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Sporting Personalities with Ken de Joodt:

Hemaka Amarasuriya - an amiable Sports Celebrity

SPORTING PERSONALITIES: In a famous saying - "It's the 'Singer' - not the song", it must mean that it is more important to have a voice with 'fine-tuned' vocal chords, actions that transmits dynamic feelings and a magnetic personality that attracts, than a 'song' with mere words and a melody!

From a genial "Giant" Hemaka Amarasuriya, Chairman of Singer (Sri Lanka) and current Vice President of Singer International, springs forth a 'song' with words of wisdom, to play a super 'tune' of a visionary future with positive clarity!


Hemaka Amarasuriya

This is the hallmark of a dynamic administrator, who is able to 'capture' the markets virtually 'for a song' and 'transmit' better products for essential use in the country - or ferret out and cause a 'Whirlpool' of talented Sportsmen for the country in Cricket, Rugby, Basketball and Hockey. A rare and unique Sporting Personality who is an amiable celebrity!

Hemaka was born in `1943 to an illustrious and wealthy family, all Propriety Planters, which tracks back to their beginnings in the 1920's.

They collectively owned a great share of land and estates Up-country and in the Low-country, while also being a super-set of cricketers, who turned out for Ananda College, Colombo and Mahinda College, Galle. Hemaka's father, Thomas Amarasuriya, was the President of the Senate till 1965, who had three brothers, H. W. Amarasuriya - a former Minister of Trade and Commerce, in the 'D. S. Senanayake Government', the first after Independence was obtained from the British in 1948.

Francis and Buddy were the other two, who managed their own estates and also possessed some of the finest breeds of horses. Most of these horses were famous on the race-tracks, until horse-racing was banned in Sri Lanka, around the sixties.

As a young student at Royal College, Colombo, from the Primary School in 1949 to the Senior levels in 1964, Hemaka had a great interest and a flair for sports. Apart from concentrating on his studies, he made his 'mark' in Rugby and was selected to play in the Royal Rugby 1st fifteen in 1963. He was also selected to play for the Royal Cricket "A" team in '62 and '63.

In Athletics, Hemaka's 'pet' event was the 400 metres which made him an automatic choice with his swiftness and stamina, to play as Wing three-quarter in a strong Royal '63' team, captained by an excellent Hooker Manik Jayakumar.

This team was coached by a versatile "Sports Star" of the past, the mercurial Mahes Rodrigo, a 'Double International' in Rugby and in Cricket, for Sri Lanka! It was Mahes as Coach, who was delighted with Hemaka's rare ability to use both feet to kick the ball with equal power and strength! As an 'encourager', M. T. Thambapillai, the Master-in-Charge, served with absolute dedication at Royal for many years!

He recalled the scintillating, memorable Royal-Trinity 'Bradby' Rugby matches in 1963, when Royal held Trinity to a 6 all draw in the first game played at Bogambara Grounds in Kandy.

Royal's team comprised of Hemaka Amarasuriya, Keith Paul, a superb Wing-forward (who later represented Sri Lanka). S. Vidanage, Shaw Wilson, Umesha Sellamuttu, Rex Perera, Laki Dissanayake, Lucky Hettiarachchi, Lucky de Chickera, Rohan de Zoysa, M. J. C. Fernando, Nihal Welikala, N. K. Fernando, Thurairatnam and W. Wickramasinghe. Though the three super "Luckys" were in the team, Royal were 'unlucky' not to win!

Trinity had outstanding players like Mohan Sahayam, the fantastic Trinity Fly-half and M. T. M. Zarook as scrum - half, Gotabe Dissanayake, Justin Labrooy, B. D. A. Piyasena, (Captain) and his brother B. D. G. Piyasena, Rodney Geddes, G. Carson, C. D. Elhart, R. A. H. Canagasabai, N. V. Perera, Sarath Illangatilleke, S. M. R. de Silva, Ronald Ondaatji, and H. J. Fernando.

In the second game, the two teams took the field like 'prize cockerels' stalking each other and fighting for supremacy! It was certainly exciting rugby at Longdon Place, Colombo where Trinity fought 'head to head' and brought off a great win by the skin of their teeth!

Trinity scored first, when a penalty-kick at goal, struck the upright goal-post and bounced back into play, for winger Justin Labrooy to pounce on it like a lion and score under the posts. Mohan Sahayam did well to add two more points with the conversion, which finally made the difference.

