E. W. Balasuriya sports promoter par excellence-By Hafiz Marikar
Kandy remembers one of its most versatile sportsmen, sports benefactor, philanthropist and above all a gentleman, of the highest calibre E.W. Balasuriya. Many seem to have forgotten the past glorious moments of Kandy rugby. But there are still who remember his great service. His invaluable services for sports in Kandy is remembered by all, even at times when changes are inevitable, with sports taking a different turn with professionalism playing a vital role in sports. He was one of the great sports promoters and a philanthropist. He was known as’Bala’ for some and some called him EW. He was a great lover of sports and gave his best. Many are the instances in his illustrious career and public life where he displayed his integrity and honesty which was a shining example of a clean life. As a donor he was unique and, unlike most others, he was freely available to all sportsmen at any time.
The city of Kandy, has a long history of sport.It is home to a number all sports and EW was the most decorated promoter of all time. his outstanding sports promoting helped many sportsmen to earn a name in rugby
He had his early education at Dharmaraja College and later he shifted to Ananda College, where he excelled at cricket as a top class opening batsmen. During his playing days, he was rated as one of the steady opening batsmen and was a fine stroke-maker and excellent close-in fielder.After his schooling, he came to Kandy , and played cricket for Kandy United Cricket Club and Central Province. He was a key figure in Kandy and whole of Sri Lanka. Some knew only one facet of his life – as a keen sports promoter and donor helping lesser known sportsmen to hit the top. Only those who moved closely with this great sports promoter knew about his social activities in which he was deeply involved.There was hardly any sporting event in Kandy where he was not involved in. His pet sports were Rugby and Cricket.
The encouragement he gave to players and clubs by way of financial assistance, advice and guidance is well known to many. As a donor, he was unique and unlike most others, he was freely available to all sportsmen at any time. He was one-time Secretary of the Central Province Cricket Association and later he hit the top spot when he organized the first Official Test match in Kandy at the Asgiriya Stadium and this writer too was in the organisng committee.
Bala had the gift of making people feel exalted and raised their spirit by a few words of comfort or expression of support. ‘Don’t worry, you do whatever you like, I will give the backing, I am there with you, were his favourite words. He was the founder of the Kandy Lake Club in 1962 and later Kandy Rugby Football Club (KR & FC),which clubs produced top ruggerites, cricketers, and ‘Iron’ Sportsmen. Through this club he gave his best for sports in Kandy, he helped several lesser-known sportsmen by inviting them to come and play for his club and also found them jobs.
The first sport he introduced was cricket, and had some top players of that era, like Bertie Gomez, Neville Herathge, D.D. de Alwis, M.E. Marikar, Z.M. Zarook, P. Peries to name a few. Most of them got the break to play for Central Province and Up-Country with visiting teams. Rugby was introduced to the club, in 1963 and they started playing in the Ceylon Rugby Football Union “B” division tournament. Some who backed him to start rugger were Col.Stanley Ratwatte, Noel Paranagama, Dr. C.D.L.Fernando, Sidney Ratwatte, all are not among the living. In coaching it was Sydney Ratwatte and Maurice Perera who started coaching first, and Niyas Majeed was the first Captain. ‘EW’, turned the team to a champion outfit in 1966, under Farook Dole, the original captain of the year was T.B. Wijesinghe, half way through he crossed over to CR & FC. The team was formed with products from St.Anthony, Trinity, St Sylvesters, Vidyartha and St Pauls. Except for the Trinitians, rest of them had never played rugby at that time.
That year, they beat all the teams in the “B:” division, but failed to beat NCC it was a draw. In the following year, Kandy Lake Club entered the “A” Division and played along with clubs like Kandy SC, CR & FC, CH & FC, HavelockSC, Uva Gymkhana Club, Dimbula C & AC, Dickoya MCC and Sri Lanka Army. In the very first year in the “A” division in 1967, they opened the season with the game against defending champions Havelock SC, this match was played at Havelock Park and the game ended in a 3-all draw, next was against the star studded CH &FC, the side was packed with Englishmen. This game, too, ended in a 3-all draw at Maitland Crescent.
Then in the third game, beat Sri Lanka Army at Galle Face. Then in the return clash against Champion Havelock SC played at Nittawela, Kandy Lake Club were able to beat them. Some of the players who were in the first “A” division team of’ EW’ were Farook Dole, Gavin Stevens, Maurice Silva, Mahesh Sabaratnam, HectorGaluge, Carl Fernando, George Jayasena, Maurice Windus, George Thambiraja, A.Etipola, Didacus de Almeida. This club, after entering the”A” division, went places in rugby Sad to say however, they got the knockout blow from the authorities of that era, for playing professional players. With that blow from the controlling body, ‘E.W.’formed the Kandy RFC (KRFC), and played up to 1973.
In 1973, on a suggestion made by one time Ceylon Rugby Football Union president, Dr. K.B.Sangakkara. E.W. Balasuriya honoured the request and amalgamated with Kandy Sports Club (KSC) in 1974 the year Royalist Jeremy Pereira led the side.
In the following year1975, Iswan Omar became the first from ‘EW’s club to lead Kandy Sports Club and that is the year ‘EW’ became the President of the Nittawela Club and took the club up to the Clifford Cup Semi-finals, but had no luck and lost to Sri Lanka Air Force during extra – time. Then again in 1986, ‘E.W’ became the President of Kandy Sports Club and Ashan Ratwatte was the Captain and this writer was the Manager cum rugby convener. The club-came tothe R. Premadasa Trophy semi-finals.
Kandy Youth Sports Club who are having their AGM today, will organize a cricket tournament in memory of E.W. Balasuriya who was a great benefactor of Kandy sports and whose contributions should be weighed in gold.