Play tennis to excel in any field – NOC President Subramaniam | Sunday Observer

Play tennis to excel in any field – NOC President Subramaniam

26 July, 2020
Suresh Subramaniam
Suresh Subramaniam

“If you do brilliantly, Tennis would make you reach among the top hundred billionaires in the world. If you couldn’t reach that high and still wanna to continue as a Tennis player in some level, you could use it as an opportunity to obtain a scholarship in a university abroad and excel in the field you prefer. The third option is that you could become a Tennis coach in Sri Lanka and earn a better living,” said Suresh Subramaniam.

Gathering words precisely and conversing in his usual low and clear tone, Suresh, the President of the National Olympic Committee (NOC), former President and present Vice President of the Sri Lanka Tennis Association (SLTA), and a well known Tennis Champ and acclaimed sports and business celebrity started unfolding a few milestones of his life at the Olympic House, Colombo.

“My full name is Surendran Subramaniam, but I have been known as `Suresh’ since my infancy as my parents’ preference,” he said. His parents, Kadirgamar Thambi Subramaniam and Kamaladevi Thambiyah

Subramaniam though hailed from Manippai, Jaffna and Batticaloa, chose Dehiwala as their place of residence after marriage, enabling their five children to claim `Colombo’, the Commercial Capital as `their’ home town. Born and bred in Colombo, Suresh and his siblings rarely had a chance to visit their parental birth places due to the troubled periods. “My last visit to Jaffna was on a Tennis tournament in 1981, just before the troubles began.

The sprawling house at Dehiwala sheltered the four boys – Ravindran (Ravi), Surendran (Suresh), Yogendran (Yogan), Ganendran (Gana) and only girl Keshani.

The boys were Royalists and the girl studied at Holy Family Convent. “We had a very good, happy and contented childhood,” he said.

Suresh was a spirited and dynamic youngster with `full of beans’, engaged in many extra curricular and sports activities, including cricket, football and athletics.

His father was a Tennis lover plus a popular champ at the Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia Tennis Club and a member of the Sri Lanka Tennis Association (SLTA). This inspired all his five children to pay more attention to Tennis from very early age. Suresh started playing Tennis at the age of ten, since the time he could barely lift the racket. All his brothers and sister were Tennis players, and National and International level medalists.

Public Servants

“During that era, the Public Servants had the access to play Tennis as they had Tennis Courts close to their offices or official quarters all over the country. That was the reason why many Civil servants played Tennis which helped them maintain their health and stamina. There were 100 Tennis Clubs at the time, but now it has dropped to 40,” Suresh said.

Tennis was introduced to Sri Lanka by the British in 1915, making the SLTA the oldest sports association in the country, and the second oldest in the Asia. “Even India and Pakistan established their Tennis after us,” Suresh said.

Those days the offices were opened only half a day due to the curfew. “We were asked to practise tennis but we played cricket mostly. We were joined by many other boys in Colombo, he said.

Suresh is well versed in all three languages. After sitting the A/L exam in the Maths stream in 1980, he joined Delmage and Forsyth as a Trainee Shipping Executive and later at Forbes and Walker as a Money Market Executive.

Suresh, a hard worker has always prioritised his credibility, integrity and veracity throughout his life. It was the time of his coaching the SLTA team came for the Semi Finals at the Davis Cup in 1988-1989.

He was with Forbes till 1994. The `happy hour’ of the place was on the rock after Vanik took over the company. Suresh, however, left his job at Forbes and left for Singapore with his family.

“So we had a week long full time of fun in Singapore. A good break indeed,” he recalls with a smile.”

Suresh was not merely a Tennis champ, the best coach, a great friend and a family man. He was also a committed worker with an excellent capacity of business knowledge. With his talent of PR, he built a wide range of links with people from all walks of life here and overseas. In 1994, his `Arrow International’, the power and energy business was launched. “There was a long period of power crisis in the country at that time,” he said. His business generated power and energy for the country by halting the economic crisis which was about to rise following the failure of electricity.


Suresh gradually expanded the boundaries of his business by shooting the `Arrow’, firstly towards the Katunayaka Free Trade Zone and secondly towards a power project in Middle East by holding a Scottish partnership.

The secret behind his success was his sweat and luck. “Hence, I know the value of money as well as the humanity,” he says. His next target was to promote his `first love’ – Sports. Tennis, Cricket, Golf, Football, Basketball, Rugby, Netball, Badminton, Squash, Gymnastic, Swimming, Athletics and whatever you name it, he likes it.

He has launched many programs to absorb sponsorships for the sports personnel from well-wishers here and abroad. To assist this venture, he has launched the‘Good Sport’, the quarterly magazine with sports journalist S.R.Pathiravithana as its Editor. This Magazine is printed in colourful quality paper with feature articles and action pictures. It publicises and markets all sports and sports persons in Sri Lanka. It is circulated among the business associations, offices, hotels and other elite spheres in the country.

“Apart from Cricket, there are 32 Olympic Sports Federations in Sri Lanka run by those who have done sports and love sport like me. Most of them have no proper office or practising lot, and are on rent or operate in private places while struggling for finance. My suggestion is to house all these Federations in one building and I have been proposing a five acre land adjoining the Sugathadasa Stadium. We need only the land as we are confident that we could put up the building on our own. But no progress still! The only excuse given is, that block of land is used as the car park of the Stadium,” he said.

The National Olympic Committee (NOC) housed in the Olympic House at the Independent Square was founded in 1937. It is the second oldest Olympic Committee in Asia. Though run as a fully independent body, it comes under the Sports Ministry. “Hence all 32 sports federations, the NOC and the Ministry should work together to make a speedy development in sports in the country,” the NOC President said.

“I’ve known these Ball boys since I was a teen. Though Ball pickers they knew the game very well, and had gradually become the unofficial coaches. But to get the full fledged qualification they had to sit for the exam conducted by the International Tennis Federation (ITF).

The first thing I did as I became the President of the SLTA (in 2002) was to get permission from the ITF to conduct the written exam in Sinhala and Tamil. There are three Levels in Tennis Coaches’ exam. They could get through the first level which was quite sufficient to obtain the licence. I’m so happy about them as all ten of them are now qualified coaches with a better living,” he said.

“My wife was the only child of Brigadier Thambirajah of the Army,” Suresh said.

“My dream and ambition,” he stresses is “to see our Sri Lankan sportsmen and women winning many medals at the Olympic Games in Paris by 2024. I have requested the Sports Ministry to form a task force to achieve this. We have good sportsmen and women. Sports need to sponsor them and encourage them by providing physical, mental and financial strength,” Suresh said.