Remembering R Premadasa on his 26th death anniversary | Daily News

Remembering R Premadasa on his 26th death anniversary

On May 1, yesterday President Ranasinghe Premadasa was killed in 1993, twenty six years ago by a suicide bomber while participating in the May Day rally.

Premadasa was also a sportsman and sports benefactor who did his best for the country. The name of Premadasa will go down in the annals of our history not only as a nation-builder but also as a great sports promoter.

Never in the long and chequered history of this land had its first citizen, being a former footballer, graced the Price Park at Kehelwatta. R. Premadasa was born among humble people and it was natural that he took up to football, truly called the common man’s game.

As a young footballer, Premadasa learned the skills of the sport at Price Park, known then as the bastion of Ceylon football. He represented Udeni Sports Club, Kehelwatta at the commencement of his football career and played as an inside forward.

A genuine and keen student of the game, the late Premadasa had to leave the football field early in life to serve his countrymen through politics. It must be recalled here that it was Premadasa who brought football rightly up to the feet of the legislature when he promoted it amongst cabinet colleagues.

In an epoch making exhibition football match, between the country’s parliamentarians and a team drawn from the Municipal Council, played before a capacity crowd at the Sugathadasa Stadium on 2nd April, 1984, late R. Premadasa depicted flashes of his football prowess by scoring the solitary goal for his team with a deft placement of the ball which found the net beating an advancing goal-keeper. Off the field, the monthly grant of Rs. 60,000 given by him for the promotion of football in Sri Lanka still stands as a priceless contribution by any individual in this country for the common man’s sport. In the early days, the Inter League Senior Championship was known as R. Premadasa League tournament. This trophy should be reintroduced.

Besides his immense contribution to football, he redeveloped the outdoor and indoor Sugathadasa Stadium and he built the Khettarama Cricket Stadium, (today it is named after him). It will always remain as living monuments of President Premadasa’s love and dedication for the cause of sports in Sri Lanka. He also gave a fillip for rugby, together with Y. C. Chang and Malik Samarawickrema. The Inter Club and Schools rugby tournament was introduced and played under lights for the R. Premadasa Trophy. The tournament is now confined to history. After his death, the tournament has gone into oblivion. Today, all sports have realized his loss. It’s a void which will be very difficult to fill because he had so much to offer for sports and the country.

Even in the hurly-burly of politics, he always maintained that “sports is the best reformer and the ideal thing for politicians is to engage in, as sports have no barriers”. There is no doubt that every sport in Sri Lanka benefited from his sporting personality.

It was only fair that R. Premadasa who grew up amongst the poorer folk and who was a part of their wants and woes reached the zenith of public office through sheer dint of diligence and perseverance.

He was born on 23 June 1924 at Dias Place, Colombo 11 and received his primary education at Harvard Girls’ School, Dam Street, Colombo, post primary education at St. Lorenz’s College, Skinner’s Road South (now Sri Sangaraja Mawatha, Maradana) and his secondary education at St. Joseph’s College, Colombo.

He began his political career in 1950 and became a Labour party member of the Colombo Municipal Council and later deputy mayor. He joined the UNP in 1956 under the leadership of Dudley Senanayake and impressed party leaders with his smooth efficiency. Four years later he was able to win a seat in Parliament.

He was appointed a Cabinet Minister when the UNP held power in the late 1960s. He was Minister of Local Government, Housing and Construction when J. R. Jayewardene won the 1977 general election and the following year took on the added responsibility of Prime Minister.

It was Premadasa’s continuing position as housing minister that largely fortified his political support. He made a determined effort to provide universal housing. As Prime Minister, starting in 1978 and after becoming President in 1989, Premadasa worked tirelessly to alleviate poverty in Sri Lanka. Among his pet projects was the building of model villages with clean water, decent roads, schools, and health centers.

He also encouraged the establishment of small-scale industries, mostly garment-related, in neglected backwoods locales by providing factory owners low-interest loans and a share in textile. He was elected second Executive President of the country when late J. R. Jayewardene stepped down and led the UNP to victory at the general election held in 1989.

The country will never see a man of his calibre again!


 

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