Arjuna Ranatunga creates history by becoming the 1st Asian International Sportsman ever to address the Oxford Union
Posted on November 11th, 2009

Dilan Fernando DPhil Candidate in Biochemistry/Immunogenetics President, Oxford Sri Lanka Society, University of Oxford

Group Photo

Traditional Photograph of the distinguished guests. Front row (left to right): Mr. Sheehan Chandrasinghe, H.E. Justice Nihal Jayasinghe, (High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to the UK), Dilan Fernando (President, Sri Lanka Society), Mr Arjuna Ranatunga, James Dray (President “”…” Oxford Union), H.E. Mr. Niall Wilkins (Special representative of the South African High Commissioner to the UK), Cllr. John Goddard (Deputy Lord Mayor of Oxford)Back Row (left to right): Ms. Nicole Chandrasinghe, Jeremy Chan, Dinuka 

Arjuna Ranatunga, 1996 World Cup winning Captain, created history once again when he when addressed the world-renowned Oxford Union on Tuesday the 3rd of November 2009. He became the 1st Asian to do so in the 186-year history of the Oxford Union. The event was jointly organised by the Oxford Union and the Oxford Sri Lanka Society.

 The event was graced by distinguished diplomats from London including H.E. Niall Wilkins (Special Representative of the South African High Commissioner), H.E. Justice Nihal Jayasinghe Sri Lankan High Commissioner) and Deputy Lord Mayor of Oxford John Goddard.

The event was sponsored by renowned businessman Mr. Sam Chandrasinghe.

Co-incidentally, Arjuna beat another cricketing heavyweight to this honour – Imran Khan, the 1992 World Cup winning Captain. It is very significant that, although Imran read for his undergraduate degree at Keble College, Oxford and captained the Oxford Blues team, Arjuna was invited ahead of him, mainly due to the efforts of the Oxford Sri Lanka Society.

It is also significant that, Arjuna was slated to speak on the same day that Jermaine Jackson, brother of pop icon Michael was to address the Union.

Mr. And Mrs. Ranatunga were first felicitated by the Oxford Sri Lanka Society at Balliol College at the University of Oxford.  Founded in 1263 AD, Balliol College is the 3rd oldest of the Oxford Colleges and boasts several British Prime ministers and numerous world leaders amongst its distinguished alumni. Incidentally, former Foreign Minister, the Late Lakshman Kadirgamar was an alumnus of Balliol.

 President, Oxford Sri Lanka Society, Dilan Fernando welcomed the large & distinguished gathering in the famous Massey Room. Felicitatory speeches were also made by Sarah Iqbal (President “”…” Oxford Indian Society) and Qasim Raza (President “”…” Oxford Pakistani Society). This emphasised the tremendous following Arjuna has in the sub-continent and the way cricket has acted as a cohesive force bringing together people from all ethnicities and religions.

 H.E. Justice Jayasinghe (High Commissioner) stated that in the post-independence era, Sri Lanka had 2 great achievements “”…” one was winning the war on May 19th 2009 & the other was the 1996 World Cup win. He went on to elaborate how that victory had changed the face of cricket forever. With formalities over, Arjuna mingled freely and was seeing discussing the finer points of the game with numerous budding Oxford cricketers.

 Mr. Ranatunga was then hosted to a cocktail reception in the Gladstone Room of the Oxford Union prior to his address. Named after the famous British Prime Minister (who was also a former President of the Oxford Union), the room also contains William Gladstone‘s original cabinet table.

The Address was made in the historic Debating Chamber. James Dray (President “”…” Oxford Union) inaugurated proceedings by stating that it was indeed an honour to have Arjuna speak on this day. Delivering the Welcome Address, Dilan Fernando (President “”…” Oxford Sri Lanka Society) detailed Arjuna’s tremendous contribution to the game starting from the inaugural Test match in 1982 to the World Cup Final in 1996. He thanked the distinguished gathering, including diplomats and university dignitaries, who had come from far afield to listen to the great cricketer speak.

Addressing a large gathering, which included distinguished diplomats and University dignitaries, Arjuna narrated his experiences as an 18-year old playing in Sri Lanka’s inaugural Test match in 1982. He spoke of the trials & tribulations of the incipient years of test cricket to the blossoming of the game in 1996. Describing the 1995 Australian tour as the most difficult in his career, he credited his devoted wife Samadara for helping him through this period. He enthralled the audience by vividly re-living that historic day, the 9th of March 1996, when Sri Lanka comprehensively defeated the Australians to lift the World Cup, much to the awe of the entire cricketing world. His anecdote of how the Sri Lankan players spent the morning of the Final, haggling for carpets left the audience in stitches.

A lively questions and answers session, moderated by the President of the Oxford Union followed. In response to a query of how he viewed the 20-20 version of the game, he wittily stated that it was akin to Maggie noodles “”…” fast to cook, good to eat but not filling! He emphasised that, in his view, Test cricket and One Day Internationals had to be safeguarded to prevent an erosion of the game.

Fielding a question about spirit of the game being corrupted by money, Arjuna stated that in his day, players were not bothered about money. They played for the honour of representing one’s country. Money was secondary. However, now the situation has been reversed. The first question even schoolboys ask, on being offered to play for a club, is how much will we be paid. This is the present situation.

A special presentation was then made to Arjuna by Dilan Fernando (President “”…” Oxford Sri Lanka Society) to mark this historic occasion. A presentation was also made to the sponsor, Mr. Sam Chandrasinghe, which was accepted on his behalf by his son Sheehan.

Arjuna and the distinguished guests were then hosted by James Dray (President “”…” Oxford Union) to a gala banquet held in the beautiful wood-panelled MacMillan Room with barrel ceiling. Named after Harold Macmillan, the late British Prime Minister, the room has been used to hosts numerous Heads of State and other world leaders in the past. A very memorable and thoroughly enjoyable evening was thus brought to a pleasant end.

Since its inception in late 2007, the Oxford Sri Lanka Society has achieved several milestones. The culmination of our achievements to date has been the very successful visit of H.E. the President of Sri Lanka Mahinda Rajapaksa to the Oxford Union in May 2008, which too was a similar joint. Subsequently, H.E. the President accepted our invitation to be the Patron of the Society. The Organising Committee for this event include Dilan Fernando (President), Rukshan Batuwita (Secretary), Arvinda Atukorala (IT Officer), Dinuka Kariyawasam (Event Officer), Oliver Humphrys (Acting Treasurer), Daniel Alphonsus & Janaka Alahapperuma (London).

The Society also expresses its sincere appreciation to Mr. Bandula Manage (Sesatha Web).

The Oxford Sri Lanka Society is very grateful to Mr. Sam Chandrasinghe (Chairman “”…” Sam’s Chicken Ltd) for his generous sponsorship for this event.

 The Oxford Sri Lanka Society wishes to place on record its sincere appreciation and gratitude to James Dray (President) and the Oxford Union for its tremendous collaboration to make this event a great success. The great relationship existing between the Oxford Sri Lanka Society and the Oxford Union has resulted in several very successful Sri Lankan events in the past.

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