|Thursday, 19 September 2002|
Tennis set to return to Jaffna
Tennis is set to return to Jaffna after the near two-decade war. Two SLTA officials who made a week-long inspection tour of Jaffna last month are presently putting the finishing touches to a five-year plan to take the game from resurrection to tournaments.
''Before the war Jaffna was an active tennis centre, holding tournaments of their own and fielding some top players to the National level. But the game died with the war. Now that the peace talks have begun we are using the opportunity to restart the game. And we were delighted by the spontaneous response from the schools _ they just can't wait to start,'' said Boshan H.
Dayaratne, CEO of SLTA, who was one of two on the inspection tour. The other was, K Y D Pathiraja, the Mini Tennis coordinator.
The two SLTA officials went with an inventory of Jaffna's pre-war courts, but evidence of them was hardly recognizable. ''At first sight we couldn't say these were tennis courts _ they were so overtaken by vegetation.
Obviously, many in Jaffna are not likely to know anything about the game because they've never seen it. We're looking at the project as a job that begins from zero level, requiring huge investments,'' said Dayaratne. ''The investment is a good one because its benefits go beyond tennis. The inspection tour, arranged and coordinated by Brig. Madura Wijewickrema and Capt. Prasanna Liyanage, included a meeting at Jaffna Central with the AGA T Vythilinkam and representatives of ten schools. ''All of them were excited with our presentation of the Mirinda Mini Tennis program. All the equipment for this program will be provided by the SLTA, and with courts not required, the schools were impatient to have the program started,''said Dayaratne.
For a start the program is assured of the10 schools present at the meeting with the AGA. They are:Jaffna Central, Vembadi Girls School, Chundikuli Girls School, St Patrick's, St John's, Jaffna Hindu, Hindu College, Union College, Jaffna College Vadukoddai and Jaffna College Uduvil.
The Mirindia Mini Tennis program has met with tremendous success in the outstations where it was introduced with thousands of 5 to 10 years participating. ''We expect about 4000 to 5000 to be involved in the program in Jaffna and have already identified a person from the area to be the development officer in the North. He in turn will recruit teachers to the program,,'' said Suresh Subramaniam, President SLTA. ''Hopefully, the program will get off the ground in October.''
As the mini tennis program advances, the SLTA will begin the second phase of their five-year plan: repairs where possible to the long neglected courts and the building of new courts. ''Our aim is to have 12 courts in Jaffna. We have already sounded out the AGA for land to build new courts, preferably near schools. Of course this will take time, but with restoration of normalcy in the North a government priority, we are confident of being allotted state land,'' said Dayaratne.
The third stage would be to re-launch tournament tennis in Jaffna, which once had flourishing competitions. Frank Sebaratnam cut his teeth in Jaffna competitions before coming to Colombo and winning the National title in 1985 and 86 and then going to represent the country in the Davis Cup in the mid 80s. ''The centre of tennis then was Jaffna Tennis club, which was close to the bombed out old library. There's no trace of the club now. We'll have to revive the old club or encourage the setting up of a new club which will organize tournaments in the Jaffna district,'' said Suresh Subramaniam.
The five-year plan will cost about Rs.5 million. ''The whole plan will be dependent on ponsorship, but, being a project that also addresses national interest, we're hopeful sponsors will join the SLTA in this venture,'' said Dayaratne.
ROYAL College Colombo emerged under 11 and 13 champions in the Mirinda All Island Boys' Schools Championship, defeating St. Peter's in the finals of both events at the National Tennis courts at Green Path this week.
The under 13 Royalists swamped the Peterites 3 matches to one, but their under 13 team was made to work hard before winning 3 matches to 2.
Six schools competed in both events. St Michael's Batticaloa did well to earn a play-off for third place in both events. They finished third in the under 13, defeating S. Thomas, Mt Lavinia, 3/1, but lost to Ananda, 3/0 in the under 11.
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