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Looking back at the Singer-SriLankan
Airlines Sevens from 1999
A new phase in Sri Lankan rugby scripted in Kandy
The first President of the Ceylon Rugby Football Union, H. B. T. Boucher made a proposal at the inaugural meeting of the union held at the Grand Oriental Hotel in Colombo on Monday August 10, 1908, to have the rugby headquarters in Kandy. But it remained only as a proposal scripted in the minutes of the meeting. On Sunday, August 10, 2008, it celebrated its 100 years of Rugby Football in Sri Lanka. Ninety one long years later, Malik Samarawickrema, a former Royal player and President of the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union (SLRFU) made a punt ahead, to offer his benevolence to Kandy Sports Club, the only outstation premier rugby club in the island. Six years later, one still remembers well that September day in 1999, when an International Sevens tournament was thrust before the people of Kandy – Conservative citizens averse to things new that might disturb their tranquil routine. But the organizers were confident that the new event would gradually win over the public – a confidence based on the continuing dominance by and growing popularity of Kandy Sports Club.

Under the auspices of the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union, The Singer Sri Lanka 7s evolved from a conversation between George Simpkin, Malik Samarawickrema and Priyantha Ekanayake in April 1999 and thereafter, it was decided to stage the first ever sevens rugby tournament for the Asian countries to coincide with the 125th Anniversary of Kandy Sports Club.

This event was held at the historic Bogambara grounds, Kandy, on September 4 and 5, 1999. Malik had an advantage; he can effect a deal with anyone in any situation, he got sponsors – great sponsors in Singer Sri Lanka Ltd and SriLankan Airlines Ltd with associate sponsors in Connaissance de Ceylon ltd.

Japan, South Korea, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, China, India and Sri Lanka sent their teams to scrum down in the tournament. At that time, it did not look at all likely that a tournament would be held in 1999 as the sheer logistical problems on contacting, contracting then integrating teams, hotels, airlines, sponsors, transport, referees and schools would take too much time. Amazingly, everything else which was planned actually worked and it worked because the committee, who were all volunteers, each had a set of tasks to complete and did them competently. These bands of restless officials, though, were not going to lean on public forbearance and let time bring the desired results. They nursed high ambitions for the event. Even before the flags were rolled up after the inaugural event, there was talk of making the event a part of the IRB World Series – which always was going to be a far reach. But the determination of the organizers backed heavily by the title sponsors to reach for the stars brought, at least, awareness of their event to IRB officials, who surely would have failed to admire the brave ambitions of a small, and dare I say unknown, rugby nation to stage a World Series all on their own.

Against this backdrop, the Singer SriLankan Airlines Sevens in Kandy did well to reach its third year.

Importantly, each successive event has seen significant improvements. The first event in 1999 featured only 10 international teams. In 2000, the field was expanded to 16, including countries from Europe. The number remained unchanged in 2003. Obviously, Kandy SC were optimistic that they can put together an attractive package that will evoke sponsor interest and so raise significant financial assistance to stage a world Series event. Much of course will depend on how successful the organizers will be selling broadcasting rights to overseas television companies.

So, Sri Lanka, doubtless, was being spoken of in the inner sanctums of Twickenham, and in 2004, the IRB responded to Sri Lanka’s persistent banging on its door by giving one-off IRB recognition to the Kandy tournament. It was designated the Official ‘Asian Qualifier’ for the 2005 IRB World Cup Sevens Series final. That being so, the competition at refurbished Nittawela was deadly earnest and the quality of the event ascended to quite another level.

More importantly, the organizers showed their organizing skills for examination by guests from the IRB, and Mark Egan, the IRB official commented at the end of the tournament. "The Sri Lankan organizers have shown us they have the skills and the facilities to stage international events on behalf of the IRB."

Those words of Mark Egan fairly committed the world body to give the Singer SriLankan Airlines Sevens event a more permanent IRB status. And from 2005, the event is called an ‘Asian Region–IRB Satellite Event’ meaning that its results will determine which Asian countries qualify to play in the continent’s three Annual IRB World Series events in Tokyo, Dubai and Hong Kong. Of course, IRB Satellite status in not the same as being a part of the IRB World Series, which was the organisers’ ambition. But in just seven years to come to this point is commendable: a tribute to the unbending determination of Malik, Priyantha, George, Iswan and company.

