At present pugilists and self-defense sports like karate, kung-fu and taekwondo have replaced wrestling among Sri Lanka’s youth. However in the 1950s and 1960s it was wrestling which was the popular sport in many schools and clubs.
|Rashid Sheriff, now 81 years, resides in Kirulapona.
Among the school wrestlers it was the boys from Zahira College, Colombo who dominated. Wrestlers from Zahira not only emerged national champions but also made a mark in international wrestling contests. Chief among these wrestlers from Zahira were the Sheriff Brothers – Ameen, Rashid and Rauf.
It was in early 1950 that the noble art of wrestling, called the ‘Catch -As- You-Can’ (British free-style wrestling) was introduced to Zahira due to the initiative of a few enthusiast youth, particularly Rasheed, Ameen, Rauf and Majeed Khalid under the guidance of coach L.M. Abdur Rahman, supported by the strong patronage of the Principal A.M.A. Azeez under whom the College entered into its golden era.
Within three months wrestlers from Zahira had won national titles. As a further encouragement the Principal sent two of the wrestling brothers – Ameen and Rasheed – to the South Indian State’s ‘Madras Olympics’, as it was known, in 1953 with the entire cost of their trip borne by the College. When the duo emerged champions, the Principal declared a school holiday when they returned.
In the following year after a special trial meet by the Amateur Wrestling Association, Ameen was selected to represent the country at the Asian Games in Manila, Philippines. Though Ameen could not win the title he proved an able opponent to far more experienced wrestlers.
In 1955 the trio of wrestling brothers had the distinction of being in the contingent of 13 wrestlers selected to represent then Ceylon in the India-Pakistan tournament in Kholapur, Delhi. In the following year Rasheed who had won the Best Wrestler’s Trophy at several tournaments conducted by the Amateur Wrestling Association (AWA), was selected after a special trial meet to represent the nation at the Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia. Due to financial constraints the AWA was unable to send Rasheed.
In 1957 a team of 10 wrestlers and two officials of the AWA participated at the World Youth Festival in Moscow, Russia. Ameen and Rasheed now wrestling for the Moors Islamic Cultural Home (MICH) had the distinction of being in the team.
From 1954 Old Zahirian wrestlers were attached to the MICH. Under the patronage of the President, Sir Razik Fareed and the efficient stewardship of Hajis A.J.M. Jabir and Ashraff, every facility was provided for the wrestlers with even a special Punjabi coach by the name of Siddeek Phelawan employed to coach the boys on modern techniques. This training proved so successful that Ameen was selected in 1958 to represent the country at the World Wrestling Tournament in Tehran, Iran.
The achievements of these Zahira/MICH wrestlers in the decade and a half from 1950 may well be beyond the capacity of future wrestlers, but their record, particularly of the Sheriff Brothers, should serve as an inspiration for future youth who take up this sport.
It should also be mentioned that following the examples of Ameen, Rasheed and Rauf as well as wrestlers of the caliber of Ammanudeen, Riza Haniffa, Morseth Halaldeen etc in 1955 and 1956, Hamza Haniffa was the Best Wrestler in the All Island Schools Tournaments. Returning to the College Staff in 1961 he had the joy with Rauff Sheriff of coaching Johar Preena from Zahira to win the same trophy that Hamza had won.
Wrestlers like Ameen or Rauff, Riza and Morseth are no more but their proud achievements should spur today’s youth to take up this sport and renew the past glory that they brought to Sri Lanka.