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Former President R. Premadasa (seated third from left) poses for a photo with finalists at the fourth edition of schools knock-out tournament in 1988

The island nation on Monday (May 1) will remember R. Premadasa.   This year also marks the late president’s 24th death anniversary. He was a sportsman, sports benefactor and above all a great gentleman who did his best for the country. The name of R. Premadasa will go down in the annals of the country’s history not only as a ation-builder, but also as a great sports promoter. He as a leader gave his best for the people, regardless of caste or race. He was always fond of the good worker.

Premadasa wanted people to work and do something for the country. Come the month of May, most Sri Lankans remember his good work. This friend of the common people, departed suddenly as a result of a bomb blast on May Day back in 1993. At the time of death he was celebrating May Day with the workers of the country. As a politician he did his best, and as the Prime Minister and President he did all he could to help sports.

It was he who built the Kettarama Stadium (now known as R. Premadasa Stadium) so that cricket can be played under lights. At present this cricket facility can be rated as one of the best in the world. For Football he re-developed the Sugathadasa Stadium and also gave a new face to Pediris Park. Football was R. Premadasa’s pet sport. The game of football came naturally to him, perhaps because football was identified with the poor man. As a young footballer, he learnt the game at Keselwatte.

Former President R. Premadasa
Former President R. Premadasa

Even after taking to politics, he maintained close ties with football. He promoted the game even among the parliamentarians. He gave an unstinted support to football’s controlling body. During the time of late Weerasinghe Mallimarachchi and former president of FFSL Manilal Fernando he showed his support for the poor man’s sport by granting Rs. 60,000 for the development of football.

He introduced a rugby tournament under his name for clubs (first) and later for schools.  He was supported in this endeavour by Malik Samarawickrema and Y. C. Chang. These tournaments became very popular and drew large crowds for matches. Sad to say after Premadasa’s death the name of these tournaments was changed.   Premadasa was prepared to stand for what was right even if it called for a personal sacrifice.

He engaged in politics, sports and social service to help his fellow people. He had a generous heart and would go out of his way to help countrymen. But his special concern was for those countrymen who were less fortunate. For these people R. Premadasa was a real leader for anyone who was in need. Even in the rough and tumble world of politics, R. Premadasa always maintained that “sport is the best reformer”. He never saw barriers when it came to sport. There is no doubt that every sport in the country benefited during his time due to his true love for sports. Today, all sports, feel his loss. It’s a void which will be very difficult to fill.

It is said that no man is indispensable. When one considers R. Premadasa and his contributions to society as a politician, administrator and sport promoter and a friend, there would be no equal to him. On May 1 each year all sportsmen make it a point to remember this great man!