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League season kicks off Friday... really?

THE Caltex First Division rugby league season begins on Friday, and unless you had taken the trouble to find out, the first kick-off might've slipped by unnoticed. It wasn't like that in times past, the halcyon years, late 50s through the 90s. Then, an unmistakable buzz, born of giddy expectancy, filled the air in the weeks approaching a new season. No one need tell you when the first game of the season was - you just knew it. from eager conversations, in your office, in buses and trains and watering holes.

Ah, those days! Followers' inquisitiveness about the new season then-days went beyond the calendar of matches. Dates of matches were pretty much stored in your memory long before the opener, thanks to the Union-issued little green book, enlisting all of the season's fixtures and the laws of the game, being made available to the public around February; the season, like now, opened in either April's final weekend or the first Friday/Saturday of May.

Schools talent

Well before April, though, fans were made wise by newspapers of the teams' new signings, especially of the previous season's outstanding schools talent. Newspapers, customarily, introduced each of A division teams, pictures, interviews and all. Rugby , then, sold newspapers.

It has to be said, however, that it wasn't a coincidence that rugby captured the public imagination only in the late 1950s. After all, the origins of the game date back to colonial times, the union in the 50s had nearly a half-century of history (it celebrates its 100th birthday this year) and the first inter-club Clifford Cup tournament had been launched nearly a decade ago, in 1950. So, it wasn't a case of love at first sight between the public and rugby.

The popularity of rugby, in fact, took a sharp upward curve through political circumstances. The ban on horseracing became imminent in 1956, with the election of a nationalistic government intent on wiping the country clean of things British, including sport. Horse racing, of course, was considered not only a very British past time, but was considered as causing a harmful influence on society.

Glorious finery

Horse racing, by the way, was where ladies paraded in all their glorious finery, and the Reid Avenue race course became a sort of open air catwalk - and to where the fashion photographers flocked. Fashions at the Saturday races made their way into the front pages of Sunday newspapers - and became the weeklong talk of the town. So, the imminent ban on racing not only broke the hearts of the punters but also the fashionable ladies about town. Where could they parade their eye-catching wares, week in, week out?

That the old CH & FC ground was smack in the middle of the Reid Avenue race course seemed just as good a place. The CR at Longden Place, also in Colombo 7, wasn't far off either. The CH, until the early 60s, was exclusively for Europeans; the CR represented the Ceylonese. The rivalry between the two, so, had many exciting dimensions. It has to be added, though, the rivalry never descended to the rowdy; the respect for a British sense of decorum was strong in those times, especially among the Colombo society. These days, though, not much provocation is required to trigger commotion or a riot at a match. But I digress.

Display their wardrobes

Back to the fashionable ladies of the late 50s - where were they to display their wardrobes once horses stopped running? The CH v. CR matches at the old Race Course and Longden Place filled the vacuum. The two clubs, it must be mentioned, were the main challengers for the championship during much of the 1950s and their meetings were popularly acclaimed as the local Rugby Derby.

Both clubs being located in fashionable Colombo 7, the crowds were sizeable, but without the hoi polloi, can hardly be described teeming. By the 1960s, however, the Havelock SC in Colombo 5 replaced the CH as a leading contender for the championship, adding the lower middle class of Havelock Town, Bambalapitiya and Wellawatte into the fraternity. In the 70s, the Police joined the Havelocks and the CR, as front runners; the Army too emerged as a force. The game's dominance had widened so attracting a wider audience.

Clearly, the ladies of fashion weren't needed to publicise the game. Rugby, in terms of public appeal, was able to look after itself.

Within the first hour

Any A division match pulled around 4, 000; the ones promising a close contest would attract anything upward of 7, 000, filling all four sides of the arena. And the special ones, like the Havelocks - CR or the Cup final, well, you'd be lucky to get in; public tickets sold at Dianas and Chands down Chatham Street were sold out within the first hour.

All of the above may sound like the plaintive song of an old sentimental fool moaning the loss of the world he knew. But then the present popularity of the game has fallen on such hard times that a nostalgic yearning for the better days of old is excusable.

It breaks the hearts of old timers to see an A division matches, of say between, the Havelocks and Police, both past champion teams, play before sparse stands, a headcount of which you could make in a jiffy. Twenty years ago, the ground was a sea of heads. A Cup final these days would be hard put to match the attendance of just another first division match of yore.

Rival distractions

What ever happened to the rugby crowds? Successive administrators unfailingly point out to the rival distractions that weren't there then, like television, our elevation to a successful Test cricket nation - both of which are made laughable by the crowds that inter-school matches continue to draw. The loyalty of the old boys of schools of course is imperishable, thus assuring inter school games tremendous support on the grounds.

