is safe, but fans sorry
H. MARZOOK's impressions of present-day Sri Lanka boxing, in the
Let's Chat column of last week, was not going to pass-off
without comment. And it didn't. After all, some of the comments
by the one-time Asian Championship bronze-medallist were
provocative; you can't say things like, the manly sport has gone
to the women and get away with it.
however, much of the reactions were in support of the former
undefeated national feather weight champion _ obviously fans
with fond memories of the 60s, the era of Marzook, whose long
lament, in essence, was that present-day boxing ''is some other
sport" _ not the blood and thunder of yore.
vast majority of the supporters of the 60s unhesitatingly say
modern boxing has lost its appeal. They concede, albeit
grudgingly, safety measures are necessary, as boxers' lives need
to be protected as far as possible. But not all believe that the
stringent precautions introduced by AIBA, the world body, are
the only reason for its dimmed glamour. ''Sure, blood and pain
make it attractive, but that doesn't mean that without the gory,
boxing should be less appealing," said one 60s fan. ''The
magic of boxing was as much as hitting the opponent as evading
just the sort of words ABA president Dian Gomes, a defender of
the present-day art, loves to hear. ''The knockout punch, like
it or not, has been virtually removed from modern amateur boxing
_ and AIBA obviously had good reason for doing that. Once that
fact is accepted, then, you work on evolving yourself to the new
system, which is more about the speed, rather than the power, of
punches," said Gomes, himself a product of old school.
''Not that our boxers are ignorant of the ways of modern boxing,
but coached at the school level by boxers of a past era, the
knockout tendencies are hard to suppress. Our boxing is caught
in two minds _ between the old and the new."
explanation of the new method is necessary to grasp better
Gomes' theory. AIBA's raft of safety regulations in the 80s was
obviously prompted by the incidence of ring deaths worldwide _
deaths that clouded the future of amateur boxing. It was
necessary to give amateur boxing a different profile to the
professional version. Administrators of old apparently
differentiated amateur and professional boxing by 1/ the rounds
of a fight, three to amateur and 15 to professional 2/ amateurs
wear vests to set them apart from the bare-bodied pros and 3/
one has no money at all and there's a fortune to be made in the
other. In spirit, though, the two were one of a kind: to cause
pain and draw blood.
idea of AIBA was to draw a big, broad border between the two and
remove the perception that amateur boxing is the kid brother of
the professional. ''Once AIBA brought in the safety measures
amateur boxing was always going to be different, and not quite
the sport for a bloodthirsty audience," said Gomes,
National Junior Middle weight champion in 1975.
what are these changes? The practical ones _ compulsory wearing
of headgear, gum shield and cup protector _ doesn't stop the
blood letting half as much as the re-written fight rules. The
old rule of applying the mandatory count of eight only if a
boxer hits the canvas was consigned to the dustbin. Instead: the
fighting stops and the mandatory eight-count taken at the first
hint of any disturbance detected in boxer's eyes or knees, even
though the boxer might be on his feet. A fight's duration of
three rounds of three minutes each were converted to four rounds
of two minutes each. ''Amateur boxing became a different
game," said Gomes.
Gomes that the new method won't help fill stadiums, and he'll
protest. ''If overseas someone boxes like the way most of our
boxers do, they'll be booed off the ring. That's because the
ways of modern boxing are well entrenched and appreciated in
those countries. I suppose our fans _ and for that matter boxers
_ yet live in the past when boxing was about knockouts. Now it's
about the speed of punches and how many of them land on the
scoring zones," said Gomes. ''And the new style is filling
stadiums overseas. It's a question of time when our boxers get
over past's hangover and the sophisticated art of modern boxing
develops into second nature. I am sure we will then fill up our
DIG Jayakumar Thangavelu thinks otherwise. ''If there isn't
blood and pain, I doubt we are going to have willing audiences
coming in the numbers they used to. I am not saying the new
safety measures are wrong, but my concern is that the aggressive
intent of old is lost. Because the new safety measures have made
boxing a safer sport, I think, the coaches are taking a softer
approach," said DIG Thangavelu. ''The appeal of boxing will
always be its links to barbarism, to man's past, the will to
survive in a world of harsh uncertainties. Okay, the knockout is
virtually unachievable these days, but it doesn't mean that it
is forbidden. Boxers, while taught the art of accumulating
points, ought to be encouraged to acquire the killer instincts _
that I reckon isn't happening at training."
while on the subject of training, he spoke of how it was then.
