the original start others must chip in.”
Singer also sponsored the Kandy SC organised Singer-SriLankan Airlines rugby sevens tournament for ten successful years and according to Amarasuriya Sri Lankan rugby sevens standards came up with that tournament. However for some unknown reasons the tournament ceased to be played in 2008 and was replaced last year by the Carlton Sevens which is unlikely to take place this year.

Amarasuriya was very critical the way rugby administration has nosedived in the country. “Rugby was coming up nicely until they set up this interim committee. Every year we were improving and the interim committee has set us back a lot. All the inter-club politics is also having an impact on the game.”
“The problem with interim committees is the downside interference by the Sports Minister on selections. It is not that the Minister wants to make any changes but because somebody else will worry him. It is very difficult for the Minister also.”

Having served as interim committee chairman in cricket for 15 months, Amarasuriya was of the opinion that interim committees are not the answer if sport is to develop in the country. “I am against interim committees because having gone through that experience I feel it is not the structure it should be. I undertook the interim chairman’s job with great reluctance. I undertook it as a national service rather than for any personal gain or anything like that. When the Prime Minister asks you to do it, it was very difficult to turn it down. It was with a lot of hesitancy that I undertook it knowing the politics there. The good thing was the opposition was also in the committee. I managed to handle them and I thought it was an achievement on my part.”
Amarasuriya was of the opinion in cricket Sri Lanka had reached its peak, but in rugby they had a wonderful cradle and the potential is there to go further. What they lack is professionalism in administration to go the extra distance.

“We’ve come up to the Asian level to be among the top five nations in Asia. But we just can’t go that extra bit and become Asian champions. I can’t see Sri Lanka ever winning a rugby World Cup but certainly they should be able to win the Asiad. That’s within our reach,” said Amarasuriya.
“Cricket hasn’t had the kind of support we gave for the national Sevens for the past ten years. Because of the terrorism in the country everyone shied away from coming here for cricket but rugby went on. With that kind of support Sri Lanka rugby should have been in the Asian Sevens circuit and running into the quarter-finals of the Hong Kong and Dubai Sevens. The amount of investment we made on rugby has not maximised potential. It’s the fault of the administration,” he said.

“Despite all the shortcomings between interim committees and appointed committees cricket has progressed with all those stumbling blocks. They’ve developed stadiums and things like that. Rugby has not utilised the sponsorship that was given to them.
“Rugby needs a good structure. People will very soon lose faith in the game because the administration has become a laughing stock. It’s a shame the administrators are letting down the entire rugby following in the country by holding piecemeal AGMs and fighting with each other. Where in the world do you have this kind of nonsense? The solution to this is that you need a strong elected committee with a vision to take rugby forward,” said Amarasuriya.


Lanka Cavaliers T20 for over 40s

The Lanka Cavaliers, a cricket foundation formed by veterans of the game, will stage their inaugural Twenty20 over-40 tournament on June 5 and 6 at Colombo Colts and BRC grounds. Eight teams comprising veteran cricketers who are yet to experience the thrills of the shortest version of cricket - Twenty20 - are set to compete in the invitational knockout tournament which will run for two consecutive days at adjoining venues.
“This tournament was mainly organised to give the veterans of the game an opportunity to experience the new and popular version of cricket. In our days we were accustomed to four day cricket and limited-over cricket which we played very rarely. This will also be a very good event to meet and build up camaraderie with the past cricketers of the country,” said Jayantha Seneviratne, the President of Lanka Cavaliers, at a press briefing held at the Colts pavilion last Thursday (May 20).

The 8 teams that will compete in the tournament will comprise combined teams from selected districts and combined schools. Colts XI, Olcott XI, Quadrangular XI, MCA Veterans XI, Umpires XI, Moratuwa XI, Kandy XI and Kurunegala XI will be the teams participating. The winning team will receive the Lanka Cavaliers Trophy along with a cash award of Rs. 50,000 while the runner-up team will receive Rs. 25,000 in cash with a trophy. In addition individual awards will be given away to the best batsman, best bowler and the man of the final. East West Marketing, Dialog, Softlogics and Ceylon Cold Stores have come forward to sponsor the event. Michael Tissera will grace the awards ceremony as the chief guest.