Loyalty of club followers is quite another story: it follows the fortunes of the team; success enhances the team's following; failure, the reverse. Which explains why the best attended games are the ones in which champions Kandy SC , figure in.

The up country club clearly has been the best professionally-run outfit over the past decade and half, reflected in the total dominance of all the A division competition by them in that period. Both the CR and CH have tried to duplicate the Kandy SC formula, making heavy investments in the team, but to no avail. Said simply, Kandy SC outspends their rivals - and continue to make a clean sweep of the prize table.

Precious silverwares

Even before the first kick-off this season, the popular expectation is that things won't be any different - rugby's most precious silverwares will stay fixed deposits in the trophy vaults of Kandy SC. Which raises the questions: is rugby's honours the preserve of only the rich? The answer is yes - because professionalism is fact of a life these days: rugby is a profession and so its participants are paid employees. That wasn't the case during the halcyon years, late 50s through 90s.

So, clearly, if rugby is to recapture its lost legion of followers there ought to be more clubs making the same sort of heavy investments in players as Kandy SC do. But the likes of Malik Samarawickrema, Kandy SC's  financier, aren't dime a dozen.

Generous investments

CR of late, especially under the stewardship of Ravi Balasuriya, has made generous investments in its players, and in the past two seasons looked the only side that, potentially, might've ended the up country club's long reign. The CH too enhanced investments in their players - investments that were reflected in their on-field improvement, which, though, wasn't enough to seriously challenge the long-standing champions.

The efforts of both the CR and CH are to be applauded; at least where the first division competition for long had been a one-horse race, the past two seasons have been a three-cornered contest, albeit only superficially, eventually.

This season, too, Kandy SC are expected to take all that's laid out on the prize table - with the CR and the CH most likely to spring a surprise on them. There will, so, be just three encounters with enticing prospects - not the sort fare that will help fill the stands the way it did in the halcyon years, when every game was worth going down to see.

The dancing girls of 20Twenty might be of help.


Dialog Telekom joins Ministry of Sports to salute
Sri Lanka's sporting heroes

Dialog Telekom, announced April 24, a partnership with the Government of Sri Lanka and the Ministry of Sports, to initiate the country's largest ever National Sporting Awards and felicitation programme. Aimed at felicitating national sporting heroes, the felicitation programme will culminate with a National Sporting Honours Awards Ceremony.

The event will felicitate 219 sportspersons from across 15 sporting disciplines who hold the distinction of having secured glory and honour for Sri Lanka at international level. The National Sporting Honours ceremony will be held on the 16th of July at the BMICH under the auspices of the Ministry of Sports and the Government of Sri Lanka.

"National Sporting Honours is billed to be Sri Lanka's biggest sporting awards ceremony paying tribute to our national sporting heroes. I would like to thank the Government of Sri Lanka for all its support in this endeavour and hope that this awards ceremony will provide our sportspeople the honour and recognition they deserve" said Minister for Sports Gamini Lokuge.

"Significantly, the awards programme also honours differently abled sportspersons who have brought honour to our country at international level" added the  Minister.

The event will comprise of a glittering awards ceremony where awards will be given to outstanding sportspeople who have excelled in various sports. Olympic representatives, Medal Winners and Diplomats of Commonwealth Games, Medal Winners and Diplomats of Asian Games and Winners of the 1996 Cricket World Cup and Runners-Up of the 2007 World Cup will be the main contenders for the awards.

The winners of the Most Outstanding Sportsman, Most Outstanding Sportswoman, Most Outstanding Junior Sportsman, Most Outstanding Junior Sportswoman and Most Outstanding Disabled Sportsperson categories will be decided by a panel of distinguished judges according to the nominations sent in by the National Federations.

In addition special awards will be given to the winners in the categories of Most Popular Sportsman, Most Popular Sportswoman, Most Popular Junior Sportsman, Most Popular Junior Sportswoman and Most Popular Disabled Sportsperson. These awards will be based on popular votes received from the general public through local newspaper coupons and via SMS.

Speaking about the sponsorship, Group Chief Executive of Dialog Telekom PLC, Dr. Hans Wijayasuriya said, "Dialog Telekom is honoured to be associated with the Ministry of Sports and the Government of Sri Lanka in paying tribute to Sri Lanka's national sporting heroes. As a committed sponsor of sports development in Sri Lanka, Dialog Telekom has played a key role in recognising and developing Sri Lankan talent to international standards. It is our belief that this event will inspire and motivate all those involved in sports and sports development, to continue their good work towards reinforcing and enhancing Sri Lanka's position on the world map of sporting excellence."

