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
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!
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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,
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
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
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
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'!