In a magnificent gesture extended towards Sri Lanka Rugby (SLR), the High Commission of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has stepped forward to provide its support and pledged to sponsor the SLR Provincial Development Tournaments which are scheduled to get under way in due course.
This is the first time in SLR’s history of 148 years that a diplomatic mission has stepped forward to provide support as a sponsor.
This pledge was made at a press conference held recently at the Ramada Hotel Colombo, where the Ambassador HE Maj.Gen Umar Farooq Burki pledged to fully sponsor the SLR organized and conducted Provincial Development Tournaments.
In its first phase, SLR will shortly select four Districts and conduct four Provincial Development Rugby Tournaments involving half of the eight Provincial Unions.
Unbeknown to many, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have in fact had a strong rugby relationship as far back as 1952. One of Sri Lanka’s knowledgeable rugby historians Neil Wijaratne once stated that the historic ties that have cemented Pakistan/Sri Lankan rugby friendship dates way back to the early 1950’s.
It is remarkable to note that in 1952 the Ceylon Rugby-Football Union had once hosted the prestigious All India Rugby Tournament in Colombo, where the Karachi Rugby Football Union lost to the Ceylon Barbarians. In 1954 in the first 7’s Tournament held in Calcutta, the team from Karachi beat an All Ceylon team.
Addressing the gathering, SLR President Rizly Illyas thanked the Pakistani Ambassador for stepping forward to support the game with a magnanimous sponsorship of the Provincial Development Tournaments.
Speaking further the President said: “One of the greatest achievements for Pakistan Rugby recently was beating Thailand to qualify for the second division Asia Rugby Championship at the Punjabi Stadium in Pakistan. As this is great news for us, we are hopeful and looking forward to a South Asia Triangular Tournament involving Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India soon.
“ We believe that sports always connect people. We, in fact, have witnessed this at the ongoing Australian cricket tour. Despite Sri Lanka going through one of its toughest times in history with the ongoing economic crisis, we, as one nation, stood behind to support the National Cricket Team in this series.
“As you may all know, Rugby is the most popular sport after cricket in this country. This is a great opportunity for us that Ambassador HE Maj.Gen Umar Farooq Burki has come forward to fund the SLR Provincial Development Tournament, which will certainly help uplift the standard of the game. It’s a known fact that Pakistan is a country who have always loved sports. The purpose of this year’s sponsorship is to help players and clubs who are finding it difficult financially, to pursue their passion for the sport. We at SLR are grateful for your kind gesture.
“I trust that this cordial relationship between our two countries and respective Rugby Football Unions will move forward for the greater good of the sport of rugby in our respective nations.”
President Rizly Illyas also presented the Pakistan Ambassador with an official SLR memento as a token of gratitude and appreciation.
Other dignitaries present at the press conference were Tanvir Ahmed, Deputy High Commissioner, Ayesha Abu Bakr Fahad (First Secretary), Pakistan Embassy and Council Members/staff of SLR.