Dialog Telekom has been a prominent sponsor of Sri Lankan Sports and is committed to developing talent in Sri Lanka to international standards. The Company is closely associated with School Cricket, Athletics, Football, Rugby, Volleyball, Rowing and Disabled Sports, and has sponsored national contingents to international events including the Olympics, Paralympics, Commonwealth, Asian, SAF and FESPIC Games.

Dialog Telekom, an ISO 9001 certified company, is a subsidiary of Telekom Malaysia. It currently operates a 2.5 GSM Network supporting the very latest in multimedia and mobile Internet services.


Sri Lankan in Kenyan under 15 cricket team

Sri Lanka born Sajay Senanayake has been chosen to represent Kenya Under 15 in the CLICO International cricket tournament in the West Indies from the  April 19 to  May 4. 12-year old Sajay plays for his school Mombasa Academy and the Kenya Coast under 15 team. He was selected after an internal under 15 tournament in Kenya . The tournament in the West Indies has teams from the Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Holland, ICC Americas, Kenya, Pakistan, Ireland, Malaysia and the West Indies. Sajay, a stylish right-hand batsmen, is the son of former Sri Lanka Test cricketer Charith Senanayake.


Trinity crush Isipatana 29-10

Trinity College defeated Isipatana College by 29 points to 10 points in their Singer inter school under 20 Group A Division One league rugby tournament match played at Longden Place on Thursday.

The Trinitians collected their points from two goals and four tries  having led 15-7 at half time. Isipatana responded with a solitary goal and a penalty. 

Wishwajith Wijesinghe and Rushli Ramzin scored two tries each while  Abdul Fahard scored one try for the winners. Kennon Armstrong converted two tries. Srinath Suriyabandara scored the only try for Isipatana with  Dinusha Fernando adding the extra points and also put over a penalty.

Referee: D. Nimal


Chana Open Half Marathon Road Race

2008 Beijing Olympic Games official vehicles supplier - Chana's local agent -  Wasana Motor Company, Sri Lanka, has organised a Half Marathon Road Race on Thursday May 1, starting at 7.00 am from the premises of Wasana Motor Company, No. 310, Negombo Road, Welisara.

The winners will be awarded valuable prizes - motorcycles, mountain bicycles and jogging shoes.

All participants completing the race will receive a gift and a certificate.

For further information call: 077-2239900 or  077-3493571 or Tony on 077-2239900.


Ratnam SC and Turkmenistan's Ashgabat FC clash today

By Hafiz Marikar

There will certainly be no doubt that when Sri Lanka's Ratnam Sports Club and Turkmenistan's Ashgabat Football Club meet today, in the second game of the Asian Football Confederation 2008 Club qualifying round game, at 6.30 pm, the crowd that will throng the Sugathadasa Stadium will be in for a treat as both teams are packed with some experienced footballers.

With this game the curtain of the three- day tournament comes to an end.

Prior to the Ratnam SC/Asghabat FC game, Transport United Football Club of Bhutan and Kanbawza Football Club of Myanmar will kick off at the same venue.

Ratnam SC footballers will go out with confidence against the Turkmenistan lads, who will try to adpot the same tactics they did with Kanbawza FC in the opening game of the competition. Ratnam however have the edge with their experience and talented players.

The battle between the two respective forwards would in particular be unrelenting with the two outfit's planning to go all out to gain that extra bit of possession.

For the Sri Lankan side, gaining maximum possession will be of primary importance if they are to hold the Turkmenistan footballers and the Ratnam footballers are certain to play a dominant role at their home den, according to Mohamed Rameez and Hasssan Sinhawanasa (jnr).

Their new coach - Sampath Perera has moulded them into a fighting lot.

The visitors are likely to find most of their problems coming from the forwards who are excellent, and if players like Channa, Kasun, Dudley, Chathura, Karunarathne and Rahuman play their normal game they are sure of success.

Today's matches will be played under the patronage of Sports and Recreation Minister, Gamini Lokuge who is keenly promoting sports in the country.


Gymnasium for Bogambara

The Bogambara Stadium will get a modern gymnasium and two dressing rooms for the use of sportsmen and sportswomen who are into training.

At present, those training lack basic facilities, and these problems will be solved once the gymnasium is completed. These facilities have been long overdue in Kandy .

The Bogambara grounds, now renamed the Bogampara Stadium has been the venue for many a game of football.

It is now being well maintained and the ground conditions under the new Manager, Champika Dassanayake are good.

Sri Lanka footballers who were there for two weeks before the overseas tournament made use of the ground conditions for their practice sessions.

The Chairman - the Sugathadasa Stadium, Donald Abeysundara will lay the foundation stone on Tuesday, April 29.

 - HM


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