Prof. Ranjit de Silva was born to dazzle

By Maxie Kariyawasam

The fact that Professor Ranjit de Silva was a fantastic badminton player and a top notch academic was the “Truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” the next obvious question will be “was he born great did he achieve greatness or was greatness thrust upon him”?

Though immensely talented in both disciplines, methinks it was blood, sweat and tears that propelled him to this envious position, a position that most people only dream about.

It all began when Ranjit was a mere 12-year-old student at St. Joseph’s College Colombo when he went on to capture the pole vault title in his age group at the College Athletic Meet. He then tried his hand at Cricket and was a member of the college U-14 team. He then showed his multi talents in sport by representing the college U-16 and U-19 teams in Table Tennis which ended up as champions of the Schools Circuit.

On leaving School and entering the University of Ceylon Peradeniya, Ranjit was soon to stamp his class as the most outstanding badminton player in the University helping them to come out clear winners in the inter-club A Division Championship from 1961 to 1964. Having graduated with first class honours in Engineering in 1964 Ranjit was to prove himself invincible in badminton capturing the men’s Singles title in 1966 while being a lecturer defeating G.W. Chandrasena in the finals. On the way he demolished L.R. Ariyananda who was the reigning Champion in 1964 and 1965.

That very year Ranjit’s brilliance in the Academic field saw him obtain a Commonwealth Scholarship to Cambridge University. During his stay at Cambridge University he created another unique event when he led this side to white-wash the Oxford University team to a 15 nil Victory which was the first time that either side had achieved this feat in the then 50 years of meeting each other. He also captained the Combined University team of UK in 1968 on their tours of France and Germany. During this tour he remained unbeaten in his singles encounters against top notch national players of the respective countries.

Returning home in 1969, Ranjit was appointed the youngest professor in the Sri Lankan Universities at the age of 31 yrs in 1974. Incidentally, prior to embarking on his Scholarship to Cambridge, Ranjit was to represent the Country in the Very first Asian Badminton Championship and in 1971 was to tour Indonesia with the National team and in 1973 captained the National team on its tour of China.
However the icing on the cake was in 1974 when he again captured the National Singles title, this time as a full professor, this being the one and only occasion where a fully pledged academic was able to do so. In 1978 Sri Lanka’s loss was certainly Zambia’s gain as Ranjit took over the daunting task of Industry wide head of the engineering Services at Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines Ltd, one of the largest copper producing companies in the world, employing about 60,000 people all across Zambia.

Here too Ranjit’s passion for badminton could not be curbed and he showcased his fantastic talents to be ranked No 1 in Zambia in 1980, a rare achievement which no other Sri Lankan has ever accomplished to date. Ranjit was also president of the Zambia National Olympic Committee and through his efforts brought Zambia from Badminton obscurity to the top of African badminton. Ranjit was also Zonal president of the Africa Badminton Federation, covering a mind boggling array of countries such as South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbawe, Namibia, Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania. When in Zambia he also represented the Zambian District team at Cricket, how he found the time and energy to do so beats lesser mortals. While in Zambia Ranjit competing in the Master’s Games, which is virtually the Veterans Olympics, bagged the Gold medal in the singles in the over 50 years category. Not satisfied with this he went on to obtain a double in the Over 60 years category in 2002 too.

Prior to leaving the country for Zambia, Ranjit also was a force to be reckoned with winning the Mixed doubles on Six Occasions and the men’s doubles once. Now in retirement, Professor Ranjit de Silva was elected to the Badminton World Federation as a Council member for 4 years in 2009. 135 countries voted for 17 positions and Professor de Silva received more than 2/3 of the votes available. Ranjit made history by becoming the 1st person from two countries to be elected to the (BWF).

In 1996 he was elected to the World Council from the African continent while he was in Zambia. In 2009 the B.W.F celebrated 75 years and produced a book on the History of World Badminton where Ranjit in the only Sri Lankan to be featured with one whole page dedicated to his contribution to development of Junior badminton in Africa. (Page 135) Professor de Silva was president of the Sri Lanka Badminton Association from April 2008 to May 2010. During the period he did an enormous job for both Junior and Senior badminton in Sri Lanka. During his period at the helm, the Junior shuttlers won a Gold Medal, a Silver Medal and 2 Bronsz Medals at the Asian Junior Championships.

This resulted in Sri Lanka being awarded 5 out of the 10 Badminton World Federation Scholarships for the development of elite Juniors in Asia. During Professor de Silva’s presidency, Sri Lanka also achieved 2 firsts at Olympic level. Sri Lanka qualified on Merit (Being No 4 from Asia), One junior player for the Youth Olympics 2010 in Singapore and the first lady to qualify for the Senior Olympics in Beijing in 2008. Finally professor has proved to all concerned that both sports and academic excellence could be achieved and is a living role model for aspiring young academics who wish to shine also in sports provided they stick to the saying “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”.

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