Late in the second half, with just a few minutes of play left, Keith Paul made a beautiful move and scored a great try but the crucial conversion went awry - and the 'Bradby' was carried back to Kandy, by the Trinitians, with a 5 pts. to 3 victory!

Off the Rugby-field in 1973, Hemaka made a smashing 'tackle' and took 'possession' of a pretty wife - Anoma, daughter of the former Deputy Chairman of John Keells, D. P. D. M. de Silva.

Together they produced three lovely children, a daughter Dileeka (31) who is a small entrepreneur in IT, then a son Thushan (26) who Captained Royal Cricket in 1999, finally another son Damith (21) presently studying Graphic Design.

Thushan was a classy left-hand batsman who scored heavily, slamming a century against Trinity. He was No. 3 in the Schools' Batting averages and won the prestigious award for the "Most Popular Schoolboy Cricketer 1999".

With loving care and concern, Hemaka said that he did not interfere with the decisions his children made of what they desired to follow in life, as he was confident that they would choose well.

After sic years of training at Ernst and Young in Accountancy, Hemaka was appointed Chief Accountant at Singer Industries in 1973 and within four years he secured the Finance Director's position in 1977 at Singer (Sri Lanka).

With his brilliant employment record, in 1983 he was made the Acting C.E.O. Singer (Sri Lanka) and by 1984, appointed the Singapore Country Manager, in Singapore.

Through hard work and study, Hemaka achieved a Diploma in Advanced Marketing Strategy in 1985, from the University of New York USA. He was also appointed the Chairman of Singer (Sri Lanka) 1985) and in 1987 he founded another company - "Regnis Lanka", to work alongside Singer.

By 1995, Hemaka was chosen and appointed Regional Manager for Singer Worldwide and was honoured with the fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, United kingdom. In the year 2004, he received the high distinction of being confirmed as the Vice - President of Singer International.

Apart from holding the 'top' position of chairman of many other organizations, he was also the founder President of the Industrial Association of Sri Lanka and served on the Presidential Task Force of Science and Technology.

He was a member on the Advisory Commission on Company Law. Hemaka was also appointed President of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (UK), in the Sri Lankan Region.

With a sincere passion and a love for sports, Hemaka carefully, considered granting generous sponsorships from 1988, to meet the deserving needs of the Mercantile Sector, to promote Basketball, Hockey and in particular rugby and Cricket.

His Company also sponsored the first "Singer Provincial Cricket Tournament" in 1988, drawing Teams from the Southern Province, Central and North-Western and two teams 'A' and 'B' from the Western Province, to engage in 'four-day' Cricket.

This was with a view to preparing players to 'stand-up' to a longer duration, (as in Test Cricket) and work-on 'mind setting', stamina and playing long innings. This tournament was conducted for five years effectively.

In 1994, the Cricket Board were in need of finances to help the Sri Lankan National Cricket Team. Singer Sri Lankan headed by Hemaka Amarasuriya as Chairman, not only sponsored but also developed and organised the first 'Four-Nation International Tournament' in Sri Lanka, with Australia, India and Pakistan participating.

It was rewarding when Arjuna Ranatunga led the Sri Lanka team to victory over India in the Final. This prolific sponsorship by Singer (Sri Lanka) continued with the World Series in 1994 and 1996 and Sri Lanka claimed the glory of winning the "World Cup One Day International Series", for the first time in 1996. With an attitude of gratitude many were the blessings and accolades on Singer Sri Lanka for their magnanimous support, as the 'Team Sponsor'!

In 2002, Hemaka Amarasuriya was appointed chairman of the Interim Committee of the Sri Lanka Cricket Board as "the most suitable person to head the Cricket Board", according to the Sports Minister at that time, Johnston Fernando.

Representing Sri Lanka Cricket and the BCCSL at the 'Policy-Making Meeting' convened by the ICC at Lords' Cricket grounds in England, Hemaka was overawed with pride and joy by what he experienced and witnessed as a 'spectacular meeting' held at the end of the Long Room, at Lord's.

As Hemaka said "It was Gamini Dissanayake, (a former brilliant student from Trinity College, Kandy) - who made the first presentation for Sri Lanka at a similar meeting in 1981 and paved the 'golden' way to 'Test Status' by 1982".

