Badminton Logbook - Part 1
When SLBA was once served by selfless individuals

by Ravi Nagahawatte

Badminton needs a close review which will afford us a peep into the past because the time is rife to remind the present administrators how former officials sweated to establish this racket sport.

This is an era where we still see joyrides by players and a disregard for discipline, which was highlighted when a suspended player defied the restrictions placed upon him and took part in the recent National Sports Festival.

Those who started this sport had very little to begin with. Records reveal that men with calibre handled the affairs of badminton at the inception. This, many say, is why the sport was established with a sound base. Records show that the first Junior Nationals were held in 1956 at the residence of E. R. S. R. Kumaraswami which was situated at Fife Road in Colombo 5. This underscores the fact that those associated with the sport at that time were selfless, going to the extent of even offering a private residence for a public cause.

First club –

The first badminton activities in the island were recorded in 1909 with the establishment of the first club, the Badminton Club in Dambulla. It took another 14 years for Sri Lanka to have its first major tournament which came in the form of the mixed doubles event (1923).

A boom in badminton is recorded around 1946-47 when P. Sivalingam and some his friends returned to Sri Lanka from Malaysia, after the war, and started playing badminton at the YMCA, Fort. Just a few years later, the future of the sport was given a boost with the formation of the Badminton Association of Ceylon. From an administrative perspective, Dr. Wigneswaran is credited with making a proposal to obtain the SLBA headquarters. The request was made to R. Paskaralingam, former secretary to the Treasury.

Great players –

Flipping through very old paper clips and some aged old badminton souvenirs, this writer was able to fathom that a high standard of badminton was witnessed in the era when players in the likes of N. Paskaralingam, G. W. Chandrasena, Professor Ranjith de Silva, V. Veeravaghu, K. Kannangara, Sri Skandaraja, Sam Chandrasena, Oliver Guruge, Lucky Dharmasena (1st shuttler in Ceylon to win a triple crown twice at the Nationals), A. R. L. Wijesekera and L. R. Ariyananda exhibited their skills.

There are also records of former President J. R. Jayewardene gracing a badminton tournament as the chief guest which apparently was his first public function upon taking oaths. There are also fond memories of Ariyadasa de Silva making a large contribution to badminton and even being instrumental in establishing the Schools’ Badminton Association. This man, who became a successful coach despite not having played the sport, is credited with promoting badminton in the rural outskirts of the country.

At international level –

One newspaper article revealed the fact that the authorities had even organised a tour to Jaffna to play against the Jaffna District players. There are also records of foreigners contesting the YMCA Open and our own Ariyananda, a badminton sensation from Ambalangoda, holding his own against tough opposition at these encounters.

Ceylon gradually got affiliated with the International Badminton Federation (IBF) and the Asian Badminton Confederation (ABC/1959). Players were rated for the first time, taking into consideration the period 1959/60. Sri Lanka’s participation at international tournaments became regular round about the early 1960s. Sri Lanka’s first win at the Thomas’ Cup came against Pakistan in 1966. The performances of the national players round about then showed that Sri Lanka had made the right choice in picking badminton as a sport.

Top players –

The turning point in the sport came in 1982 when the SLBA got its own stadium and headquarters.

From the early 1980s to the 1990s, Sri Lanka had the services of top players in the likes of Niroshan Wijekoon, Kaushalya Dissanayake, Udaya Weerakoon, Yacintha Liyanage, Sriyani Deepika, Thushara Edirisinghe and Duminda Jayakody who kept the Sri Lanka flag flying at international competitions. In recent years, the baton was taken over by players in the likes of Chandrika de Silva, Thilini Jayasinghe and the Karunaratne brothers; Niluka, Diluka and Dinuka.

Sponsors –

Round about 1995, the SLBA was successful in roping in its first major sponsor. A deal was struck between SLBA and the Maharaja Organisation, which was a landmark in Sri Lankan badminton. The SLBA has also enjoyed sponsorship deals with reputed brand names like Kandos, Unique, Yonex, and a renowned service provider like Commercial Bank.

Sri Lanka hosted the SAARC Badminton Championships in 1998 and just a few years ago celebrated 50 years in badminton with the Golden Jubilee Badminton Championships, at the Royal College Sports Complex, in 2002.

It was interesting to note in a newspaper clip, round about the time when national champion Ariyananda played, that opinions were aired about Sri Lankans lacking stamina. This was confirmed on Ariyananda being appointed as National coach. He is quoted in a newspaper article to have stressed as National coach that ‘players’ fitness would be a key factor when picking teams in the future’.

Most significant feat –

However, the most significant achievement in the sport came long after the tenure of Ariyananda’s role as coach. That was last year (2009) when schoolgirls Achini Ratnasiri and Upuli Samanthika won the gold in the doubles event of the Asian Under-16 Championships hosted by Sri Lanka.

Here again, the team officials credited the high standard of fitness in the players to be able to survive a gruelling tournament and win gold. Interestingly behind these achievements was a hard working set of officials led by Professor Ranjith de Silva, whose way of administering the sport brought the country its first gold medal at an Asian tournament.

Sports analysts believe that racket sports are ideal for Sri Lankans given the fact that they are small made. We have talented players, but the problem that plagues the sport is the severe shortage of competent sports administrators who can shepherd the players, coaches, trainers and officials together towards achieving a National goal.

In the next article of this series, we’ll highlight some of the key individuals who have done yeomen service to the sport.

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