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G. Brant Little – Advancement of University Sport

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by Fl. Lt Walter. J. May

1948 holds a special place in the history of sport in Sri Lanka due to the outstanding performance of Duncan White at the London Olympics. Earlier that year, G. Brant Little arrived in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), contracted by the Ceylon Amateur Athletics Association (AAA) to coach the Island’s first Olympic team.

Little’s own sporting background was primarily in athletics having represented Canada in the 800 meters at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam. He later won a scholarship to Notre Dame University in USA where he graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Physical Education.

After his Olympic mission was completed, Little was appointed as the inaugural Director of Physical Education at the University of Ceylon in 1948. This move hinted as a recognition by the University authorities, particularly the Vice-Chancellor at the time Sir Ivor Jennings, that academic excellence needed to be complemented by participation and success in the field of sport. Sir Ivor also was instrumental in affiliating the University of Ceylon to the All India Inter University Board. This initiative opened the way for sports teams from our University to participate in the annual Inter University competitions conducted by the sporting arm of the Board.

Little’s first major undertaking was the staging of the dual athletic meet between the Universities of Madras and Ceylon. Success in this and later championships was made possible by a very talented group of athletes. The group included athletes of the caliber of John de Saram, Oscar Wijesinghe, Upali Amerasinghe, M.A. Akbar, Lakshman Kadirgamar, T.L. Blaze, D.C. Ariyanayagam and Walter. J. May. In a sequence of years 1949 stands out as the peak year due to two excellent performances. The first was the lowering of all three All Ceylon Relay records on one day (15.10.49) by teams anchored by John de Saram and Oscar Wijesinghe. The other was a resounding win in the All India Inter University Athletic Championships held in Colombo on the 26th and 27th December 1949. The margin of victory was 58 points which in itself was a record. In addition, four new records were established by the Ceylon University athletes. The smooth functioning of the Championships was a testimony to Little’s organizational skills and the runway win a reflection of his coaching ability.

The opening of the Peradeniya Campus in 1952 provided Little with the opportunity and scope to make his most valuable contribution to the advancement of University sport. On his initiative multi-purpose sports complex was built incorporating a cinder track for athletics, tennis, a cricket bowl, rugger and soccer field and a Gymnasium. The Gymnasium was a magnificent building, constructed from the shell of an aircraft hangar – a legacy of World War II. Little used his connections with the Canadian High Commission to secure the hangar. With a floor area of 34m by 71 m it could anytime accommodate one or more court for tennis, basket ball, volleyball, netball, badminton, table tennis and an area for wrestling and weightlifting. It was completed in 1956 and was adjudged by sports professionals to be decades ahead of time.

These sports facilities were put into immediate use with the University staging (for the second time) the All India Inter University Athletic Meet and Boxing Meet in December 1953. Twenty Universities participated in these Games. In athletics, the University of Ceylon maintained its high reputation being runner-up to Punjab University by a mere four points. It won the Boxing Championships decisively.

During Little’s tenure, the groundwork was completed and the pattern was set for the University to participate in All India Inter University tournaments. Teams from most sports thereafter regularly competed in these contests with invariably, encouraging results.

Central to Little’s success on and off the field was his easygoing manner, ability to motivate and organizational skills. At the outset, his outgoing friendly approach to all and sundry required some adjustment on the part of those used to the more traditional reserved British attitude to personal contact. However, it did help to break down barriers by easing the lines of communication and open many doors as was evidence for instance in the special treatment the University received in the Inter University contests at Bangalore and Allahabad.

To many sportsmen and others motivation was his forte. His motivational techniques were many and varied and extended to other sports besides. He was a great supporter of the award of colours and colours nights. For a time, he produced a regular newsletter or column for the newspapers entitled “Varsity Spotlight” which reviewed the main sporting activities at the University for the period and highlighted both team and individual excellence. This not only served as an incentive for enhanced performances but also raised the profile of the University Sport. He also provided support for university sportsmen by attendance at games/events regardless of his familiarity with the sport. He is said to have attended cricket matches resplendent in the University blazer and tie despite his closest acquaintance with a similar ball game being baseball.

There is little need to elaborate on his organizing skills and initiative. The number of sporting activities that he initiated and successfully carried out attest to his capabilities in this regard. His master plan for Peradeniya also called for management and organizing ability of a very high order to bring it to fruition. He was no stranger to innovation and was the first to introduce the concept of the Relay Carnival to Sri Lanka. The first contest of this type was the Inter Hall Relay Carnival in Peradeniya in 1955. The Public Schools Athletic Association adopted this concept a decade later.

The foregoing confirms the invaluable contribution Little made to University sport. His vision and organizing ability was largely responsible for the excellent facilities provided for every sport. In addition, he raised the profile of sport at the University and made it an integral part of University life. There will be a general consensus that University sport made unprecedented and giant strides forward due to his endeavors.

The following observations by a fellow professional (though of later vintage) constitute the most appropriate summing up of Little. He designed a 50 year ahead of its time. A most genial person and a very good motivator. He was an organizer “par excellence.”

-Walter May was the Captain of Athletics of the University of Ceylon in 1971-72.



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Dilshi stamps her class with national record

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Shanika qualifies for World Junior Championships

by Reemus Fernando

Former Ratnayake Central Walala athlete Dilshi Kumarasinghe stamped her class with a new Sri Lanka record performance in the 800 metres while emerging 800 metres runner Shanika Lakshani reached qualifying standards for the World Under 20 Championships and sprinter Mohamed Safan broke shackles to win the 200 metres as the first Selection Trial produced its best on the final day at the Sugathadasa Stadium on Friday.