During his period as Interim Chairman 2002 - 2003, Hemaka setup the Cricket Academy at the Khettarama Stadium, with the objective of 'searching' for 'Talented Cricketers' in the country and giving them a comprehensive training.

It was not merely for playing cricket on the field but also for improving their characters and conduct 'off the field'! It was essential to nurture the 'youngsters', exposing them to other relevant aspects and disciplines of life, like good behaviour, correct communications, proper etiquette, cleanliness, etc; and even learning 'table manners'!! Singer sponsored this meaningful and purposeful project, with 'Clinics' across the Island.

Owen Mottau was the first Director of the Cricket Academy to work out the "All Island Talent Search". It proved to be greatly beneficial to the 'Outstation' and Colombo Cricketers, who were accommodated in Dormitories and enjoyed all the facilities given to them, including the free use of the gymnasium.

Turning to "Rugby Sponsorships", Singer (Sri Lanka) acceded to a request for financial assistance from Trinity in 1988.. and since then 29 schools have benefitted from a good 'line-out' of sponsorships, including Hemaka's Alma Mater, Royal College! Two 'big' projects undertaken were the beautiful, picturesque Trinity College Pallekelle Rugby Stadium, (off Kandy), which he truly desires to complete and accomplish, as a seemingly "impossible dream" to come true!! With joy he expressed that he received good co-operation to 'complete his dream' at the Royal College Complex, in Colombo.

This year, a 'miraculous' return of Dimbulla-Dickoya Rugby Clubs, was seen back in the fray, as they participated in the Clifford Cup club tournament and ended the season winning the "Bowl".

It was made possible, once again, through the splendid sponsorships of Singer and it's enthusiastic affable Chairman, Hemaka Amarasuriya. From the Rugby records Dimbula started playing Rugby in 1856, exactly 150 years ago.

They have won the Clifford Cup in 1953, shared the Cup with CR & FC in 1959 - and then in 1970, under the astute Captaincy of Ken Murray (Trinity Rugby 1958 'Colours') - Dimbula beat Havelocks, in the final.

In close comparison, Dickoya too have played Rugby from 1874, producing superb teams but have not won the cup as yet.

In 1958 they lost to CR & FC but in 1961 they narrowly missed it playing against Havelocks. Though Dickoya were leading at half-time by 9 pts. to 8, just two minutes before the final whistle, Ken de Joodt fired a 40 yards penalty to give Havelocks a great win by 11 pts. to 9 and the Clifford Cup!

With a gleeful look in his eye, Hemaka referred to the grand, resplendent setting at the Radella Rugby grounds and the suitable conditions for rugby, as he had witnessed the first match - Dim/Dicks Vs Air Force, as the Chief Guest, on the 27th of May 2006.

It had really stirred the sentiments of his heart and impressed upon him, that he will support Dim/Dicks, to achieve another milestone in Rugby, as he did for Kandy Sports Club in the late 90's. Wit this in mind, Hemaka believes it will do good for the development of Rugby Up-country and in the years to come, to hopefully follow the same trend as Kandy SC did and be a "Feeder" to the national Rugby Pool.

His vision for Sri Lanka Rugby is to be No. 1 in Asia - "It can be done if we develop the infrastructure. When one looks at the IRB Table Positions this year, Sri Lanka is placed at 42, out of 110 countries that are involved in Rugby around the World - that is noteworthy!" Hemaka was happy to see his efforts work though Singer and the Kandy Sports Club, bearing fruit and finally gaining IRB recognition, after organising the International Tournaments, in Sri Lanka, He said - "Now that we have been successful in doing so, we can't ask anything more, other than working hard to see the Tournament grow from strength to strength. Our Rugby has been doing well and it has attracted several 'blue-chip' companies, such as Sri Lankan Airlines, Dialog and Caltex".

His own observations are, that with the rapid expansion of Rugby in Asia, it could be another 50 years before Sri Lanka get their next "Host" rights! Therefore he urged all those who have a true passion for Rugby, to join force with the SLRFU and make the up-coming Singer Rugby Asiad in November, a successful and a memorable one.

May God Bless Singer (Sri Lanka) and a fantastic Sporting Personality, Chairman Hemaka Amarasuriya - and to all others who contribute enormously in different ways, giving with love and passion, for 'All Sports'!

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