Upali Rajakaruna (in wheelchair) with (from left) Iqbal bin Issack (president SLTA), Nelson Liu (CEO of CICT) and Tissa Wickremasinghe (GM Marketing) after handing over of the sponsorship cheque (Pic by Chandana Wijesinghe)

Sri Lanka’s wheelchair tennis players, who are differently able people, will now be able to have their wishers fulfilled with the advent of generous and responsible sponsorship from Colombo International Container Terminals Limited (CICT). They will be supported to improve in their standards to international levels and also to participate in foreign tournaments without any hindrance on financial constrains, for the next three years.

Wheelchair tennis is by far the fastest growing sport in Sri Lanka at present. The people who have achieved a high standard are the soldiers who lost their limbs during their involvement in the war and protection of the sovereignty of the country. These soldiers who took to the game after being injured have displayed vast talent and skills and have improved to great heights.

They have proved this by beating players who are ranked 17, 24 and 35 at international tournaments. Unfortunately they have been confined to only a few foreign tournaments per year due to lack of funds. Now this problem will be overcome and Sri Lanka’s leading wheelchair players will be able to participate in more foreign tournaments and enhance their world rankings.

Importantly, CICT have conditions to their sponsorship deal and that as many differently able persons as possible should be taken under the Sri Lanka Tennis Association (SLTA) and trained in the game.

Tissa Wickremasinghe the General Manager of Marketing and Commercial of CICT said that this is a long term involvement and will monitor the progress every quarterly. Based on the progress made by SLTA the sponsorship will be continued.

“We want all sectors of the people with different ability, including school children and from the rural areas, be given the same opportunity to get involved in the sport seriously,” expressed Wickremasinghe.

Iqbal bin Issack president of SLTA said that there are about 150 international tournaments for wheelchair tennis players and lack of funds stopped them from going further.

“Our leading wheelchair players are good and have beaten other players who are much higher in the world rankings. We have about four leading players who must be sent on foreign tournaments so that they can qualify for the World Championship held once a year,” noted Iqbal.

The SLTA hopes to send these four players for the Thailand Open and Malaysian Open tournament some time this year also. The players will also be preparing for the Paralympics to be held in Rio, Brazil next year.

Upali Rajakaruna and D.M. Gamini are the two leading wheelchair tennis players in the country at present. They represented the country at the World Championships recently held in Turkey. They were able to beat Italy in the team event. Thereafter, Rajakaruna proceeded to Poland to participate in their Open championship and qualified up to the quarters. Gamini was unfortunately injured in Turkey had to return home from there.

Wheelchair tennis was introduced to Sri Lanka Army in 1997 however with the assistance of SLTA the sport was properly integrated in 2001 to differently abled sondiers under the International Tennis Federation (ITF) Silver Fund Project. Under this project Sri Lanka was able to obtain quality trainers from the ITF to improve the skills of players to international levels.