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K B Ratnayake: Great sportsman and veteran politician

by Premasara Epasinghe

(April 30, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Versatile sportsman, honest politician, one of the leading lights of North Central Province the highly respected former Minister of Sports and Speaker of Parliament K. B. Ratnayake passed away seven years ago on April 30 2004, at the age of 80 years.

He was a fine gentleman, cricketer, soccerite, tennis player and athlete from the Rajarata, North Central Province. In the 1940s, KBR had the proud distinction of leading Hartley College, one of the leading schools in the Jaffna district.

After completing his education at Hartley College, he served the villagers of the NCP as a land officer in the 1950s. He possessed a majestic personality, resembling a ‘Dasamahayodaya’ of the Great King Dutugemunu. He was a six-footer, who possessed a charming, pleasant and attractive personality. K.B.R., in reality, was a multi-lingual, and multi-cultural. He was a fine speaker in Sinhala, Tamil and English. This great man, never cared for caste, creed or colour.
Golden era of sports

He always stood for ‘One Sri Lanka’. His commanding personality, physical presence exuded the fragrance of the villagers of the Vanniya-Rajarata, Weu Bandi Rajjaya. He moved with kings, but always remained a simple honourable villager. He was a man who never forgot his roots. He served as the Private Secretary to Maithripala Senanayake, one of the most distinguished leaders and statesman that Sri Lanka possessed. K.B.R. was greatly influenced by the great man Maithripala Senanayake.

I can proudly, state here K. B. Ratnayake ushered the golden era of sports in Sri Lanka in the 1970s. He was the first minister to hold national sports festivals annually in outstations. He appointed late Gerry Gooneratne as the national cricket coach of Sri Lanka.

I still remember the first day I met this fine gentleman. Cricket match was in progress. I was attached to the sports desk of Daily News, covering this encounter in 1960. It was the centenary celebration of the Colombo Municipality. To mark this event, a cricket match was played at the Viharamadevi Grounds, Nomads Grounds, opposite St Bridgets Convent. The two teams - parliamentarians, were captained by former Thomian cricketer, Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake. The Municipality team was led by Vincent Perera, Mayor of Colombo. The umpires were Sam Wijesinha the Clerk to the House at that time and B. A. Jayasinghe Municipal Commissioner.
Brilliant speech

Winning the toss, batted. The Parliamentarians were in a spot of bother losing the openers Anandian Dr N. M. Perera and Royalist Anil Moonesingha. K. B. Ratnayake walked in joined Anandian Bernard Soysa. K. B. Ratnayake walked majestically. The first ball he faced off P. Sumathiratne, Colpetty MC, he dispatched to the boundary. This giant left-hand batsman thrashed the Minicipal members, scored a brilliant 65 runs. It included a towering six to the Art Gallery premises. He was at his brilliant best, K B R had eight hits to the ropes.

During the time K B Ratnayake was the Speaker, I cordially invited him to be chief guest at the launch of my book ‘Ma Dutu Cricket Lowa’(The world of cricket that I saw) in the year 1998.

In his own inimitable style, the Speaker Ratnayake made a brilliant speech, in Sinhala, Tamil and English. He traced Sri Lankan cricket history and mentioned about the First World Cup in 1975, how he watched with the president of the BCCSL Robert Senanayake.

K. B. R. kept the audience entertained with good humour. He said during the time that they played cricket, they used only pads, batting gloves and the box.

‘Today, the present day cricketers wear, head guard - helmets, thigh guard, shin guard, chest guard, arm guard and all sorts of guards. Sometimes, people ask us whether these people are going for a war’. The entire audience erupted in laughter.

Ratnayake as the Minister of Sports improved the standard of sports in the rural areas. During his period he recruited women-sports officers. He was responsible in recruiting K G. Badra and Sunil Gunawardane and many other outstanding sportsmen to the Sports Ministry.

‘Sunil and Badra ran together. Later, they ran to each other’. As witty as ever, he mentioned this to the SLFI audience. Laughter and cheering continued for few minutes.

Among those great men and women I met, K. B. Ratnayake stands out. K. B. R. was a true and genuine politician in the classical mould. He is a great man of honesty and integrity full of charisma and compassion. He is a fine human being with a golden heart.

This great leader, K. B. Ratnayake was born on February 23, 1924 and passed away on April 30, 2004.

He was elected to the Fifth House of Representatives from Anuradhapura on June 6, 1962.

He served as the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Sports from May 31,1970 to May 22,1972 and then again he was the Minister of Sports in late 1990s.

K. B. Ratnayake served as the Speaker from August 25, 1994 to August 18, 2000.

The demise of K. B. Ratnayake was an irreparable loss not only to their family but also to the whole country. Such gentlemenly politicians are a rare breed.

Dear Sir, I wish you eternal Bliss of Nibbana.

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