Cue sports – where are they heading!

By Naushad Amit

Can the Lankans forget cue sports in anyway? The year was 1973; it was long before Sri Lankans went over the moon by winning the ICC Cricket World Cup in 1996. Here Sri Lanka had won its first world title through the sport of billiards when legendary cueist M.J.M. Lafir beat the best of the world in India to wear the World title.

In the aftermath these two sports took its own routes, with the different ideologies and strategies maintained, by its governors.

BSASL has failed to make proper use of the rich brains and vast experiences of veterans Henry Boteju (above) and KH Sirisoma (below) to uplift billiards and snooker in Sri Lanka. (Pix by Amila Prabodha)

Today despite many a crisis behind their accounts, cricket has reached professional level but the plight of billiards and snooker is yet to be determined. Almost 38 years after winning its maiden and solitary world championship, what is left for the Billiards and Snooker Association of Sri Lanka (BSASL) is a set of depressed players who have been subjected to harsh treatment and ignorance of its officials.

“Thank God I still have my employer, Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) and also behind me was Otters Sports Club helping me all the way. But what about the rest? Not all the billiards and snooker players are privileged with lucrative employment. Many do little jobs but they still play the game for the sake of love. This situation must change,” 21-time national billiards champion, K.H. Sirisoma said.

Sirisoma (58) who holds the record of most number of wins at the national billiards championship rarely came through a tough opponent during his domestic career of 45 years. In the recent times he has only been defeated twice; once in 2002 by Henry Boteju, another billiards and snooker player who reached the helms during the Lafir era. Last year aging Sirisoma was beaten by another international prospect but less-privileged S.H.M. Aslam which could be considered a light at the end of the tunnel for billiards in Sri Lanka. After nearly a decade Sirisoma lost his title to Aslam Sattar. Yet due to administrative mishaps the new victor is yet to be crowned officially.

Last Sunday (January 29) Boteju’s son, Susantha won the national snooker championship for the 15th time. The officials of BSASL arranged an awards ceremony to honour the players soon afterwards. Susantha was awarded the national snooker trophy but not Sattar who managed to change the regime of Sirisoma. These may sound as simple errors but from the point of a player it is the least that could happen to further dishearten their progress.

“I was taken back when Sattar came to me, almost breaking down, after he was not presented with the championship trophy. He must be really embarrassed in front of his kid with whom he came for the occasion. Even my son just got the trophy but as a father I was sad to see him walk out victorious but with an empty pocket. Sattar didn’t have at least that comfort. This shows how disorganised the officials are. But their aim is to win international tournaments. How can they do it, by letting down the players this way,” questioned Boteju, a nine-time national billiards champ.

Players who are engaged in billiards and snooker are only left with an overrun budget after a tournament. They come from different walks of life and spend their own earnings on the sport while hardly being rewarded with cash awards. This is the state of the billiards and snooker players of Sri Lanka today. Both veterans voiced out their concerns over the plight of the present-day players who have to battle more that they do on the grand table.

“If Sri Lanka is to improve its standards domestically and win tournaments internationally, players should become professionals. After all it’s the players who help sustain and give administrators the opportunity the serve the sport. We sincerely hope administrators will be more attentive and innovative in developing the sport and its players,” Sirisoma added.

Cue players in Sri Lanka have never had the opportunity of being trained by experts of the game at any level. As Sirisoma who inherited billiards from his father and three big brothers, Henry Boteju taught his son Susantha the tricks of the trade to become the national snooker champion many a time. But the officials of BSASL have never at any point at least considered in getting the services of these two think tanks of the sport, to train the youngsters.

“We are ready to serve the sport but we have to be clear that we have our values. We remained in the sport for decades spending our time and own money and if the administrators think this pattern should continue, then it’s wrong. Other sports in Sri Lanka have gone beyond our sport and while other countries in Asia overtook many years ago, we are still struggling to survive.

There was a time when Sri Lanka was at the top in Asia but today it’s different. If we continue this way, players will just take part in local tournaments and will have very less development internationally. I don’t see proper strategy plans that are effective,” Boteju, the only cueist in Sri Lanka after Lafir to win an international tournament added.

The bygone decades have been very much critical for the cue sport in Sri Lanka. Despite attempts made by several individuals in the calibre of Colonel Cabral, Jagath Sumathipala, Stanley Silva, Sajjad Mowjood and Mervin Jayasinghe the sport has failed to gather momentum. Administrators who took the reigns in-between and the post Jayasinghe period have sincerely done almost nothing to develop these two sports in the country. Some officials even attempted to take the sport to the grassroot levels to schools. Ironically the cue sports having earned a bad impression among the public as ‘club’ sport was not to the liking of many parents.

Billiards and snooker players nowadays have very less to boast about the sport. But they have been left with many points to ponder by the amateurish acts of the administrators who come and go for other purposes. In that aspect the billiards and snooker players could be considered as the most unluckiest sportsmen in Sri Lanka, unlike Lafir who at least has a road in Colombo named after him.

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