The 61st National Billiards Championship came to an end last Sunday, with the maestro of cues K.H. Sirisoma clinching his 22nd title. If that makes Sirisoma an elated man is a big question. To rank billiards, the sport that brought Sri Lanka’s first World Cup title, among the prolific will be indeed a total mishap, [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Cuing for nothing

After the 22nd national title Sirisoma is still a disappointed man

The 61st National Billiards Championship came to an end last Sunday, with the maestro of cues K.H. Sirisoma clinching his 22nd title. If that makes Sirisoma an elated man is a big question.

To rank billiards, the sport that brought Sri Lanka’s first World Cup title, among the prolific will be indeed a total mishap, with the present condition. But if it is to see a change, a wholesome benefactor needs to assist the sport.

After 22 national titles Sirisoma is still on target - File pix

Progress is just another word in the vocabulary for the BSASL officials according to what has occurred during the recent past, to be precise the recent decade. What lacks is a comprehensive mechanism that will enable the sport and its stakeholders, mainly the players, to be treated as professionals. That’s an aspect Sirisoma (59), a Logistics Supervisor at Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) longs to see before his time comes to call it a day.

“It’s overwhelming to win the National Championship for the 22nd time, knowing that this will be a record that will remain unbroken for a while. But back of my mind I’m not totally happy for what is taking place. I would say this was just another, unopposed cakewalk, for yet another year. From a personal viewpoint I would be happy to win that way but from a serious point of view, I feel highly guilty,” the soft-spoken maestro of billiards said.

Since 1973, the moment the great M.J.M. Lafir won the World Cup for Sri Lanka, billiards and snooker have cannoned the erroneous directions, despite its number of growing talent. The sport produced some of its fine craftsmen during the 1980s and 1990s despite most of them opting to leave the country for better prospects. Some of those who sought greener pastures in West still remain as professionals while the standards back in Sri Lanka depreciated. From a handful of skilled cueists who decided to remain in Sri Lanka are the Sirisoma and the present National Snooker Champion Susantha Boteju.

“There’s nothing the sport offered to us and in return we too failed to offer anything positive for billiards and snooker. As players we are really clueless, where to point our finger. Maybe as players we could have initiated a strong change,” a self-conscious Sirisoma said.

The improvement of the sport was highly evident at the 61st edition of the National Billiards Championship, where the pre-quarterfinal lineup was almost the same as in the recent decade or so. Familiar names such as Sirisoma, Rohitha de Silva, S.H.M. Aslam, Abdul Sattar, Anil Rohana and Prasanna Pushpakumara, to name a few, continue to dominate the scene, despite the inclusion a few new names, who are apparently not new to cue sports. But even they seem to fail the march of the experienced contenders as Sirisoma.
To find out more on this ailing subject the Sunday Times spoke to some of the top players and officials of the cue sport only to discover that most are of the feeling of being mere passengers. Most of them charge that officials, who took reigns from time to time, should hold responsible for slid as well as its famed days.

“It’s saddening to see practically nothing positive is taking place in billiards and snooker. From organising to playing and conditions to refereeing, all standards have declined at an equal pace. But what nobody seems to be interested in putting things right, or at least attempting to do so,” complained Prasanna Pushpakumara, a national seed player.

What is evidently clear, for one of the most lucrative sports in the world, is the lack of a comprehensive mechanism and more importantly strong administrators who has the ability to execute what they think is right for the sport. These setbacks, according to the helpless players, further encourage the drawback of the sport.

“What has really gone wrong with billiards and snooker is a big question mark. Probing the setbacks and finding fitting remedies are subjects that come under the elected office bearers. But they do not seem to care a bit. So how can one expect billiards and snooker to

K.H. Sirisoma

prosper,” questioned another former billiards national champion.

The persons who are appointed to different areas in running a tournament according to insiders are running the show to their own will. It has come to the point that the standard of match officials are so that referees have begun to cheat on the green baize as well as the marking boards. There have been apparent cases when tournament officials have tried to deliberately draw certain matches to suit an individual or two.

“There were instances when the experienced players and former officials had to intervene and bring these malpractices to a halt. But what about the ones that have gone unnoticed. It so happens when they appoint people with personal agendas and when people with no playing experience are being given the control of the wheel,” a senior player blamed.

In addition the standards BSASL and its officials have gone to the extent that it has failed to attract the potential corporate sector as sponsors or as its stakeholders. The picture that is depicted to the outside world is not what the same that the BSASL officials draw according to sources close to the sport’s governing body.

From another perspective its President Shafeek Rajabdeen grieves that running the day-to-day affairs of BSASL have become more challenging than of what is faced by the players.

According to Rajabdeen, BSASL is one of the sport governing bodies that lost its headquarters from the old Race Course grand stand in Colombo due to the ongoing beautification project of the metro city. The BSASL is presently, temporarily housed at the Sugathadasa Hotel, which according to experienced players, is not the ideal substitute due to many reasons.

“We have spoken to the higher authorities and they are willing to corporate with us to relocate us, but permanently. The relevant government officials have advised us to look for as suitable place,” Rajabdeen stated.

What Rajabdeen seeks, to fulfill his dream of building a permanent headquarters for BSASL, is a plot of land that at least comes closer to 40 perches. Once they get hold of the land, the funds, Rajabdeen says can be easily obtained by the International Billiards and Snooker Federation or the IBSF.

“Our idea is to provide a facility to our players where there are at least eight grand tables available. We are looking at building a facility where we could hold over 1000 spectators. At the same time we would be able to provide training and coaching facilities to our national players. If we fulfill this dream, our way forward will be a flawless journey. Without the fundamental needs, we are not in a position to attract other stakeholders,” Rajabdeen lamented.

According to figures the budget that needs to cover an averagely conducted National Billiards Championship will cost the BSASL over Rs. 600,000. But that made available by the main sponsor of the competition was not even half of the total budget. This situation, in a way endorses Rajabdeen’s opinions, but the players are of the view that ‘whatever the situation maybe it’s the elected officials’ responsibility to serve the sport and its stakeholders’.

“They can’t come out with ‘if and but’ type of excuses. If they are elected it’s their responsibility to make viable decisions and solutions for the betterment of the sport. But in real they are lethargic and are waiting until things happen. This shouldn’t be the case for a sport that brought the first World title to Sri Lanka. How can you expect players to perform wonders and our standard at international level to prosper?” Pushpakumara questioned.

Though Sirisoma bares the same opinion, he has other expectations, upon coming to the edge of his national and international career. His triumph of 22 title wins at the National Billiards Championship, which came since 1985, might become a hard achievement to surpass, but Sirisoma does not consider winning as a blessing anymore.

“Few years ago my aim was to break the M.J.M. Lafir’s record of 16 Nationals title wins. I did it and considered it as a great pride. But today I have come to the point of questioning myself about my sportsmanship. Winning a title, especially a national championship, without a challenge might be good but to billiards which is ailing, is not a good sign. It’s high time that our hierarchy think of transforming the sport for good. As players we will be willing to assist. I sincerely hope someone younger than me, talented than me and striving then me would come and snatch my title next time. That’s the change I want to see,” said the modern day billiards maestro.

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