Retired boxers wake up to the dying and dead | Sunday Observer

Retired boxers wake up to the dying and dead

The veterans come together: Jagath Chandra (treasurer), Major Mahinda Hettiarachchi (general secretary), Dushantha Kiriella (president) and Captain Sumith Fonseka (vice president)  Pic: Vipula Amerasinghe
The veterans come together: Jagath Chandra (treasurer), Major Mahinda Hettiarachchi (general secretary), Dushantha Kiriella (president) and Captain Sumith Fonseka (vice president) Pic: Vipula Amerasinghe

Boxing may undoubtedly be a blood sport, despised by some and liked by others, but what many may not realise is that several boxers who have dedicated themselves to the sport and even won medals for Sri Lanka have languished or are doing so with none to reach out to them.

In light of this, a group of former boxers have decided to band together and take the fight to to another level to bring succor to former pugilists who have nothing to fall back to in retirement after spending the best years of their life in the ring or training to get into it.

Thus was launched the Sri Lanka Veteran Boxers Association at a function held last week at the Bloomfield Cricket Club pavilion in Colombo with ex-Sri Lanka boxer Dushantha Kiriella installed as founder President.

“Some of the veteran boxers have not got the opportunity to do something for the sport. Since some of them are not economically well off, we decided to form an association to help them and look into their welfare”, said Kiriella.

The Veteran Boxers Association said they were aware of at least one former boxer selling his blood to live and another stripped down to the dethronement of a beggar who lived in abject poverty before he passed away.

“We have seen some great boxers live in poverty and pass away in misery”, said Kiriella.

According to Kiriella as boxing is not a professional sport in Sri Lanka it was not easy to keep track of all boxers who donned the gloves while representing the country and the new association will help to identify such retired pugilists and lend them a hand.

He said that while the boxing authorities had their priority to organise competitions and promote the sport by way of identifying new and promising boxers, there was no entity in the country to look into the welfare of retired needy boxers of a bygone era.

“Heroes of yesteryear who could have inspired a new generation of pugilists have been virtually ignored and dumped by the wayside. They are former boxing greats in their own right with a treasure trove of knowledge eager to pass on their experience but rarely get an opportunity to do so. Some are gainfully employed while there are others who are afflicted by ill health”, Kiriella noted.

A product of Thurstan College, Kiriella initially had just a simple idea of a “small get-together” to meet up with former school mates and past boxers which eventually snowballed into a national concept and the creation of the veterans’ association.

Despite being away from Sri Lanka while working in Bangladesh for more than 30 years, Kiriella was always aware of the shortcomings that boxing faced in the country and it was only natural that his passion to help past boxers became a reality.

Almost everyone who boxed for Thurstan came along including former Navy commander Jayantha Perera and coach Donald Munasinghe and it marked the birth of Kiriella’s biggest dream.

“Sometimes there was no one to inform or help them (past boxers) even with funeral expenses. We are now in the process of building a data base to track them down”, added Kiriella who is confident of raising the necessary funds.

Senior Superintendent of Police Lionel Gunatilleke also a retired boxer was installed as the first vice president of the Association with Captain Sumith Perera as the second vice president.

The Committee comprises MSM Imtiyaz, Paul Outschoorn, Ikram Odayar, Kevin de Rose and General Jagath Jayasuriya.

Felicitated for their services to boxing were Brigadier Rajitha Ampemohotti, Priyantha Malavi, Olympian Sumith Liyanage (retired DIG), veteran coach UAT Sumanapala, oldest living champion KV Dharmadasa, Indradasa Jayasinghe, Dr.. LPV Jayaweera and Philomena Wijesuriya, the first female boxing official in Sri Lanka.

The Veteran Boxers Association has invited all former boxers who have boxed at school or club level to contact its general secretary Major Mahinda Hettiarachchi on 0714321177 for enrollment as members.