''We didn't have modern gyms, and toughened ourselves by
climbing ropes and chopping wood. The place where we trained
smelled of blood, sweat and embrocation. Boxers of old were
uncompromising because they were reared in a tough and
unforgiving environment," said the DIG. ''These days they
train in air-conditioned gyms."
himself a boxer from that tough old world, won't argue against
DIG Thangavelu. But he takes a more philosophical view. His
reasoning runs somewhat on these lines: since the advent of
computers, life wasn't going to be the same, boxing not
excluded. The old sight of judges, pen and pencil in hand,
jotting down points on the score sheet between rounds has
departed from ringside. The old system of assessment was
subjective, based as it was on the impressions of the judge. Not
so now _ the computer calculates the winner after the judges,
through a push of button, have instantly fed it with the punches
scoring has brought profound changes to boxing because it's now
all about who gets in more of the punches," says Gomes. The
modern credo, in other words, is: better throw punches quick and
fast than waste time waiting to unleash your haymaker. Sri Lanka
adopted the computer scoring system barely three years ago and
clearly coaches and boxers haven't yet to come to terms with all
its intricacies. ''I think we're about two-three years away from
total transformation," says Gomes. That is to punch to buzz
the computer _ than to satiate the bloodthirsty.
Munasinghe, coach and ABA official since the late 60s, thinks
that boxing lost its appeal not only because of AIBA's safety
measures and computer scoring _ but also, take a deep breath,
the loss of the Burghers. ''We all know the contributions of
Burghers like Eddie Gray, the Henricuses and Dr Larry Foenander
to boxing. Their organization flair was tremendous for Sri Lanka
boxing," said Munasinghe. ''The Burghers also gave us brave
boxers; the VanCuylenbergs, VanHeers, de Zilwas, Vansandens _
all of whom brought St Mary's Dehiwala Stubbs Shield honours.
They went on to excel at the higher levels too". Before
that, St Sylvesters were in command _ again on the power of the
Burgher blood: the Bulner, Hepponstall and Marshall brothers,
Ellsworth Pereira, Lloyd Hope, all products of coach Derrick
here's Munasinghe's punchline: ''Along with the Burgher boxers
came the Burgher girls, all dressed prettily to cheer their
blood brothers. And where the girls are, the boys flocked _ and
the halls packed." He might have added, blood or no blood.
Munasinghe has likely whispered this to ABA president Gomes,
whose Slimline and Unichela factory girls, bussed out from
Pannala and Panadura, make up the majority of the spectators.
They make a colourful spectacle _ flag-waving, singing, dancing
and cheering as the egg on their hired papara-papara musicians
to a crescendo. Unfortunately, the action in the ring wasn't
half as exciting that final night of the Layton Cup.
not lost though: boxing has the girls, plenty; now for the
boxers who can excite.
old Zainu to stay at home
SALIM ZAINUDEEN, the Rugby Union's Administrative Secretary till
only the other day, can't help but chuckle over the irony, as he
slips into retired life after thirty years of work, the last 14
with the SLRFU.
in 1990 the Union wanted me so badly that past president Y C
Chang came home, bundled me into his car, drove me to office,
sat me behind a desk and said 'now start work'," said
Zainudeen, who by then had learnt the ropes of rugby management
through a dozen years as secretary of the Schools Rugby
Association. "After 14 years, I am again summoned from
home, no car this time, and as good as told 'you can stay at
home from tomorrow'." He walked away from office for the
last time some weeks ago, a cheque of two months salary for
leave un-utilized in hand.
64-year-old one-time schoolmaster spoke not so much in rancour
as sadness. "Retirement is not far away for someone of my
age. I accept that _ in fact I thank Allah for keeping me in
employment this long," says SLRFU's first ever employee.
''But the farewell could've been more civilized _ and by that I
don't mean speeches and ceremonies, and a Rolex. The usual
three-months notice would've been enough."
be fair though, all of the SLRFU staff was warned months ago of
an impending restructure of the union that might entail the
shedding of workers. "I believe the union had me on top of
the firing list. It is their prerogative to choose whom they
want and don't want _ I have no quarrel about that. What
disappoints me is their indecent haste," says Zainudeen.
