Summa (97) still going strong as a rugby coach – The Island
By a special sports correspondent
Former Royal College sportsman and Sri Lankan rugby star Summa Navaratnam is going strong at the age of 97 and is still involved with the rugby academy he formed in 2009. He makes it a point to visit the academy and goes there almost every day, after lunch. , around 2:30 p.m. The Sunday Island recently caught up with Navaratnam for a chat at his home in Kynsey Road, Colombo-8. The nonagenarian happily recounted, recalling good memories in the sports in which he participated and the milestones reached in his career as an athlete and administrator,
He is the fifth in a family of eight and was certainly not the child to be drawn to books and education. As a schoolboy, he focused on sports; athletics, boxing and rugby union – all for which he received due recognition at school. He remembers when the Royal Primary was called the Training College. “I remember winning the lime and spoon race there,” was how he began to unravel old, fond memories of the early stages of school life.
Then, in 1937, he joined the Royal College and excelled in sports. also at the same time barely managing to pass his exams. “There was a lot of recognition for the sport at Royal and I was considered a demi-god by junior students at the school. I say this because a junior student had written something to that effect about me in the college magazine,” Navaratnam recalled.
Life really opened up opportunities for him after he left school and joined CR&FC; thanks to a stalwart of the police called Sydney de Zoysa. A large number of clubs then played rugby and the sport was played in great camaraderie between institutes and players, according to Navaratnam.
“No one has heard of going to court to settle a dispute in sport,” he said, emphasizing the lofty position and respect everyone accorded to uphold the spirit of the game. wasn’t inclined to join any particular club, but joining CR&FC happened by accident. This happened when de Zoysa stopped the vehicle Summa was driving for a “no lights” violation. They had reunited that night at CR&FC with Navaratnam becoming a member of the Longden Place club.
According to him, the players weren’t being paid for their services to the club back then. “Players actually had to pay the club for the shirt and a fee to be selected for every game they represented the club. We were taught to be independent from our youth,” Navaratnam said.
After leaving school, his dream of joining the Royal Air Force was shattered despite his selection as his father withdrew his consent given earlier for this adventure. He ended up joining the army volunteer force. Later, he also served the State Trading Corporation (Consolexpo).
Despite a busy work schedule, he continued to be interested in sports. Athletics is close to his heart just like rugby. He has fond memories of running the race of his life against Lavy Pinto at the national track and field championships where both athletes clocked 11 seconds in the 100 meter sprint event. What is memorable for him is that after running the race he went to CR&FC that evening and represented the club in a Division 1 rugby match.
Navaratnam was married twice and, as he recalls, he met both of his wives within the rugby community. He was first married to Rosemary Rogers, the best-selling author, with whom he raised two children. His second marriage was to Romaine de Zilwa. His current wife lives in Australia where Navaratnam has citizenship.
When his playing days ended, he turned to rugby administration. He became Chairman of the Ceylon Rugby Football Union and also served as the first Chairman of the Sri Lanka Rugby Control Body when that sports body was renamed the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union (SLRFU).
Navaratnam stood for principles and ensured that all the clubs of the time showed that they really existed. According to him, all clubs had to have a pitch, hold their own annual general meetings and submit club accounts to rugby union. “We got along very well and the players accepted the referee’s decision without batting an eyelid,” Navaratnam said.
But there was a bitter moment waiting to spoil his tenure as SLRFU president. Before a tour was carried out by the Sri Lankan team for the Hong Kong seven, a representative team was selected with Navaratnam endorsing the selections. He had then gone abroad on a work-related mission and when he returned home, he learned that some changes had been made to the team without his knowledge. He had expressed his disapproval and eventually submitted his resignation as president of the SLRFU.
Navaratnam was involved in Royal College rugby for many years as a coach and offered his services free of charge. But Reid Avenue School, years later, adopted a policy of employing only professional rugby coaches. This rule technically prevented him from being involved in rugby coaching at Royal. Undeterred, he met the headmaster of Royal and offered to be allowed to set up a sports academy that would help Royal students take small steps in sports. This marked the birth of the Royal Junior Rugby Academy. “Pupils in grades 1 to 6 are entertained at the academy and given an introduction to physical sports. These training sessions help improve players’ hand-eye coordination. The sessions will also help them work on speed and endurance,” Navaratnam said.
As much as Navaratnam talks about his fondness for rugby, he talks about the people he met and the friendships he made, thanks to rugby. “I met a wide variety of people from different walks of life,” he said. He has had plenty of time to enjoy rugby and soak up other cultures as he welcomes everyone who comes to him as students, players and officials. Navaratnam asserts that in a multicultural country like Sri Lanka, students should learn the three languages spoken in the country and the philosophies of the five religions practiced here at a very young age.
His parting words during the interview were: ‘Don’t make playing rugby hard for you. Forget the wins and losses and make sure you enjoy the game”.