Sports in Kandy play a significant part in the lives of the folks living in the hill country. Sport in Kandy is represented by all races of the island, Sinhalese, Muslims, Tamils, Burghers and Malays. Rugby union is the most popular sport in the central hills. In the early days football and cricket were very popular. Hockey was very active at club level. Some of the other popular sports were netball, badminton, athletics, basketball, tennis, cue sport, volleyball, table tennis, elle, golf and baseball. Credit should go to schools for regularly organizing sports events at the top level. This is largely due to the efforts of principals and the past pupils. As a result, Kandy has produced many national captains at cricket, rugby, athletes, football and hockey.
Cricket in the Kandy District dates back to the 1860s. It was mainly played then by members of a club known as Kandy Dancing, Boating, and Rowing Club. In 1896, this club became the Kandy Sports Club. It is with great pride that folks of Kandy recall memories of the first unofficial Test which was played in Kandy at the Bogambara grounds in 1889.
The Kandy Sports Club was an exclusive European club. However, from 1920 onwards locals were invited to use its facilities. During that time Bogambara and Trinity College grounds at Asgiriya hosted overseas teams. August 1946 saw the revival of the Kandy District Cricket Association. Shortly after the Central Province Cricket Association (CPCA) was formed a trophy was presented by its president Dr. V.H.L. Anthonisz for competition amongst clubs in the Kandy District.
Sri Lanka’s Test era in Kandy began with a Test match on February 22, 1983 against Australia at the Asgiriya Stadium making it Sri Lanka’s third Test venue and the 54th Test venue in the world. Since this game almost every team that visited this island has played on this ground, till the last Test was hosted here in 2007.
Cricket continues to take pride of place at school level, though the club standards have dropped somewhat. This is due to poor organising by the local body, and the Kandy CC. Domestic club cricket is dead. There are some clubs that exist only on paper, contributing little or nothing to the betterment of Kandy cricket. These clubs are only active during the time of AGMs.
In Kandy at present, rugby is the most popular sport and crowd-pulling game. This is because Kandy SC is the one and only club out of Colombo playing the game at the highest level. They are the reigning club rugby champions.
Football, however, is the common man’s sport. This sport still continues with limited resources and facilities. But it is sad to say that in the last eight years, football in Kandy has taken a back seat.
Hockey at school level is a happy story, with most of the schools, especially girls’ schools, dominating the game. Kandy District Hockey Association has forgotten the game. Cue games, billiards and snooker, however, have also taken a nosedive with hardly any activity. The sports officials surface only during election time.
Basketball has returned to its former position. Table tennis and badminton too are in good shape with participation at every level being more than satisfactory. Volleyball is at a low ebb. In recent times, Kandy has produced some impressive athletes, but the eye-opener has been swimming where Kandy has produced some top notch swimmers among both men and women, especially at school level. Although Kandy has several sports bodies they need to get actively involved at the highest level. Kandy is urgently in need of proper ground facilities for football, hockey and athletics.
The sporting fraternity of Kandy wants to appeal to the new Sports Minister to look into the shortcomings of Kandy sports. The Chief Minister of Central Province Sarath Ekanayake was a onetime president of the Basketball Federation. He is a keen follower of all sports and gives a big hand. Ministers like Lakshman Kirielle and Rauff Hakeem too have promised support for sports in Kandy. Malik Samarawickrema who has supported rugby for many years, is currently a minister.
Kandy today needs good coaches. The majority of coaches employed at present don’t have the proper knowledge to develop talent.