"Here I was sick at home, but they insist I come over at
once as the matter can't wait another day. And then they tell me
I need not come to work next day."
parting was not quite exactly like "you're fired, now
go." The dismissal decision, of course, was final; the
question was when Union officials told Zainudeen that he has
accumulated holiday leave of about two months, which, "if
you wish to, you can while away in office doing nothing" or
"take the two months pay and stay at home."
was, however, made known to all that under a restructuring plan,
authored by Technical Director George Simpkin, a New Zealander,
the Union is to downsize, largely through computerization of the
office administration. Zainudeen belongs very much to the era of
the typewriter and clip-file. Remind him of that, and he'll
admit it _ but re-remind you that isn't his grouse. "It's
the way they asked me to go."
disappointment is justified. It is fair to say that it was he
who performed much of the backroom works connected with
transforming Sri Lanka rugby from a strictly amateur sport to
professionalism. That means all the nitty-gritty of sponsorship,
from securing to signing, new ways of accounting, just about
everything in the commercialism that accompanied
won't say Zainu had become a dinosaur. For someone who has seen
through so many changes, he's got a wealth of experience that
wise officials could tap into. There's no clear-cut evidence
that his retrenchment is personal, but it looks pretty much
that," said an official on condition of anonymity. "He
was an institution in the rugby office _ you don't send him away
like some unwanted domestic."
fact, however, is that, with the rapid commercialization of
sport the old rules of fair play have been fed to the shredder.
On the field its ''perform or perish" and in offices, the
guiding philosophy: "hire 'n fire". Zainudeen is just
one of the many casualties of a pitilessly competitive world.
Legally, the Union isn't wrong in asking its first
Administrative Secretary to stay at home, though, morally, the
union's decision won't win it many admirers.
quiet, modest man given to take the life's path of least
resistance, Zainudeen won't allow that one rude experience on
his final day in office to contaminate the happier memories.
"It was a pleasure working under presidents like Y C Chang,
Malik Samarawickrema, Lionel Almeida, Gamini Fernando, Dr Maiya
Gunasekera, Anton Benedict. They didn't think they were too big
to give a well-done tap on our shoulders after a good day's
work; they didn't think that beyond the salary, they owed us
nothing," said Zainudeen, a father of two. "Some of
the present day officials act too much the part of 'I am the
ever the present-day administrators think of Zainudeen, past
presidents have shown their appreciation of his contribution to
rugby in tangible terms. "During Malik Samarawickrema's
term I was sent to the 1992 Asiad in Seoul and Dr Maiya
Gunasekera had me as chef-de-mission of the squad for the 1998
Asian Games in Bangkok _ both fully paid for by the Union as
rewards for the work I did," said Zainudeen, an old boy of
Hindu College, Trincomalee.
the work he did? "As the one-man office, initially, I was
clerk, typist, peon and errand boy," said the ex-teacher of
Isipathana, Royal and Zahira. "There were no CEOs or
directors _ I did their work on the instructions of the
days, however, the Union has expensive CEOs and directors
- and a frugal working capital. So, ask old Zaniu to
tennis gears up for Para olympics
K D Manatunga and Bertie Silva will start fine-tuning for the
Para Olympic Games Wheelchair Tennis competition, in Athens this
September, by competing in the Dutch and Belgian Open events
and Silva, the first ever Sri Lankan wheelchair tennis players
to qualify for the Para Olympics, are being sponsored by the ITF
for the two US $15, 000 European Open events. They will compete
in the individual singles and doubles events. The Dutch Open is
to be held from July 6-11 and the Belgian, July 13-18.
players scored outstanding successes during a three-week tour of
New Zealand and Australia last January. The pair won the B
division doubles title at the New Zealand, Melbourne and Sydney
Open events. Manatunga won the C division singles title in New
Zealand, gaining promotion to B division for the Australian
events that followed. He proved a winner at the elevated level
too, winning the B division singles in Melbourne and Sydney.
making its international debut in 2002, Sri Lanka's wheelchair
tennis has made vast strides, winning regularly overseas. Before
the successes at the B division level in Australia, Sri Lanka
made an impression by winning in the D and C division category
in Bangkok (2002) and Paris (2003) respectively.
ITF has made generous investments on the development of
Wheelchair tennis. Local companies too have leant support.
Aggreko was the first to come forward, and more recently South
Asia Gateway Terminals (Pvt) Ltd came up with a hefty Rs.1m.
contribution to launch SLTA's Wheelchair Development Fund.
