Ana Punchihewa, a former chief of Sri Lanka Cricket and a national golfer during the 1980s and a keen promoter of the sport managed a golf team that toured Pakistan last month. The two-member Sri Lankan golf team became the first international sporting contingent to visit Pakistan after its bitter experience in 2009 where the Sri Lankan cricket team came under a terrorist attack in Lahore.
Punchihewa who took an amateur golf team to represent Sri Lanka in Pakistan’s 50th annual golf championship said their presence was highly appreciated by many who considered the move as a novel way to promote the terror-ridden country back in the sporting map.
“The Pakistanis were happy and highly commended our participation. The golfers of both countries have been touring in and out during the past 50 years and it was a great occasion for Sri Lanka to show our solidarity towards Pakistan who are struggling to host international sporting events,” Punchihewa said.
Punchihewa and the Sri Lankan golfers received the praise of the Pakistani media for helping break the barriers imposed by the rest of the world as a dangerous destination for sports events. During Punchihewa’s tenure as the cricket chief Sri Lanka had to go through the similar experience.
“We too experienced the similar doom during the time of the 1996 Cricket World Cup and as a country Sri Lanka felt too the same thing. During that stage Pakistan and India came forward to play a friendly match and convince the rest of the world that Sri Lanka is a safe place to travel. Pakistanis were apologetic for what the Sri Lankan cricketers had to experience in Lahore in 2009. But it’s not their fault. Someone has to come and break the ice and we hope our move would encourage other sporting teams to visit Pakistan,” Punchihewa added.
Currently Punchihewa who headed the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka’s 1996 World Cup success with an effective strategic plan became a prominent figure among the Pakistanis during the golf tournament last month. His keen interest in golf as in cricket which he led to Sri Lanka’s only World Cup success has given the local golfing fraternity much boost.
“I have been playing golf since I was a kid but cricket was a total accident,” he said in jest.
“I continued playing golf and gave up in 1991, the year cricket got in my way. I was not a cricketer but I had the administrative experience. After taking over the cricket board I put a plan and set a goal and delegated two experts to lead the team. I gave them the freedom but set standards and with everyone playing an affective role we were able to clinch the World Cup. I intend to follow the similar strategy in golf too. Unlike cricket it will be a long journey ahead,” Punchihewa explained.
Though Sri Lanka claims to have a rich heritage in golf, with three picturesque courses, two clubs ageing over a century and an amateur tournament which dates back to 125 years, its neighbours have moved ahead with greater standards. In comparison to Sri Lanka’s 300 golfers, India has over 50,000 playing the game while Pakistan and Bangladesh have 10,000 and 6,000 golfers respectively.
After Punchihewa’s association with golf, the local governing body has drawn plans to increase the number of players and more importantly spread the game among the general public who think it’s a rich man’s sport. Among Punchihewa’s plans, which could be considered as a distant dream for an ordinary administrator, include creating at least two new courses and hosting a professional golf tournament for the first time in the country.
“I have to be honest, golf is an expensive sport. When you calculate a golfer basically needs at least 100,000 Sri Lankan rupees for a start. But in contrast golfers who have reached professional level are from poor families, sons of caddies who spend the time in the golf course watching the game. This is a very good indication when it comes to promoting the sport,” the Honorary Secretary of the local Golf Union added.
Though his dreams seem to be expensive, Punchihewa was determined that he could reach the goals within the next few years. The golf union has adopted the similar strategies as cricket in promoting the sport towards a much bigger audience. Under Punchihew’s instructions golf has formed pools consisting national, development and junior players for the first time in its history. Punchihewa thinks sports like cricket, billiards, snooker and golf which runs along with the hand-eye coordination has the potential to reach international status.
“We have proved the success in billiards and cricket and golf is another game that has the potential of wining internationally. I have a small team of golfers who have played the game at national level with me and they are as keen as me”.
“In cricket former administrators laid the foundation, built the walls and all I had to do is set up the roof so Sri Lanka could eventually triumph. I know I can take golf to the same height. But the difference is I will have to lay the foundation, build the walls and bring up the roof to see the success. It’s a matter of putting some extra effort,” he said.