Pesandu wins the 2022 Sri Lanka Chess Grand Prix – The Island

by A special sports correspondent

Taekwondo in Sri Lanka has had a difficult and challenging journey after being introduced to the islanders by Deshamanya master Dr. Cyril Antony on the island on December 12, 1976.

It was the time when the films of Bruce Lee were sown in Asia and where the martial arts were very followed. The same environment prevailed here in Sri Lanka as well. After Dr. Antony learned the basics of taekwondo in Canada – where its founder, General Choi Hong Hi resided – he decided to quickly return home and spread the sport throughout the island.

However, Dr. Antony’s early days in the martial arts had more to do with Kyokushin karate; a martial art where its players resort to heavy blows and full contact combat. According to Dr. Antony, taekwondo is a much safer sport than karate due to its rhythmic and circular movements. “I respect karate because I cut my teeth in martial arts learning it. But I realized my future was with taekwondo once I learned it in Canada,” Antony said in an interview with The Island.

There was a large following for the sport when he introduced it. But the number of people wanting to try it skyrocketed largely because he made it through to refereeing at the World Championships in 1978. He was only 30 when he achieved the feat.

At first he started classes in Colombo, Kandy, Badulla, Wattala, Ratnapura and Kuliyapitiya. “I used my personal contacts to promote the sport. There was a lot of help for me because there was no politics involved in the sport back then,” he recalls. All these activities were made possible thanks to his “club”, the Sri Lanka Taekwondo Association (SLTA).

As the sport was gaining momentum here in Sri Lanka, he registered the SLTA as the Sri Lankan Taekwondo Federation with the Ministry of Sports in 1984. Before that, exactly two years earlier, he had registered taekwondo as a national sport with the Ministry of Sports. All of this was done with the good intention of promoting the sport and not for the purpose of basking in personal glory.

However, things escalated when, in 1996, the then Sports Minister took steps to suspend the registration of the Sri Lanka Taekwondo Federation. No reason was given for this brutal action. The Minister of Sports appointed an interim committee to oversee the administration of the federation and put his name on the list of administrators. But Dr. Antony quickly fell out with the rest of the interim committee, so he decided to go alone.

Students of Dr Cyril Antony perform during a Taekwondo demonstration

Reflecting on the suspension, Dr Antony said: “I think they wanted to benefit from the help that South Korea sent to us with the aim of promoting the sport here. I don’t think the Department of Sports has a legitimate right to suspend our registration because we haven’t received any government funding or support.

Thus, between the years of 1976 and 2021, the Sri Lankan Taekwondo Association, operating as a club, promoted the sport in the island and served this nation silently. To date, there are up to 200 committed students and eight qualified instructors to promote the sport.

On December 12 last year, the Sri Lanka Taekwondo Association held a ceremony to mark the occasion of the sport’s presence in Sri Lanka for a period of 45 years. It took place at the residence of Dr. Antony; the event was well attended by his students, his teachers, his close collaborators and the few representatives of the media.

Looking back on the hard journey so far, Dr Antony said: “I think we have done better as an association that operated without links to the ministry”. For the record, his son Uditha and daughter Nayanajeevi are also full-time students training with him.

He added that Taekwondo being an Olympic sport was an added benefit for those who practiced it. “Our suspension has taken away the glory of the sport played here,” he said.

Speaking further on the matter, he said that when he visited the archives of the Ministry of Sports, he was told that there were no documents there to show that the Sri Lanka Federation of taekwondo was suspended. However, the federation currently operates under an elected body; in which Dr. Antony plays no part.

As things stand, Dr Antony will continue to operate through his association which serves the sport well. It has great popularity in the sport and the name of Dr. Cyril Antony is closely linked with taekwondo in Sri Lanka. The sport owes him a lot because according to Dr Antony he spent the best years of his life promoting Taekwondo. He has grown old in the sport and he cannot even dream of parting with the sport he loves so much.

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