Billiards and snooker have more historic value than any other Sri Lankan sport | Sunday Observer

Billiards and snooker have more historic value than any other Sri Lankan sport

30 August, 2020

When one mentions cue sports in Sri Lanka, the first and perhaps the only name that comes to mind is MJM Lafir, the man who brought the first World title to the country.

That was Sri Lanka’s first sports title in Billiards in 1973. At the World Amateur Billiards Championship held in Bombay Lafir crowned himself as the champion beating India’s Sathis Mohan in the final. He also added to his crown a world record break of 859 points in one set against Erick Simons of New Zealand.

Billiards has been played in Sri Lanka almost from the beginning of the last century. People recognized this game with great enthusiasm and some caution. This was due to several hotels with billiard room facilities with signboards indicating “Bar & Billiards” inviting fans to take up this sport when relaxing in a hotel atmosphere.

The close association with the bar and billiards was a disservice to the game in the good old days with this sport being the first to bring a world title to our mother land. However the formation of the Ceylon Amateur Billiards Association, which was the original name of the present Billiards and Snooker Association of Sri Lanka, did much to establish the game as a respected sport in the country. The credit for this is due to the late MM Tawfeeq, who was the then billiards secretary of the MICH.

It was he who convened the first meeting of billiard playing clubs in the country. Eight clubs responded to this invitation, another two clubs assuring support came from Kandy YMMA and Kotehena CYMA. The meeting was held on May 30, 1948 at the MICH Dematagoda. In Sri Lanka, the first ever National Billiards and Snooker Championship was held in 1948 in which AC Cambal won the Billiards and MJM Lafir won the Snooker title. Both were from MICH or Moors Islamic Cultural Home. At that time Lafir was only 19 years of age.

He was born on May 27, 1930 at St. Joseph’s Street, Grandpas to SLM Junaid and Salaha Ummuna. He had two brothers Farad and Izzeth and a sister Hinaya. He came into the scene, to play billiards when he was seven years old at the time his father won the snooker championship of Awwal Zavi Road Billiards Club beating his uncle AMA Marzook. It was this success that made Lafir to try out his skill.

While studying at Hameedia Boys English School, at New Moor Street Colombo 12, Lafir started his Billiards and Snooker first on a quarter size table then on a half size table.

Later he graduated to a full size table at Hulftsdrop in a billiards parlor which was popularly known as the Handi Kaday owned by ILM Shaul Hameed and Crystal Place Naeem Nana.

So, this sport was able to produce Sri Lanka’s only world champion in an individual game.

Today it is only MICH which organizes a tournament in memory of this great cueist every two years. No other sportsman dominated the game so much as Lafir did. He reigned supreme for 24 years between 1949 to 1973 and annexed the National Billiards title of Sri Lanka 16 times as well as the National Snooker title on 15 separate occasions.

After his death and before his 53rd birth anniversary the Colombo Municipal Council re-named Messenger Street as MJM Lafir Mawatha that was a tribute to him.

During the sport’s presidency of Jagath Sumathipala, in 1988 when the fifth MJM Lafir Asian tournament was played in Colombo and with the backing coming from then Minister MH Mohamed, a stamp was issued.

The Maestro is no more but people in Sri Lanka will ever remember him for his contribution to the sport.