Since the Asian Region–IRB Satellite Sevens event was established, only the Asian region countries were invited on the ranking of the Asian Rugby Football Union recommendations. The events in 2006 and 2007, despite various constrains and obstacles in Sri Lanka, the tournament went on uninterrupted and this year being the 10th Anniversary of the Singer SriLankan Airlines Sevens tournament, the SLRFU, together with the organizers and the sponsors are planning a huge event in grand style in Kandy.

RESULTS OF THE

TOURNAMENT SINCE 1999:

1999 – Participating teams – Sri Lanka, Japan, South Korea, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, India, China, Thailand.

Cup Champions – Finals – Korea Beat Chinese Taipei – by 22 points to 7.

Plate Championship – Finals – Malaysia beat Sri Lanka – 27-26.

Bowl Championship – Finals – India beat Thailand – 47 points to 31 points.

2000 – Participating teams – Arabian Gulf, China, Chinese Taipei, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Malaysia, Netherlands, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Sri Lankan Barbarians, Thailand.

Cup Champions – Finals – Chinese Taipei beat Korea – 38 points to 21 points

Plate Championship – Finals – Japan beat China – 42 points to nil

Bowl Championship – Finals – Thailand beat Sri Lankan Barbarians – 35 points to 26 points

2001 – Participating teams – Arabian Gulf, Belgium, China, Chinese Taipei, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Sri Lankan Barbarians, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand.

Cup Championship – Finals – Chinese Taipei beat Korea – 26 points to 21 points

Plate Championship – Finals – Denmark beat Malaysia – 24 points to 14 points

Bowl Championship – Finals – Czech Republic beat Arabian Gulf – 15 points to 14 points

2002 – Participating teams – Arabian Gulf, Belgium, China, Chinese Taipei, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Kenya, Malaysia, Netherlands, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Portugal.

Cup Championship – Finals – Portugal beat Kenya – 24 points to 21 points

Plate Championship – Finals – South Korea beat Malaysia – 27 points to 26 points

Bowl Championship – Finals – Hong Kong beat India – 50 points to nil

2003 – Participating teams – Arabian Gulf, Australian Potoroos, Belgium, Chinese Taipei, Cook Islands, Denmark, Germany, Hong Kong, Kenya, Malaysia, Morocco, New Zealand Centurions, Portugal, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka.

Cup Champions – Finals – Winners - Kenya beat Portugal

Plate Champions – Finals- Winners - Sri Lanka

Bowl Championship – Finals – Winners - Arabian Gulf

2004 – Participating teams – Arabian Gulf, China, Chinese Taipei, India, Kazakhstan, Guam, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka. Thailand. (RWC Qualifier)

Cup Championship – Winners – Japan

Plate Championship – Winners – Sri Lanka

Bowl Championship – Winners – Kazakhstan

2005 – Participating teams – Arabian Gulf, China, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, India, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Japan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Singapore, Guam.

Cup Championship – Winners – Japan

Plate Championship – Winners – Sri Lanka

Bowl Championship – Winners – Arabian Gulf

2006 – Participating teams – Arabian Gulf, China, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, India,

Kazakhstan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippine, Sri Lanka, Thailand.

Cup Championship – Winners- Korea

Plate Championship – Winners- Thailand

Bowl Championship – Winners- Malaysia

2007 – Participating teams – Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Kazakhstan, Cambodia, China, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Malaysia, India.(10 teams).

Cup Championship – Winners – Hong Kong beat Korea – 37 points to 05

Plate Championship – Winners – China beat Thailand – 34 points to nil

Bowl Championship – Winners – India beat Cambodia – 36 points to 05 points

SCHOOLS SEGMENT

The invitation to schools to run concurrently with the international tournament was a great boost to all schools, spectators and this resulted in the schools performance and skill levels increasing rapidly. In particular, the schools in Kandy, where records will reveal that all rugby playing schools in Kandy are in Division ‘A’ of the Schools Association and continue to perform at the highest level of rugby - both Sevens and 15-a-Side.

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