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H G Ariyaratne - a sportsman and coach par excellence

Former Director of Sports of the Central Province Ministry of Sports H G Ariyaratne was an excellent sportsman and an able administrator to come out of the portals of Vidyartha College, Kandy.

He took to rugby and cricket at a very early age and captained the school in both sports which is a very rare achievement and also excelled at athletics and hockey.

He said that he captained the school rugby team at the age of 17 in 1969 and played for the school from 1965 to 1971, as a flanker. While still in school he turned out for Kandy Sports Club in the premier rugby tournament.

He captained the school rugby team in 1970. He was a middle order batsman and a spinner.

But it was as a rugby player that he made his mark. He played for Kandy Sports Club, Havelocks Sports Club and CH and FC and also one season for the 'Merrie Men of Uva'. He represented the President's XV in a rugby match against Dubai Exiles at Nittawela in the seventies and was also in the national rugby pool and a standby in one of the international matches.

Ariyaratne was a tireless flanker and played most of his matches for Kandy Sports Club.

Those were the days, the club did not have money and they had to spend their own money when playing matches both in Kandy and in places like Dickoya, Dimbulla and Uva and even Colombo. At times they pooled their money to pay the caretaker.

The club's coffers were empty as the gate collections were very little and even the bar did not have stocks of liquor. Often they filled empty foreign and local liquor bottles with water and kept them on show in the racks.

This was just to impress the visitors. The club functioned only during the rugby season.

Those were the hard days of Kandy Sports Club he said. On some days they even plant grass and water the grounds to make it fit for the next match.

We toiled for the club. When we were short of players, we took schoolboy ruggerites into our team and even assured them of their safety during matches from bullies.

In one club match, one such bully was frightening our players with some hard tackles, the little schoolboys were frightened to face this ruggerite who appeared to be having his own way.

There was nothing illegal but he was taking advantage of the situation and this had to be stopped. When this bully next time got the ball and was fending off tackles with one hand whilst slicing through the defence, he accosted this player with the ball and gave him a very hard tackle which sent him sprawling and took a little time to be on his feet. This incident made him feel that he had met his match and stopped bullying the young ruggerites.

His first appointment was with the Ministry of Sports and was based at Hanguranketha and those days Saturday was a half working day and he had to rush immediately after work to play for Kandy SC and hardly had the time to have lunch.

"It is with that love and dedication that we played for Kandy SC and it is because of my rugby that I climbed the ladder of success in my life."

Attached to the Ministry of Sports, he went on a 2 1/2 year scholarship on athletic coaching and training to Gutenberg University in Germany where he was able to learn many things in athletics.

One of Ariyaratne's greatest achievements was spotting of Manoharan as long distance runner from a plantation in Ragala. Manoharan went on to win a silver medal in marathon at the SAF Games held in 2001.

He said that his father had a boutique at Ragala town and one day during one of his weekend visits to see the family, he heard a humble labourer telling his father, "My son can run well and he beats everyone in the estate but being estate workers, we have no chance to sow that we also can run." He overheard this conversation and was moved by it. He immediately brought this plantation worker's son under his charge and put him through his paces and he brought a silver medal to Sri Lanka. In other words he was the second fastest runner of marathon in South Asia.

In one year 38 runners from the plantations participated at the provincial meet through the efforts made by him. The talent is there in plantations and rural areas, we go looking for it.

He also coached Vidyartha College at rugby and one of his products was former Minister of Sports C B Ratnayake who played as a stand off for the school.

Another incident he would not like to forget was one day Vidyartha College did not have rugby balls to practice and he approached late Bertie Dias who was the coach at Trinity College at that time. He asked for one ball but he received six balls. When he asked when can he returned them, late Bertie Dias' reply was, "For God's sake have them for good in the name of rugby. By giving these balls, we are only trying to help another school to find its feet at rugby. God helps those who help others," he said. Such was the generosity of this great sportsman who was a much respected ruggerite, coach and referee.

From a sports officer he rose up to the ranks of District Sports Officer in Nuwara Eliya and Kandy and ended up as the Provincial Director of Sports.

He also played a major role in the organizing of the National Sports in Kandy in 2010 as the Director of Sports for Central Province.

Though he had done weightlifting Federation and did a lot to take the 'iron sport' to the rural areas.

Last year he retired from Government Service and Ariyaratne is now the athletic coach of Trinity College.

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