From left: Boxing Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) Vice President Wasantha Kumara, BASL President Dian Gomes and BASL Secretary Lt. Col. (Retd) Hemantha Weerasinghe at the media briefing – Pic by Ruwan Walpola
The renaissance in boxing did not happen overnight. It took time, effort, commitment and inspirational leadership of the ABA to bring the game to its present level.
For a sport that has been vilified and maligned by some and adored and revered by others, boxing has risen like the legendary phoenix in Sri Lanka over the past few years. Professional administration, grass-root coaching and international exposure have been the corner stones of this resurgence in boxing, and at the helm of this concerted effort has been a man now synonymous with inspirational leadership – Dian Gomes.
While singing songs of praise to his unparalleled commitment to the sport is the easiest thing to do, Gomes instead shies from self-glorification and speaks of the commitment of his team as the sole reason for the renaissance of “the sport of ballet, in a ring”, as Mohammed Ali once called it.
Speaking to us, Gomes humbly credits his success to a sixth sense which helps him identify talent. “Getting the right people for the right job is the key to success, be it in business or in sports administration – it is the right team that produces the best results.”
Though charming and unassuming in manner he does not mince his words: “To get a job done we need people who are doers, and not just talkers. At the ABA, we roll up our sleeves and get the show moving. We are focused on what we want to achieve.” And doers they are.
Gomes’ executive team speaks volumes for his strategy of working with the best. Former Chief of Defence Staff, reputed Stubbs Shield Best boxer and Gomes’ team mate at Royal College Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya handles the selection.
The team also includes Beijing Olympic R&J & Stubbs Shield Best Boxer Udeni Kiridena, Asian Games Bronze medallist H.S. Caldera with International R&J and President of School Boxing Association Susantha Weerasena.
The South Asian Games Silver medallist and Police Senior Superintendent Saman Gunaratne of STF and former Olympic Coach Wasantha Kumara will joins hand with Gomes’ administration for the first time to functions as the vice presidents.
Former National Champion and ITO Lt. Col. (Rtd) Hemantha Weerasinghe will serve as the Secretary of the Association while former Royal Stubbs shield champion and Banker Aubrey Peries will function as the Treasurer and former Royal Captain Abdulla Ibanu as the Assistant Secretary.
The ABA has done well and now stands poised to take the game to greater heights. The ABA Team also successfully courted the support of the corporate sector. In light of a lack of funding for the governing body, to function effectively, the private sector stepping in to help has boosted the finances. A&E has been the principle sponsor for boxing in Sri Lanka for many years.
When funds became the issue the indomitable Gomes spirit surfaced yet again. Undaunted he made a personal crusade to collect funds for the ABA. His lectures on ‘employee motivation’ and ‘changing the mindset’ hitherto provided free to the corporate sector now became fund-raisers for the ABA coffers. All monies collected were channelled to the ABA.
Possibly the most heartening, for the present Executive Team of the ABA must be the unstinted, unconditional and unanimous support it has received from all clubs, schools and the forces and Police to continue with the work they have begun to see their plans through by being elected for another term.
With Gomes at the helm of the Boxing Association of Sri Lanka, it was natural that his personal charisma and love of the game would make boxing a sport to be pursued with a passion.
Gomes’ personal commitment to donate a boxing ring to S. Thomas’ College and boxing equipment to restart boxing in universities will assist in developing young pugilists and promoting boxing in university circles in view of the schools and inter-university tournaments in coming years. Many other schools and clubs too, taking a serious interest in boxing augurs well for the future of the sport in Sri Lanka.
Upon taking the reins of the Presidency of the ABA in 2017, Gomes and his team immediately embarked on a three-pronged strategy aimed at bringing out the best in our boxers. The strategist Gomes, and his team, planned and gave the most promising boxers at all levels, international exposure.
A proven method to take the game to a higher level. Beyond the boundaries of the island nation, to the regional, and international arena – the lessons learnt often harsh, but necessary. Sri Lankan pugilists had to display grit and determination when facing international opponents, and success was always a bonus.
Whenever possible against all odds Gomes would try his best to be at the ringside motivating and inspiring to win on the one hand, and in the same count to be there for the bruised looser to give a consoling fatherly pat and, his inimitable smile to cheer the fallen to rise again, to fight another day.
France’s leading Montana Belt tournament held in Paris, France in April 2017 saw Thiwanka Ranasinghe and Roshan Warnasuriya bringing home two gold medals. In June both boxers won two silver medals at the Haringey Box Cup held in June 2017 in London.
The Taipei City Cup held in August 2017 saw a contingent of five boxers taking part. Dinidu Saparamadu won a gold medal whilst Thiwanka Ranasinghe secured a bronze medal. At the Eindhoven Box cup held in the Netherlands a contingent of 13 boxers won two gold medals, four silver medals and one bronze medal. The golds were won by Dinidu Saparamadu and Thiwanka Ranasinghe, and at the Golden Glove International tournament the same boxers won two silver medals while N.M.K. Amarawansha won a bronze medal.
The XXI Commonwealth Games in Goldcoast, Australia saw the participation of six boxers. This event was one of the great achievements for boxing in Sri Lanka. Ishan Bandara and Thiwanka Ranasinghe won two bronze medals for Sri Lanka after 68 years while Anusha Kodituwakku won a bronze medal and recorded the first Commonwealth women medal for Sri Lanka. In the same year Keshani Hansika secured a Bronze medal at the 2nd Indonesian Police Commissioner Cup in Jakarta, Indonesia.
At the Taipei City Cup in Taiwan two school boxers, P.V.S. Himanjith of S. Thomas’ College and H.M.K.C. Ekanayake of Deerananda College won two bronze medals. Sri Lankan boxers won 11 medals including a Gold, two Silver and eight Bronze medals at the South Asian Games held from in December 2019 in Kathmandu. The Gold medal was won by Romesh Sandakelum while two bronze medals were won by Krishmi Dhamarathika and Dinesh Maduranga.
The Eindhoven cup held in the Netherlands saw Purnima Jayasuriya and Dhananjaya Weerasinghe winning a silver and a bronze medal respectively. The Kings Cup International tournament held in Sweden saw Sri Lankan youth boxers bringing three silver medals.
The medals were won by Vinkneswaran Sanujan, Mohammed Hannoun and Isuru Hansaja. Gomes also paved the way for Romesh Sandakelum, Krishmi Dhamarathika and Dinesh Maduranga to be sent for Olympic selection trials held in Amman, Jordan at the beginning of this year before the COVID epidemic. These matches were an opportunity of a lifetime to fight the best boxers in the world.
The ABA’s actions speak volumes for them, and it is loud and clear, that when there is professionalism, there is order, transparency and results. The rationale behind promoting boxing then is simple, and yet profound as well. With a clearly defined goal of bringing home an international medal, Dian Gomes purposefully leads his charges.
“Rome was not built in a day. There are bound to be disappointments, but we will bounce back.” Asked about his plans for this year Gomes says that there are several competitions coming up from the next year.
“We have the Asian men and women boxing championships followed by the final qualification for the Olympic Games in 2021. Much is expected from Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2020 and South Asian Games in 2022 which has been announced to be held in Lahore, Pakistan.
“Every day we are getting closer to our target of winning an Olympic medal and that is the most important thing,” Gomes opined. With plans in place, the adrenaline pumping and the motivation running high perhaps what the great Muhammad Ali put it best: “The fight is won or lost far away from the ring – behind the lines, in the gym and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.”