It is considered a privilege to write these words of appreciation of an exceptionally gifted double international sports star, Sumanthiran Navaratnam who celebrates his 90th birthday on May 21st 2015. Popularly known as Summa amongst his friends, was born in the village of Araly North, Vaddukoddai in the Jaffna Peninsula.
His parents, S.S. Navaratnam, a civil servant and Katie Navaratnam, wanted their son to be groomed in the tradition of the British Public School and hence choose Royal College, Colombo for his education. Summa was the fifth in a family of two boys and five girls.
He was admitted to the Primary Section of Royal College in 1936 at age eleven and soon embarked with gusto in competitive athletics. At 13 years, he won the 100 and 200 yard sprints and was placed third in the high jump in the under 14 category. In 1939, he won the 100, 200 and 400 yard sprints in the under-16 category and in the following year Summa was the under-16 champion athlete. He was awarded his school athletic colours at age 14 as a member of the relay team, when Royal won both the Tarbat and Jefferson trophies. In 1942, he won the 100 and 200 yard sprints and became the Senior Public School Champion at Royal. At age 16, Summa was awarded the Public Schools Athletic colours having represented Royal at Public School meets from 1940 to 1944.
In 1944, after leaving school he joined the Ace Athletic Club and entered the National Championships, winning the 100 and 200 yard events, against R.E. Kitto, Upali Gunaratne and Oscar Wijesinghe.
Summa took over coaching athletics at Royal in 1947. He was included in the team to represent Ceylon at the dual meet against India and ran the 4×100 yards relay in the illustrious company of Duncan White, R.E. Kitto and B. Henricus. The same year he became the fastest man in Ceylon by winning the 100 yards sprint at the Nationals. In 1944, 1946 and 1947 he was recognised as the best individual performer and awarded the Witton Bartleet trophy. He was honoured by selection to represent Ceylon in 1950 at the British Empire Games in Aukland, New Zealand, competing in the 100 yard sprint as well as the 4×100 relay team with Duncan White, Oscar Wijesinghe and John de Seram. He represented Ceylon in 1952 at the Madras State Games and become the fastest man in Asia by winning the 100 yards sprint in 10.4 seconds.
It is well to remember that all his achievements were on grass tracts. If he and others of the day such as Duncan White, R.E. Kitto, Upali Gunaratne, Oscar Wijesinghe, John de Seram, B.C. Henricus and Bernard Atwell to name a few, had the opportunity to race on modern day artificial tracks, they would have been world class.
As a coach, Summa produced champions such as Darrel Lieversz (200 & 400 meter Nationals) Lakshman de Alwis (National Coach), Nirmala Dissanayake (200 m), Loraine Rutnam (100 m winner at 1960 Asian Games) and Jilska Flamer Caldera (110m hurdles)
Summa’s prowess in rugby was as formidable as his brilliance in athletics. He began playing rugby at age 14 in 1939 inter-house matches. Two years later he was a member of the team that defeated arch rivals, Trinity College for the first time in Colombo, in a memorable 11-3 win. He played as a wing three quarter. In the 1943 season Royal played only two matches. Summa captained Royal in the second match against Trinity.
After leaving school in 1944, Summa joined the Colombo Rugby Club, a team made up from players of various clubs to play against foreign teams in Sri Lanka.
Recalling how he happened to join CR&FC, Summa says that all his Royal team-mates joined Havelock SC. When he too was making his way to Havelocks, he was stopped by Sydney Soysa. When Sydney Soysa found that Summa was going to Havelocks, Sydney requested Summa to follow him straight to CR&FC and enrolled without any choice.
Summa captained CR&FC in 1954 and 1955, winning the Clifford Cup in both years.
In 1955, CR&FC remained unbeaten. Summa was selected captain of the Sri Lanka team that played in the All India tournament. The zenith of Summa’s rugby career was when he was chosen to play for Ceylon against the British Lions. No one will deny that Summa was the speediest and charismatic wing three quarter of his time.
Summa started as the coach of Royal in 1953. Later he coached S. Thomas’, Isipathana, Wesley and Ananda’s first teams in 1966. He coached the CR&FC and Police teams thereafter and was the National coach continuously for four years. He functioned as coach and Manager of the Sri Lanka team at the Hong Kong sevens.
In 1968, Summa was elected President of the CR & FC and showed his capabilities as an organizer. In that year CR & FC won the All-India tournament played in Sri Lanka. Summa was elected President of the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union in 1971 and 1974. In 1974 when Sri Lanka hosted the ASIAD for the first time and Sri Lanka team reached great heights, finishing runners-up to Japan, a feat which is still to be equalled. During the seventies Summa was President of the Referees and Coaching Societies and organized several seminars and coaching camps to progress the game in Sri Lanka.
At present, Summa is conducting “Summa Navaratnam – Royal College Junior Rugby Academy” for Grade I & II students of Royal and other schools at the Royal College Sports Complex, free of charge.
Summa began his working career as an Assistant Prevention Officer of the Customs in 1948. Two years later he joined Consolidated Export Corporation, where he excelled in the export of local produce especially spices. Before retirement in 2009, he was at Ceylon Foreign Traders as General Manager/Director.
Summa and his wife Romaine are blessed with a son and a daughter. The happily married sporting couple are now grandparents to four children. At the age of 90 Summa is still very fit. The secret is his daily schedule of walking about five miles.
Summa has the honour of being invited as a special guest at the return Bradley Shield encounter between Royal and Trinity on the 23rd May, 2015 at the Royal College Sports Complex, in recognition of and gratitude for the devoted service rendered to Sports at Royal and in particular for the promotion, advancement and sustenance of rugby.
Summa is one of the rare Double Internationals our country has produced and I wish him long life and happiness by the grace of Almighty.