SUNDAY TIMES of Sunday 29 April 2012

When Sheriff Brothers held sway in wrestling – Text and Pix by Rangi Akbar

At present pugilists and self-defense sports like karate, kung-fu and taekwondo have replaced wrestling among Sri Lanka’s youth. However in the 1950s and 1960s it was wrestling which was the popular sport in many schools and clubs

Rasheed Sheriff, now 81 years, resides in Kirulapona.

Among the school wrestlers it was the boys from Zahira College, Colombo who dominated. Wrestlers from Zahira not only emerged national champions but also made a mark in international wrestling contests. Chief among these wrestlers from Zahira were the Sheriff Brothers – Ameen, Rasheed and Rauff.

It was in early 1950 that the noble art of wrestling, called the ‘Catch -As-You-Can’ (British free-style wrestling) was introduced to Zahira due to the initiative of a few enthusiast youth, particularly Rasheed, Ameen, Rauff and Majeed Khalid under the guidance of coach L.M. Abdur Rahman, supported by the strong patronage of the Principal A.M.A. Azeez under whom the College entered into its golden era. Within three months wrestlers from Zahira had won national titles.

As a further encouragement the Principal sent two of the wrestling brothers – Ameen and Rasheed – to the South Indian State’s ‘Madras Olympics’, as it was known, in 1953 with the entire cost of their trip borne by the College. When the duo emerged champions, the Principal declared a school holiday when they returned.

In the following year after a special trial meet by the Amateur Wrestling Association, Ameen was selected to represent the country at the Asian Games in Manila, Philippines. Though Ameen could not win the title he proved an able opponent to far more experienced wrestlers.

In 1955 the trio of wrestling brothers had the distinction of being in the contingent of 13 wrestlers selected to represent then Ceylon in the India-Pakistan tournament in Kholapur, Delhi. In the following year Rasheed who had won the Best Wrestler’s Trophy at several tournaments conducted by the Amateur Wrestling Association (AWA), was selected after a special trial meet to represent the nation at the Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia. Due to financial constraints the AWA was unable to send Rasheed.

In 1957 a team of 10 wrestlers and two officials of the AWA participated at the World Youth Festival in Moscow, Russia. Ameen and Rasheed now wrestling for the Moors Islamic Cultural Home (MICH) had the distinction of being in the team.

From 1954 Old Zahirian wrestlers were attached to the MICH. Under the patronage of the President, Sir Razik Fareed and the efficient stewardship of Hajis A.J.M. Jabir and Ashraff, every facility was provided for the wrestlers with even a special Punjabi coach by the name of Siddeek Phelawan employed to coach the boys on modern techniques. This training proved so successful that Ameen was selected in 1958 to represent the country at the World Wrestling Tournament in Tehran, Iran.

The achievements of these Zahira/MICH wrestlers in the decade and a half from 1950 may well be beyond the capacity of future wrestlers, but their record, particularly of the Sheriff Brothers, should serve as an inspiration for future youth who take up this sport.

It should also be mentioned that following the examples of Ameen, Rasheed and Rauff as well as wrestlers of the calibre of Ammanudeen, Riza Haniffa, Morseth Halaldeen etc. in 1955 and 1956, Hamza Haniffa was the Best Wrestler in the All Island Schools Tournaments. Returning to the College Staff in 1961 he had the joy with Rauff Sheriff of coaching Johar Preena from Zahira to win the same trophy that Hamza had won.

Wrestlers like Ameen or Rauff, Riza and Morseth are no more but their proud achievements should spur today’s youth to take up this sport and renew the past glory that they brought to Sri Lanka.


In 1951 Wrestling was introduced at Zahira College due to the initiative of a few enthusiastic students, particularly M.S.A. Rasheed, M.S.M. Rauff, M.S.M. Ameen and Majeed Khalid under the training of L.M.M. Abdur Rahman, an old boy and George Yesudian as Master-in-Charge. Wrestling was added to the sports curriculum.

Majeed Khalid met the Principal A.M.A. Azeez, and requested approval to purchase a mattress for training wrestlers costing Rs. 12,000/-. The approval was readily granted. He joined the Ceylon Air Academy as a trainee pilot and wrestled for the YMMA in 1952 and won the best wrestler’s cup at the YMCA. He left Ceylon on 27.2.1953 and hitch-hiked to England passing through many countries reaching his destination on 17.7.1953. Majeed joined the Royal Air Force as an aero engineer. He now heads a very critical committee in the UN, and heads an International Environmental NGO and has authored a book on this subject. (Majeed’s comprehensive article on his travel to England appeared in the Az-Zahira Magazine of 1954).

The first inter-house wrestling meet at Zahira was held on 9.10.1951. Al Haj S.L.M.M. Sheriff donated a challenge shield for the best house. S. Sellamuttu, Mayor of Colombo, donated a challenge cup for the best wrestler of the meet. T. Rudra, M.M.C. and President of the Ceylon Amateur Wrestling Association, was the chief guest.

Within 3 months wrestlers from Zahira had won national titles.

Al Haj S.L.M.M. Sheriff belonged to the well known large Thoplaan Family. He was a landed proprietor and inherited lots of real estate from his parents. He lived in a large house down Davidson Road in Bambalapitiya and owned many properties on this road.

Al Haj Sheriff was blessed with 20 children by his first marriage and 12 children by his second marriage, totaling 32 children. He was popularly known as “Pulla Kutty Sheriff”. The champion wrestlers of Zahira College, namely M.S.A. Rasheed, M.S.M. Rauff and M.S.M. Ameen were his sons numbered 15, 16 and 17 in that order.

Al Haj Sheriff was seen often driving to Zahira College in his Dark Green Austin Ten Tourer X-4965 wearing a white prayer cap.

(Thanks to Fazli Sameer and Mulaffer Khalid)

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