Solange Gunawijeya:


18 July, 2021

Earlier this year in late May, Solange Gunawijeya led the Sri Lanka team in the 2021 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament for 3X3 Women’s Basketball. Even though they ultimately lost, Solange and her teammates proved their mettle on the court in spite of the severe disadvantages suffered during the pandemic. Though this was Sri Lanka’s first time at this tournament, this was just one of the many times Solange represented our country on the international court. In addition to her athletic achievements, Solange also won the Miss Sri Lanka title back in 2013, the first and only athlete to do so. A basketball star, double national player as well as a beauty queen, Solange has had an illustrious career, excelling both on the court and on the runway.

In a brief interview with her, Solange highlighted her journey from a young school athlete to a national player representing Sri Lanka and a top model, as well as the challenges she faces as a National Women’s Basketball player and the state of the sport in the country itself.

FIBA Olympic Qualifiers

Speaking of her participation in the FIBA Olympic Qualifiers, Solange called it a great achievement as the Sri Lanka Women’s Team was one of just four Asian countries participating this year. The others were Indonesia, Thailand, and Japan. She also noted that it was the first match for the National Women’s Basketball Team in nearly one and a half years, the last time being when they represented Sri Lanka at the 2019 Asian Games, wherein they ranked Top 8.

Due to the pandemic situation in the country, the Sri Lanka Women’s Basketball team was unable to play together even for practice, instead being forced to train alone from home. They were only allowed to play together since March, and were given access to indoor courts in April, just a month before the May tournament. They could not even play at the Sugathadasa Stadium. Solange noted this to be a massive disadvantage, as most other participating teams had the facilities and capabilities to train together in Covid bubbles, something her team could not do.


Solange also spoke of her experience in playing for the National team. She’d been playing basketball since 2005 and as the tallest player in it, has been a great asset to it for years now. Solange said that a decade ago, back when she was a Junior, the Women’s National Basketball Team was very strong and had many members, but now, Women’s Basketball is relatively much weaker with fewer and fewer young players taking up the sport professionally, especially for 3X3 which she says is more difficult. Solange worries that now, should she retire, there would be no one to take up her place on the National team. She is not sure why exactly this is, but through experience Solange notes that newer generations are generally less committed to the game and are less motivated.

For herself, Solange credited her mother for having pushed her into sports from a young age. She started her athletic career with netball and eventually took up basketball as well at her mother’s suggestion. Solange became the youngest ever member of the National Women’s Basketball team, at 14 years and as part of the National Netball Team as well, became a double National player while still schooling. It was difficult for her but she persevered, until eventually a knee injury forced Solange to choose one sport to lessen the strain, which led to her sticking with basketball.

Miss Sri Lanka

Her Miss Sri Lanka participation was also arranged by her family, with her mother and sister applying for Solange without her knowledge. When she was actually accepted, she was initially reluctant because of her darker complexion and not fitting into the traditional mould of a model. However, she took the chance and ended up winning the ‘Miss Earth’ and ‘Top Model of the World’ titles at the 2013 Miss Sri Lanka competition.

This led to her taking a break from basketball to explore a career in modelling, which she did professionally at events like Colombo Fashion Week. Eventually though, she would return to basketball, which Solange considered her priority at the time.

Speaking about her priorities in her career now, Solange said that while before her marriage, she might’ve considered basketball her number one priority, now it is much more difficult to say. She expressed disappointment in the lack of support for Women’s Basketball in Sri Lanka. There are no proper 3X3 courts in the country, and the 5X5 team still has difficulty accessing the Sugathadasa Stadium to practice. She noted that there are players coming in from far parts of the country to play and that they aren’t even given transport.

They are even lacking a proper nutritionist, instead being forced to take care of themselves. Though she does plan on playing in the 2020 Asian Games t which was postponed to this year, Solange’s plans for her career as a basketball player beyond that are uncertain.

Solange had a few words of advice for any young basketball players seeking to get into the sport professionally. She emphasised that once you join the National team, you need the right mentality to succeed. Beyond that, you need to respect the senior players and it is vital to have a proper team spirit.

For those seeking to take up modelling, Solange advises you to believe in yourself and to just go for it if you have the confidence. She also emphasised the importance of support from your family, which was instrumental in her own career, with which Solange was able to reach as far as she has.