Kumarasinghe who registered her maiden 400 metres triumph at national level on Wednesday bagged the 800 metres win as well in style on Friday when she clocked the fastest time for the distance by a Sri Lankan in history. Her time of two minutes and 2.55 seconds erased the four year-old national record held by experienced Gayanthika Abeyratne who finished third(3rd 2:03.64 secs) yesterday. Asia’s third ranked 800 metres runner Nimali Liyanarachchi was placed second in a time of 2:03.15 seconds. Former record holder Abeyratne is ranked fifth in Asia.

The 21-year-old athlete trained by Susantha Fernando maintained a steady pace right throughout to win the event for the second time within months. She won her first 800 meters title at senior level at the last National Championships in December. “I am happy to have broken the record. We planned for the record but I am not satisfied with the time,” Kumarasinghe told The Island. Her coach Fernando expressed similar sentiments. “We were planning to produced a far better timing as she has the potential to reach international level,” said Fernando.

Kumarasinghe who is currently ranked sixth in Asia behind local counterparts Liyanarachchi and Aberatne is set to improve her ranking when the World Athletics update statistics next week.

Holy Cross College, Gampaha athlete Shanika Lakshani became the second junior runner at this championships to earn qualifying standards for the World Under-20 Championship which will be held in Nairobi, Kenya next August. Her coach Madura Perera said that it was a huge relief to witness his trainee accomplish the target after missing it by a whisker at the National Championships in December. Lakshani, running alongside the veterans clocked 2:07.02 seconds (Qualifying mark: 2:08.70 seconds).

On Wednesday Isuru Kawshalya Abewardana of Ananda Sastralaya Matugama reached qualifying standards for the World Under-20 Championship when he returned a time of 47.24 seconds in the Junior Men’s 400 metres final.

In the men’s 200 metres, Mohamed Safan turned tables on National Champion Kalinga Kumarage as both clocked sub 21 seconds, a rarity at local athletics. Safan was playing second fiddle to Kumarage at the last National Championships where he clocked 21.41 seconds. Yesterday Safan returned a time of 20.81 seconds, while Kumarage clocked 20.85 seconds.

In the women’s 200 metres, Nadeesha Ramanayake was the winner. She clocked 24.28 seconds.

The men’s 800 metres, conspicuous by the absence of national record holder Indunil Herath, was won by the Asian Championship participant Rusiru Chathuranga, who clocked 1:49.82 seconds.

Herath was not the only leading athlete who was absent at the First Selection Trial which was organized by Sri Lanka Athletics to provide much needed competition opportunity to top athletes vying to reach Olympic qualifying standards.

The next track and field competition for top athletes will be the next month’s National Championship.

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COPE; a toothless tiger?

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by Rex Clementine

Parliamentary watchdog COPE – Committee on Public Enterprises has made a scathing attack on some of the corrupt practices at Sri Lanka Cricket. COPE Chief, Professor Charith Herath has gone onto claim that by fighting out certain legal battles and writing off money that companies and member club owed SLC, insiders may have been receiving kickbacks. This is a very serious allegation by the  legislature.

Professor Herath wants legal action taken against SLC officials. It remains to be seen whether any culprits can be hauled up before courts or whether COPE is just a toothless tiger.

In the absence of SLC bigwigs, CEO Ashley de Silva bore the brunt of the criticism. In January this year, in these pages we wrote that Ashley’s time was up. While there are many questions about his efficiency and decision making abilities, it can be safely said that Ashley is no crook. The real crooks are hiding behind the CEO.

There have been some decent men as well at SLC like Mohan de Silva, who was President in 2004. De Silva had warned his colleagues that their excesses could tarnish the reputation of the institution, but his concerns fell on deaf ears.

Not only the guardians of SLC but even those who let them enter into these corrupt deals need to be probed. While most of these allegations will take time to prove, certain things can be proven beyond reasonable doubt. For example fixing a domestic match in 2017 by some prominent members of SLC.

However, four successive Sports Ministers – Dayasiri Jayasekara, Faizer Mustapaha, Harin Fernando and Namal Rajapaksa – failed to take action. All four turned a blind eye despite having overwhelming evidence in front of them. Ravin Wickramaratne, the number one suspect, went places in cricket circles. He is now SLC’s alternate ICC Director.

At a time when the game has been so badly managed, Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa’s decision to backdate a gazette notification extending the term of SLC’s Executive Committee has not gone down well with many. Rather than giving a clean bill of health to SLC hierarchy, he should have perhaps taken the bad eggs out.

The ball is back on Namal’s court. It is his Ministry that has to now decide which deals need to be proved and against which officials’ action needs to be taken in courts of law.  From the start, Namal has treated SLC hierarchy with kids’ gloves. Now that their deficiencies have been exposed well and truly, he needs to watch his steps. If he continues to play politics with cricket governance, his popularity is going to wane, fast.

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Saha wins U12 boys’ singles title  

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Saha Kapilasena beat Sasen Premaratne to win the Under-12 boys’ singles title of the Clay Court Nationals conducted at the Sri Lanka Tennis Association courts on Friday. 

Kapilasena scored 6-3, 6-1 to win the title. Kapikasena ousted third seed Aahil Kaleel in the semi-final, Premaratne eliminated number one seed Methika Wickramasinghe in the semi-final. 

In the mixed doubles final Anika Seneviratne and Thangaraja Dineshkanthan were the winners as they beat Sanka Athukorale and Neyara Weerawansa 7-5, 6-4. 

Sanka Athukorale and Yasita de Silva beat Rajeev Rajapakse and Renouk Wijemanne 6-4, 6-0 to clinch the men’s doubles title.  

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