Fazeer Laheer – ex SSP whose hockey stick was his main baton  

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One beautiful fact about genes is that a legacy can be passed on from one generation to another. It is an established fact that back in the 1940’s the most famous sport in the island was soccer, and by the late 1940’s the outstations, especially Kandy, Badulla and Ratnapura, were the undisputed kingpins of football.

In 1951, a decision was taken to introduce a Quadrangular Football Tournament featuring Ceylon, India, Pakistan, and Burma. The first of this annual event played for the Colombo Cup was held in 1952 in the island nation, where India and Pakistan were declared joint winners. Ceylon lost to India 3-0, Pakistan 2-0, and the match against Burma was cancelled due to the death of Ceylon’s Prime Minister D. S Senanayake.

In 1953, the tournament was held in Rangoon, Burma, where once again our close neighbour India clinched the title. The team that toured went into history as the first national football team to fly overseas to play an international football match. Sri Lanka fought hard in their opening game against Burma but tasted defeat 3-2. India scored 2 goals and the men from Pakistan netted 6 goals against the islanders and won the games rather comfortably.

1954 was a special year for the Lankan footballers as they registered their first -ever international win. The tournament was held in India and the lads drew the first game 1-1 against a strong Indian outfit, lost to Pakistan 2-1 and then registered a 2-1 win against Burma.

One player who represented the team all three years and achieving few unique records was the late M.I.M. Laheer. Laheer was also an important member of the Uva team that played in the first-ever National Hockey Championship of Ceylon in 1956. After his impressive performance he got the opportunity to represent the national hockey team, too, which made him a double international.

The legacy left behind by Laheer was carried forward by the next generation, when his son Fazeer excelled in hockey at international level. It has continued further down the line with Fazeer’s son Dilshan currently in the national hockey squad.

Born on 15 December 1961 to Miurial and M.I.M.  Laheer in Badulla, Fazeer has two older brothers and a younger sister. He received unconditional love from his brothers Faizal and Faris. Nilufa was born later, to be pampered by her three older brothers.

Until his O/L Fazeer attended Dharmadutha Maha Vidyalaya, where he laid the foundation for his illustrious sporting career. The kid engaged in three sports – Football, Hockey and Cricket – and indulged in cadeting, too. His talents and skills were not just limited to the school, as he continued his brilliance at District level, too.

After successfully getting through his O/L, Fazeer then attended Badulla Maha Vidyalaya for his final years of school. When many of the kids would fall in love with the bat and the ball, Fazeer decided to make the Hockey stick his baton, and master the game.

It was easy for Fazeer to engage in sports as his father, who was a double international, knew the value of sports. There were no restrictions and he received unconditional support from his parents and brothers, who were also sportsmen.

“My father was a double international who excelled in the game from the 1940’s. I was from a sporty background, where my father’s siblings too engaged in sports. The environment made it easy for me to engage in sports. Also, the fact that my house was located near a ground ensured that most of my time was spent in the grounds. My older brothers too played Soccer and Hockey at school, and my second brother Faris also represented the national team. Since sports was important in my family, my school friends used to visit my house to play during weekends.” Fazeer spoke about how his athletic background played a role in him excelling on the field.

Dharmadutha Maha Vidyalaya was a leading School in the Badulla District that won the Hockey, Football and Cricket titles year after year, and Fazeer was a main force of the team. When the boys from Dharmadutha went to Badulla Maha Vidyalaya they were a major force behind the Hockey team. This was proved when they clinched the All-Island title beating Nalanda College in 1980.

He bid farewell to his school in 1981, and with good A/L results joined Technical College to follow a Diploma in Business Management. Fazeer’s older brother was employed at the CTB and his second brother – who represented the national Hockey team – found employment in Colombo and played for CH & FC, and made sure Fazeer also got an opportunity to play for CH.

