|Historic occasion for cricket umpires
It was a historic evening at the P. Saravanamuttu Cricket Stadium in Colombo on 30th January last. Sixteen of the retired test match and one-day international panel senior umpires in this country, were presented each with a named engraved gold medal of excellence and a certificate of high merit, at a colourful ceremony. It was sponsored and organised by the Janashakthi Insurance Company Limited under the leadership of its managing director C. T. A. Schaffter, himself a former reputed fast bowler who had represented Ceylon then. Never before a cricket umpire while still living, had been recognised so warmly, for the dedicated long years of thankless services rendered to the game in this country.
Coming all the way from London for this memorable occasion as its guest of honour was Keir Hopley, a senior civil servant in the British Home Office and the immediate past general secretary of the prestigious Association of Cricket Umpires and Scorers England. In his address he said "Umpiring throughout the year in the climate here is not easy. Those who get to the very top, as did those 16 honoured today, deserve especial recognition. I am therefore delighted that the much-respected Janashakthi Insurance Company Limited should have taken this excellent initiative to honour those who achieved so much and, more importantly, have given so much to the game in the best period of their lives, to the game that we all love."
Fond memories of Ajith C. S. Perera, re-kindled in our minds in seeing him on his wheelchair, as one of the very much worthy recipients. He is a Master of Science Graduate from the Colombo University and a former Senior Manager in Pharmaceutical Industry. Besides this he is the only Sri Lankan to-date to qualify professionally from the prestigious ACU&S England, in all three avenues of cricket, as an Umpire, a Scorer and also a Training Instructor. Although a paraplegic since 1993, it is evident how much active he still is when it comes to cricket in particular. It simply proves how incorrect are our perceptions and believes about the disabled in this country. With the knowledge he had acquired both over his playing days even at Division-One level and then in umpiring over 17 long years to reach National Level coupled with his wide experiences both here and in England, he had gifted the cricketing world through his own endeavours, two books of great educational value. He had even none to support him financially. Thinking Cricket, his Magnus Opus, has won admiration for its quality as a self-study training guide and gained much recognition to the country, from the cricketing world, that includes the ICC, MCC, ECB and even the prestigious Wisden Cricketers Almanack (2002).
In his address at this function, Ajith pointed out how more than 11% of our population now as disabled get socially excluded from mainstream and being deprived of any opportunities through denial of even the very basic human rights enjoyed by the others in the same society. He even regretfully identified how he and over one million of other wheelchair users in this country, are being forcibly kept away even at all international sports stadia here. In being informed that facilities will very soon be made available at the P. Sara Stadium to all wheelchair users, with delight he made a very special appeal from the dynamic Minister of Sports, Johnston Fernando, to make at least three of our other international stadia for sports in Colombo, have the vital essential facilities provided effectively enabling thousands of wheelchair users like him, to enjoy equal opportunities and equal rights at least here. Ajith has volunteered to help on such timely endeavours.
It is indeed a tragedy to realise how the negative attitudes and physical architectural barriers in our environments have combined so cruelly, to deprive the country the use of the knowledge, competence, expertise and experiences of personnel like Ajith C. S. Perera. They are no doubt physically impaired, but yet remain "Not Out" and denied of opportunities to bat again and score for the country. Let us hope words and plans will soon get transformed in to action and results.
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