November 20, 2018
Starting off as an athlete in his youth, then switching over to basketball and cricket, and later turning out to be a prominent figure in rugger, both as a player cum official, Priyantha Ekanayake has now changed gears to promote the game of Baseball in the country. The 53- year-old legend hails from a sporting family, and it was his elder brother, the well known ‘LV’ Ekanayake, who was instrumental in turning him into a sportsman.
Priyantha, an old boy of St. Anthony’s College, Kandy, started his career as a basketball player, and first represented the Sri Lanka Youth and later the national Basketball team at the Asian Championship after he left school in 1985. He then joined Kandy Sports Club to play rugby. Four years later he crossed over to Colombo to join CH & FC to play in the President’s Trophy knock-out Rugby tournament. He donned the national jersey as the captain for nine years before hanging up his boots to join the coaching arena, starting off with Kandy SC during the 1998/99 season.
He left coaching and went into the administration side of the game in 2004/5 as the President of the Rugby Union. He was elevated to the position of CEO of the Union for over one year, and served in the same capacity at Asian Rugby Football Union.
He finally quit all aspects of the game in July this year and opted to develop baseball in Sri Lanka on a volunteer basis. Fazeel Hussain, the President of the Baseball Association, was instrumental in roping him in to help develop the game islandwide and bring in sponsors. Asanga Seneviratne has also given his support, along with 31 other sports bodies affiliated to NOC to march forward.
This game, which is similar to ‘Elle’ with a mix of cricket thrown in, was originally played in the United States of America. Over 122 countries have now adopted this fast developing game. The Asian giants Japan, Korea and Taiwan, have made this game their national sport. Sri Lanka is currently ranked 40 in the world.
The Sri Lanka Amateur Baseball/Softball Association (SLABSA) drew a plan to spread the game to the Provinces, and as a pilot project, encouraged 10-15 schools to take up the game, targeting youth between 10-16 years. Through this they also want to educate and train Sport Officers, PTI’s and old boys/girls. With the support of the 98 Educational Zones the governing body has distributed basic equipment to these institutions. The three defense services, Sri Lanka Army, Navy and the Air Force, have been very supportive, especially in Jaffna.
Owing to the cost effectiveness of the game, Priyantha made a visit to the top clubs in USA and Canada in search of support, and many have obliged. Japan has already given the green light to ship a big consignment of baseball gear. Horizon Campus and Nine Wells Hospital have come forward to support the game with a 3-year development plan. Horizon Campus has also offered scholarships.
At present 30 clubs, 22 school teams and 10 University teams are engaged in the game. The Japanese government has donated a fully fledged stadium in Diyagama.
“We are hoping to host the West Asia Tournament in March next year, a tournament which we won last year. Our aim is to promote the game islandwide. Recently we had some training camps in Jaffna. We are also currently ranked 7th out of 28 countries in Asia. Our potential is good and we recently won an Under-18 tournament too,” said Priyantha. He believes that by creating awareness about this sport in the country, they can get lots of support and attract financial assistance in the near future.
The 22 School teams: Ranabima Royal College, Kingswood College, Dharmaraja College, Trinity College, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike National College, Sri Rahula College, Weera Keppetipola Central College, Wewala Wewa Maha Vidyalaya, Royal College-Colombo, Nalanda College, D.S. Senanayake College, Ananda College, St. Anthony’s College-Wattala, Minu/Senarath Paranavithana National School, Richmond College, Mahinda College, Siridhamma College, G/Magedara Secondary School, Gamini National College, Medirigiriya National College and St. Joseph’s College
The 30 Clubs and 10 University teams: Old Royalist Baseball Club, Frontiers Baseball Club, Maroons Baseball Club, University of Wayamba, DS Knights Baseball Club, Asia Baseball Club, Richmond Baseball Club, Nines Baseball Club, Kandy Baseball Club, Shakthi Baseball Club, University of Kelaniya, Old Nalandians Baseball Club, Sri Lanka Army Baseball Club, Sri Lanka Navy Baseball Club, Old Anandians Baseball Club, University of Ruhuna, University of Moratuwa, University of Colombo, Ranabima Baseball Club, University of Peradeniya, Mahinda Baseball Club, Siridhamma Baseball Club, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Colombo Baseball Club, Olympic Unawatuna Sports Club, Highlanders Sports Club, UOC Strikers, Ceylon Lions Baseball Club, Viking Baseball Club, Craftsman Baseball Club and Sri Lanka Force Baseball Club