When women took on men in rugby | Sunday Observer

When women took on men in rugby

26 July, 2020
Zohara Jumar
Zohara Jumar

Kandy is undoubtedly the most popular rugby venue in the country, but how many followers of the robust game know that a women’s team scrummed down against a men’s team in Kandy.

The match took place on October 19, 1974 at the Bogambara ground and there is no record of any other rugby game played between men and women anywhere else in the country.

It was a match between the Kandy Ladies and a men’s team called the Old Crocks that comprised players over the age of 50.

In the Kandy Ladies team was a true legend, Zohara Jumar, who was one of the top female sportswomen to come out of Kandy and the first product from the region to captain the Sri Lanka hockey team which she did for 12 years.

The match was sponsored by Ceylon Tobacco Company (leaf department) which made a donation of Rs 2,500 to meet the match expenses while also providing the playing kit for the Kandy Ladies team.

When referee Dr. Dago Gunawardena sounded the final whistle, the scores read 25-22 in favour of the Kandy Ladies team.

Along with Zohara, the other members in the Kandy Ladies team were Rupa Sugathapala , Maya Warakaulla, Sumeda Warakaulla, Chinta Bedewella, Malani Sirisena, Maliak Perera, Jacintha Karukulaarachci, Chandrani Alexender, Annette Kurukularatne, Judy Wijeratne, Manorani Alexender, Sumeda Samarasinghe, Margaret Samarasinghe, Dalrene Ludowyke, Anoma Mahaulpotha and Swarna de Silva.

The Old Crocks team was made up of Dr. Nihal Karunaratne, Dr. Bandu Edirisuriya, Dr. Stanley Wijeratne, Jim Bandaranayake, Bobby Jayaweera, CP Jayasuriya, ME Marikar, Lal Kumarasinghe, Dr. Michael Roberts, Jayantissa Ratwatte, Roger Abeyratne, Dennis Labrooy, T. Burah, Herbert Fernando, Maurice Perera, Arasu Sinniah and HW Jayaweera.

The architects who were behind it were Col. EJ Divithawela, Area Commander Central Command, Special Municipal Commissioner MB Samarakoon, Merrick R. Gunaratne, SP Central Range, Dr. NP Rajendran, C. Thiyakaran, Manger Ceylon Tobacco (Leaf Department) and PB Ekanayake, SP Kandy. All of them met at the Army Central Command Kandy and at this meeting it was decided to charge a gate for the match and the proceeds to help Kandy’s sports stadium Fund and the Deaf and Blind School Dodanwela.

It was a warm-up match for the Kandy Ladies in preparation for their big match against their counterparts in Colombo the Ace Ladies team organized by Ace Athletic Club and played on December 21, 1974 at Longden Place.

The Kandy Ladies versus the Old Crocks match provided exciting fare to a capacity crowd which turned out to be the biggest and most popular sporting event ever to be staged at the historic Bogmbara Stadium which took a carnival-like atmosphere.

Zohara was a unique and unparalleled woman in the annals of sports in Sri Lanka. For hundreds of years, very few sports were considered appropriate for women. But down the ages, women have claimed their rightful place to participate not only in what were deemed feminine sports, but also in the rough-and-tumble games that men played and excelled in.

Zohara Jumar was a Double International in hockey and basketball for the country. Her brother Iqbal Jumar led the Sri Lanka hockey team and also played rugby for CR and FC while her other brother Reza was a footballer for Sri Lanka.

Strongly-built Zohara was a product of Good Shepherd Convent, Kandy, where she played netball and was also a Public Schools’ athlete excelling in the javelin throw.

She also played netball for the Central Province and Kandy district side as a goal attack and was in the Sri Lanka national pool in the 1970s and toured Seychelles and Malaysia. It was after leaving school that she took to hockey and represented the hockey club called Kandy Whites. They were able to beat Matale Women which had a strong side and Zohara was one of the stars in an Upcountry XI which beat Singapore 2-1 in the 1970s.

She netted the match-winning goal off a penalty corner.

Born on February 26, 1945, Zohara’s hockey career began in 1968 and blossomed with each passing year. She was a member of the Kandy district team in the late 1960s which beat a team from Britain that played in the Olympic Games.

Zohara was with the Sri Lanka team that toured India, Japan, Singapore, Germany, Malaysia, Korea and Thailand and she was famous for her strong driving of the ball and often her opponents got out of the way to avoid being hit.

In a match against the Familians played at the NCC ground they had only eight members and enlisted the services of three players who had never played the game and won the contest.

They also beat NCC in the same tournament.

In another match at the Bogambara ground while playing for the Kandy Whites, the hockey coach of the opposing team tried some dirty tricks from the sidelines but Zohara told the girls to play the game and ignore his insults.

She swapped position with one of the girls from left-half to right-half and when a free hit was awarded, Zohara decided to take it as it was in close range to this menacing hockey coach. She looked towards the goal and suddenly changed direction and drove the ball towards him. It was a bulls-eye as it struck his shin that felled him in pain. That was the end of his antics and they won the match comfortably having the last laugh.

Zohara also played basketball for Kandy Whites, Central Province and Sri Lanka but devoted most of the time playing her favourite sport hockey.

She coached the Girls High School hockey team which won the National School Games in 1994 as well as Zahira College, Gampola.

She also had a stint in coaching the Peradeniya University women’s basketball and hockey teams and was a strict disciplinarian who was also gentle in her ways.