Lanka Cavaliers was founded in 1997 by a bunch of cricket enthusiasts, who were former first class cricketers, with the intention of bringing the cricket veterans together. With the motto of ‘Peace, Service and Goodwill’ Lanka Cavaliers organised coaching camps in rural areas around the country. They are the pioneer organisation to conduct Over-40 cricket matches in Sri Lanka and have already toured countries like the UAE and India to participate in veterans cricket tournaments. [MNA]

The programme:
June 5: Opening ceremony at 8.30am at Colts
At Colts: MCA Veterans XI v Olcott XI at 9.30am; Kurunegala XI v Colts XI at 1.00pm At BRC: Quadrangular XI v Moratuwa XI at 9.30am; Umpires XI v Kandy XI at 1.00pm
June 6: Semi-finals at Colts and BRC at 9.30am and final at Colts at 1.00pm


Pioneer in Okinawan Karate to publish book

Gamini Soysa, the only Sri Lankan trained in the motherland of karate, Okinawa, will leave for the city on June 1 (Tuesday) to attend special training, a seminar and to meet several grand masters to gather information about karate, history, philosophy and tradition which he needs to publish a book.

Sri Lanka’s pioneer in Okinawan Karate, Soysa trained in the art of Shorin ryu Karate (Shaolin style) a major ryuha, in 1984, which he introduced to Sri Lanka and India, So far many Instructors have graduated under him.

Fifty-nine-year old Soysa holds the 8th degree black belt in Okinawan karate and 7th degree black belt in Renbukai Japanese karate, and is the only Sri Lankan who holds such a black belt (dan) in karate, awarded from Okinawa and Japan.

Shihan (Master) Soysa has dedicated over 36 years of his life teaching karate in Sri Lanka and many parts of India. He said, that not too many karatekas, not even Instructors, know why most Katas (forms of karate) end at the same spot that they started? This is very important from a philosophical point of view. When we come into life we enter with nothing, and when we leave, we leave with nothing. In other words, by starting the kata and ending the kata on the same spot, we are physically realising this important philosophical lesson. We learn from this that what we do when we are here on earth is very important, so no matter what it is that we do, we must always do our very best and give our100 percent all the time.


Samarakoon takes over as CPRFU president

By Hafiz Marikar
At the Central Province Rugby Football Union’s 17th Annual General Meeting held at the Old Trinitians Sports Club Auditorium last Sunday, Mohan Samarakoon, who was president three years ago, took over from Maurice Perera who opted to step down.

Perera, the outgoing president, played for Trinity College in 1952-53 and is one of the oldest Clifford Cup players. He played for Kandy SC as a schoolboy, was in the first-ever Cup final team of Kandy SC in 1954-55, coached Kandy SC in 1969 to enter the Clifford Cup final and also played for Up-Country and All Ceylon.
Samarakoon too was a fine rugby player, a fine front row forward to come out of Trinity College. He started his club rugby at Kandy SC and later played for Dickoya MCC and Dimbulla A & CC where he had the privilege of leading both teams. He also played for Up-Country and All-Ceylon Barbarians. He is a master planner and organiser.

After taking over as president he welcomed suggestions to further develop school and club rugby in Kandy. He spoke of the need to have new clubs to provide more opportunities for schoolboy ruggerites to play the game and also for more job opportunities for them in the Kandy District. He said there is a plan in the offing for this and requested support to implement it.

Representative from districts of Nuwara Eliya, Dickoya, Matale and Kandy expressed their support to the CPRFU to take rugby to the next level and be a force to reckon with in the future. At the AGM a formidable team was elected to be the driving force to promote rugby in the Central Province.
Office Bearers – Patron: Brig Japana Jayawardena. Trustee: Maurice Perera. President: Mohan Samarakoon. Vice President: Tuan Dole. Secretary: Iswan Omar. Treasurer: Anura Madawela. Committee: Gamini Udugama, Hafiz Marikar, Dushan Ratwatte, Senaka Alawatuhgama, Michael Richardson, Janaka Pathirana, Abu Junaideen, Eric Hulangamuwa, Brig. Udaya Ariyaratne. President Referees: Anil Jayasinghe. Chairman Development: Viper Gunaratne.