Sri Lanka’s celebrated sumo wrestler Chamila Karawita in action

The islanders conduct their maiden national championships with the blessings of the sports minister, well-wishers and parents

There was huge interest among players and ample spectator interest when the island conducted its maiden National Sumo Championships at the Colombo YMCA on January 25.
Big boys who are fondly known as ‘fatsos’ showed that they too have a place in sport, thanks to this intriguing Japanese sport which found its way to Sri Lanka in 2010. Sri Lanka Sumo Federation (SLSF) President Kithsiri de Zoysa speaking to Weekend Nation said that the first ever sumo national championship was a huge success.

According to Kithsiri as many as 180 competitors took to the stage where bouts lasted just a few minutes and the winner emerged in double quick time. “This is the nature of a sumo fight. Everything happens so fast. There are 87 methods used to throw an opponent off the playing area. There was a lot of interest shown by schoolboys to contest the event and this auger well for the future of the sport,” said Kithsiri.

There is good news for all sumo fans in Sri Lanka. After many years of struggling to establish the sport here, SLSF officials have now received the backing of Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekare. “Unlike with the past efforts we took to establish this sport, it didn’t take much time to convince the present sports minister that Sri Lankans have a future in this sport and that we need to register it under the Ministry of Sports. The present sports minister is a person who understands sports,” said Kithsiri.

What we see as Sumo in Sri Lanka is the brainchild of Kithsiri. “I was in Japan doing my business and got to see many sumo championships. It was there that I got the idea that this sport should be brought to Sri Lanka,” he reminisced. He took this opportunity to recall the name of M Weeraratne who also made valuable contributions to establish the sport in Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lanka Sumo Federation was registered with the Ministry of Sports in 2010 and it was granted affiliation with the Sumo World Federation and Asian Sumo World Federation two years later.

At present two players Chamila Karawila (Over 115 kg.) and Lasantha Gunatilake (under 115 kg.) have made Sri Lanka proud at international competitions. Sumu began with just three players and practice sessions were first held in Matale. At present, the sport boasts of a player base of over 500. Most of the sumo players are from Army, Navy, Air Force and the Police.

The SLSF is now concentrating on taking the sport to schools. “We recently had a sumo camp in Ankumbura where the interest shown by schoolchildren was immense. All the organizing was done by parents. This shows that parents have realized that this is a safe sport for their children,” he said. The SLSF plans to bring down a Japanese sumo coach to conduct training and also send 10 Sri Lankan referees to Japan to enhance their judging skills.

Kithsiri underscored the fact that sumo can give a lot of self-confidence to schoolboys who are obese. Some of these obese children are not entertained by other sports coaches. “Sumo has the potential to give a new power to your life,” he said.

Kithsiri said that sumo players can get by eating normal food that’s nutritious. He said that Sri Lankans are at present contesting amateur championships, hence the sport can be considered less expensive compared to professional sumo.

It is interesting to know that Sumo existed before judo and jujutsu. Kithsiri said that Professor Jigoro Kano had founded the sports judo and jujutsu after extracting various throwing methods from the sport of sumo.

Kithsiri said that there are so many Japanese companies in Sri Lanka and there was a lot of potential to tap them as sponsors. He said that these companies will back sumo in Sri Lanka mainly because they have so much respect for this discipline which is the national sport of Japan.

The SLSF was elated after conducting the first sumo nationals. The YMCA was generous enough to provide the hall free. Sports Minister Jayasekare was the chief guest while Japanese Ambassador in Sri Lanka Kinichi Suganuma graced the occasion as a special guest.  This year was a big year for all big made men and women in Sri Lanka. Sumo gave them an identity!

A women’s sumo bout in progress
A women’s sumo bout in progress
Japanese Ambassador in Sri Lanka Kinichi Suganuma (right) lights the traditional oil lamp at the maiden Sumo Nationals and is watched by Sri Lanka Sumo Federation President Kithsiri de Zoysa |  Pics by Mushtaq Thasleem
Japanese Ambassador in Sri Lanka Kinichi Suganuma (right) lights the traditional oil lamp at the maiden Sumo Nationals and is watched by Sri Lanka Sumo Federation President Kithsiri de Zoysa | Pics by Mushtaq Thasleem