“At CH & FC it was Colonel Gajendran who helped me a lot. I received employment at Ceylon Trading and Company as a Trainee Sales Rep because of his help. While working there, a vacancy opened up for Class 2 Jailor at the Prisons Department and I thought of applying because I knew a lot about prisons since my house at Badulla was located in front of the prison. With the help of Colonel Gajendran and Doctor Doresingham, I was employed at the Prisons in 1983 as a Class 2 Jailor.” Fazeer reminisced his journey after bidding farewell to school.

His start as a Class 2 Jailor was not one of his best experiences. In 1983 there were riots taking place in the country. On 27 July, just three months after joining, there was a riot inside the Prison and he saw prisoners dying in front of him. Fresh to the job, he could not bear it and even had thoughts of giving up, but soon he understood the nature of the job and was ready for it when another riot happened inside the Prison in 1988. 

After joining the Prisons Department, he was a main force in the Hockey team. In 1984, they beat a strong Police team, and after his impressive performance, he got the opportunity to represent the national team. He also played for the Uva Province team and helped them win the title for the first time. 

In 1985, the 2nd Asia Cup was held in Bangladesh and Laheer got the opportunity to represent the national team and fly to Dhaka. It was not an easy task for the Lankans to battle with the best in the business. The islanders lost to India
6-0, South Korea 7-0, Malaysia 3-1, and finally the Lankans won against Singapore 5-1. In the 7th place game, they lost to China 2-0 and ended in 8th place above Singapore and Iran.

Fazeer was then a permanent member of the national team and played against the Russians who toured Sri Lanka in 1987. He then played 3 test matches against Oman. The same year they played against Korea and the Soviet Union. In 1989, they were planning to tour India to play in the Asian Hockey tournament, but unfortunately the death of a team member saw them skipping the tournament.

Tours were limited until the national Hockey team got an opportunity to tour Singapore to play in a 5-nation tournament. Fazeer was made vice-captain, which indeed was a wonderful achievement in his last few years with the national team.

In 1992, Fazeer decided to hang his Hockey stick, but from there onwards he was appointed as a national selector. He was in the selection committee until recently, but had to opt out since his son got selected for the junior team.

Fazeer then had the opportunity to officiate international matches and travelled to about five countries and participated in over 10 tournaments. Once again, he had to step down when his son reached national level.

Fazeer, the player, selection committee member, and match official, was also a coach. He coached the Wesley College Hockey team for over 13 years. Fazeer who captained the CH & FC team in 1989/90, coached them after 1995.

While playing for the national team he did not forget his Prisons Department team and helped them clinch many national and public services tournaments year after year.

Until 2021 December he was working as a Senior Superintendent of Prisons, when he decided to retire. Fazeer married Tekla Renuka Subasinghe (a teacher) who had played Hockey for her alma mater Sangamitta College, Galle. The duo is blessed with two children – son Dilshan and daughter Hasara, who is completing her higher studies in Australia.

Dilshan might have heard stories about his grandfather representing the national team in two sports, and also might have seen his dada excelling at national level, and now he too wants to carry forward the legacy left behind by the senior Laheers. He played Cricket, Hockey and Handball at D.S. Senanayake College, and just like his father, decided to excel in the stick game. Dilshan toured with the junior national team, and is currently in the national pool. Dilshan is currently employed at HSBC.

“I am who I am today because of my engagement in sports. Sports taught me how to accept victory and defeat, how to stay focused on my goals and be dedicated to what I do. I got into the Prisons Department because of Sports, and it has taken me a long way.” Laheer spoke about the importance of Sports.

His job was a challenging one, but he had special skills in managing everything brilliantly. When a riot took place inside the Welikada Prison during Covid-19, he was able to diffuse the situation smoothly.

 Sports brings everyone together and there was a close bond between the officials and the prisoners because of Sports. The prisoners used to encourage the officials when they participated in tournaments and would congratulate them after reading their performances in the newspaper.

Finally, he wanted to say thank you to everyone who played a part in his life, especially L.W. Piyadasa, Martin Sir, his Principal Jayalath Sir, his senior officer Gamini Kulathunga and all the other seniors, his workmates, prisoners who encouraged him, the entire Prisons Department and also Colonel Gajendran who was the chairman of CH & FC.

By Vimukthi Adithya