SLTA initially undertook wheelchair tennis as a contribution to
the many disabled soldiers who has sacrificed their limbs in
defence of the country. We didn't expect it to rise to Olympic
level so fast _ and we're delighted it has. We now obviously
have to look at it as sport that has the potential to bring
big-time international fame and make the sort of investments it
deserves," said SLTA president, Suresh Subramaniam.
to face up to the real problems
Lankan cricket has fallen into the trap of thinking too much
about a single player. Along the way it has burdened that player
with a heavier weight than anyone can reasonably be expected to
bear. Moreover, the attention paid to Muttiah Murailtharran has
meant that skilled contemporaries have been neglected. Not the
least attraction of the current brief series in the northern
parts of Australia is the opportunity it has provided for other
players to reinforce their reputations.
Lanka has done wonderfully well since entering the Test arena
and sometimes it seems that expectations have risen too high.
Winning the World Cup was a memorable achievement that was
celebrated for about the next two years. Perhaps, though, it
also created complacency about the country's position in cricket
and the steps that still needed to be taken so that a
competitive edge could be retained..
than regarding the Cup triumph as a joyous occasion that could
be used to stimulate interest and build facilities, Sri Lankan
cricket sat back in satisfaction. Meanwhile the rest of the
world set about the task of improving standards. Alas the years
following that stirring victory in Lahore were wasted and those
responsible are responsible for their failure to seize the
moment. Ousting the President of the cricket a few weeks after
the trophy had been paraded around Colombo was not much of a way
to start the new era. Indeed it told the tale of greed
has been a mixed blessing to Sri Lankan cricket because he has
papered over these cracks. Ian Botham played the same role in
England in the 1980's and Brian Lara is in a similar position in
the West Indies. These men are outstanding cricketers capable of
winning entire series more or less single-handed. After a couple
of spectacular performances from them officials are inclined to
say " We are winning. What are you all worried about?'
Sri Lanka has made little progress in the last decade, a time
when money has poured into the game. Precious little
has been invested in nets, grounds, coaches and players .
The national team has enjoyed some fine days but what lies
ahead? Unless the proper structures have been put in place, the
work has been done behind the scenes and the right men have been
appointed in the important positions, sooner or later the house
will come tumbling down.
Sri Lanka must start preparing for life without its demon
spinner. Far from whining like English football supporters after
a defeat, local cricketers must renew their efforts in an
attempt to prove that there is a lot more to Sri Lankan cricket
than a wizard with a freakish action.Most especially a concerted
effort must be made to produce incisive spinners and
will be needed because Sri Lanka's best players are long in the
tooth Chaminda Vaas and Sanath Jayasuriya have been mainstays of
the team. It has not been only Murali. Both men are popular but
their cricket has been underestimated. Chaminda is a superb
bowler , a point he confirmed with his
haul in the first innings of the current Test match.
Previously he had bowled well against the same opponents at home
but without any luck. Sanath is respected wherever the game is
played as a rustic player from the sticks who has the courage to
open the batting and the audacity to treat every bowler alike.
these men will hang up their helmets and then will come a day of
reckoning. Accordingly Sri lanka must encourage emerging
players, not by pampering them but by forcing them to practise
till their skin is raw . These fellows are following in the
footsteps of admirable professionals and must not let the side
down. Cricket is not a game to be taken lightly and the aim is
not to cut a fine figure but
to strive for excellence. No good comes of protecting
youngsters let alone telling them that the only thing stopping
Sri Lanka succeeding is an conspiracy hatched by jealous
Lankan cricket must look itself in the mirror. Has every
possible rupee been spent on promoting the game? Has a proper
programme of improving facilities been put in place? Tomorrow is
never as far away as it seems. Sri Lanka must prepare properly for the forthcoming challenges and can
start by winning matches without its champion. After Murali will
not last forever.
Class of '94 - 10th Anniversary Reunion
Class of '94 of Trinity College Kandy will be celebrating its
tenth anniversary in grand style at the Kings Park Hotel in
Kandy on 17 July from 7.30 p.m. onwards. Tickets are priced at a
nominal Rs. 800/- per head, which include entrance, barbeque
dinner and liquid refreshments. There will be entertainment
provided by a DJ, entrance gifts, entrance ticket draw,
competitions, surprises and much, much more. The event will
commence with a meeting to appoint new committee members and
discuss future plans, followed by a batch photograph. The
organisers stress that the presence of members at the meeting is
important. Members of the Class of 94' are requested to contact
the under mentioned members for tickets and details.
Weerakoonon 0777-861756, Keshan Thalgahagoda on 0777-374227,
Ashan Welagedara on 0777-766722, Suchitra Aluwihare on
0777-358199, Kavinda Nanayakkaraon 0777-719467, Ranil
Prematillake on 0777-381805, Gerald Daniel