MJM Lafir's 35th death anniversary on April 26 | Daily News

MJM Lafir's 35th death anniversary on April 26

M. J. M. Lafir in action at a Billiard tournament

Sri Lanka's first world title winner M.J.M. Lafir will be remembered on his 35th death anniversary, which falls on Tuesday (April 26). Lafir brought the first world title to the country by winning the world billiards crown in 1973.

Lafir won the World Amateur Billiards Championship in Bombay, in November-December 1973, being victorious against all his opponents and also scoring the highest break of 859. It is an achievement without parallel in the annals of sports in Sri Lanka. Prior to this pinnacle of his success, Lafir had participated in international championships in Billiards and Snooker in Edinburgh, Scotland, Malta, and Auckland New Zealand since 1970, but had not won any of them.

At the World Snooker Tournament in Edinburgh, Scotland, in Oct-Nov 1970, Lafir defeated I L Glozier (NZ), Paul Mifsud (Malta), John Clint (N Ireland), D Sneddon (Scotland), but lost to John Phillips (Scotland) and Sidney Hood (England).

At the World Amateur Billiards Championships in Valeta, Malta, in Nov 1971, Lafir finished fourth defeating D Sneddon (Scotland), Paul Mifsud (Malta), Lance Napper (New Zealand) and lost to Manuel Fransisco (South Africa) in the preliminary rounds.

The stamp issued in honour of MJM Lafir in 1988.

In Nov-Dec 1972, at the World Open Billiards Championship, held in Auckland, New Zealand, in which professionals as well as amateurs participated, Lafir lost to Clark McConachy (New Zealand), Eddie Charlton (Australia), Paddy Morgan (Ireland), Satish Mohan (India), Leslie Driffield (England) and Michael Ferreira (India) but won against C Everton (Wales), Jim Fryer (England), Kinsley Kennerly (England) and Jack Karneham (England). He failed to qualify for the final round.

So, it was in 1973 that finally reached the pinnacle of his career by winning the World Amateur Billiards Championship in Bombay. He defeated Clive Everton (Wales), Michael Ferreira (India), LU Demarco (Scotland), Alfred Nolan (England), Satish Mohan (India), Eric Simons (New Zealand), Brian Kirkness (New Zealand), Phil Tarrant (Australia), and Paul Mifsud (Malta).

Lafir was born on May 27, 1930 at St. Joseph's Street, Grandpass to S.L.M. Junaid and Salaha Ummuna. He had two brothers Farad and Izzeth and a sister Hinaya. He came into the scene, to play billiards when he was seven years old. That is the time his father won the snooker championship of Awwal Zavi Road Billiards Club beating his uncle A.M.A. Marzook. It was this success that made Lafir try out his skill at the cue game. It was on April 26 1981, one month before his 51st birthday this great man who put Sri Lanka sports on the world map, breathed his last.

Lafiar's fame would have been lost in the "desert air" of Hulftsdorp but for two happenings. He joined MICH (Moors Islamic Cultural Home) in 1947 and played for them in their regular friendly games with other clubs and the founding of the Ceylon Amateur Billiards Association in 1948 Lafir was grateful to the MICH for discovering, nurturing and grooming him for big billiards.

He was well backed by late M.M. Thawfeeq, the first secretary of the Ceylon Amateur Billiards Association for providing the opportunity to play against visiting champions and to go overseas for international competitions.

Though he was unafraid of facing the cue greats on the table he had one handicap that was his lack of adequate knowledge of the English Language, which would have helped him to familiarize and mix with the other players in tournaments. He was progressing well as a standard 2 student at Hameediah Boys English School.

But when a teacher slapped his elder brother Farad, his father in a rage, stopped both Farad and Lafir from attending school. But dedicated and determined Lafir overcame this handicap by learning to speak English with both his local opponents and abroad. He mastered the language so well that he soon began to joke and "rag" his opponents on the international field and won their hearts.

The launch pad for many of Lafir's triumphs overseas and boosting Sri Lanka's image overseas was the late Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike's cheque for Rs. 100 which started the fund to send Lafir overseas to train and play with world champions.

The Asian snooker tournament was introduced in memory of M.J.M. Lafir. Now the tournament is in operation but the Cup and name of M.J.M Lafir is unfortunately missing. This tournament came into being because of late Maurice H Kerr of Thailand, the first President of the Asian Billiards and Snooker Association, and late Frouse Saheed of Sri Lanka who was the Vice President of the Asian B & S A and President of Sri Lanka cue sport.

Lafir reigned supreme for 24 years between 1949 and 1973, he annexed the National Billiards title of Sri Lanka 16 times and the National Snooker title on 15 separate occasions. He was not satisfied; he went across to the Indian National Snooker title won on seven occasions from 1956 to 1976, defeating some of the best Indian Stalwarts.

Lafir's achievement was commendable to Sri Lanka at that time. After his death before his 53rd birth anniversary on 17 April, the Colombo Municipal Council re-named Messenger Street, as M.J.M. Lafir Mawatha, as a tribute to him. During the presidency of Jagath Sumathipala, in 1988 when the 5th MJM Lafir Asian tournament was played in Colombo, with backing coming form then Minister M.H. Mohamed, a stamp to the value of Rs. 5.75 was issued.

The maestro is no more but people in Sri Lanka will ever remember him for his contribution to our soil.


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