Political Cricket II
By this article we are supporting the position of previous commentator that brought a very important insights of cricket and politics. I would like to take the dialogue further than Lakshan Dias and I am trying to raise more important issues in this article. Cricket has become a boiling issue after Amnesty International campaign and it seems to be going beyond its spectrum with wasted political agendas.
This is the very fact that any body needs to understand that cricket is a political matter in Sri Lanka and its political cricket in Sri Lanka. Today nationalistic political crept in to Cricket for their own wasted political interest and using it in their favor more than any time in the history. I mention nationalistic forces it includes Main Governing Party, JHU and JVP as well as other small segments in Sri Lanka Polity.
These anti AI campaigners also are indirectly supporting LTTE position by rejecting the core of the AI campaign, as LTTE is one of the co-respondents in this AI campaign. Also in this article I am discussing about the political nature of cricket and how does it affects includes minorities and how was it hijacked by present political notion of the state.
Pre World Champion Era.
British introduced cricket to Sri Lanka and up to recent time it was a pet subject of upper middle class or western oriented Sri Lankans living in the costal belt, Kandy, Jaffna and few other main cities. Sri Lankan team usually comprise of western province cricketers or southern or central province cricketers. Rarely it expanded beyond these limits even today this is the reality. Above are clear out comes of the demography of Sri Lankan polity. As well as these are the power blocks of Sri Lanakn state and decision-making mechanism.
So it’s obvious that these three provinces influence this popular entertaining mode and its shape in Sri Lankan social fabric. Inheritance of British was narrowed down only to a certain class with an elite outfit and exclusive lineages in colonial era as well as first few decades in post independent era. Up to the world cup in 1996 this style was govern the Sri Lankan cricket. Selection of the team and many other factors were decided by these unofficial owners and in general word this is done by so call English-speaking elite. Whether we like it or not this is also political behavior based on class affiliation. Sri Lankans carries forward many colonial inheritances as its indigenous values in many professions and day-to-day behavior. Cricket was one such colonial inheritance and mindset that many Sri Lankans carried forward without questioning for many years.
No body dares to challenge it through any ideological perspective believing Cricket is non-political issue and power structures didn’t allowed such things as well. When gigantic personalities such as Dr.N.M Perera, Gamini Dissanayake runs cricket administration no body dares to raise their voices in against them as its unproductive and they govern the game as Kings.
Sri Lanka authorities banned one of the best budding cricket team in 1984 for 25 years in because of their South African tour as Sri Lanka was in agreement with Anti apartheid stance of the cricket world. No body being able to campaign for Mahesh Gunathilake the best ever wicket keeper we had and many other talented players such as Anura Ranasinghe, Hemantha Devapriya etc. It was less transparent decision and the rational for such huge punishment was not known. simply it was covered by Hugh shadow of Gamini Disanayake. While Mike Getting of England got only 3 years of banned Sri Lankan cricketers got 25 years of banned as there was no body to oppose those politics. Whenever an appointment of captain or any other selection issues were in controversies no body dares to question as it’s against the so call gentlemen behavior. All these acts were done with the political powers and based on various power political perceptions. The few hold the power in cricket Authority governed the games future, as they wanted.
Cricket as a Elite Game
Usually Marxists are tempted to think cricket as a capitalistic game and pure waste of time and elite agenda where working class has no stake and refuse to affiliate with it. I never heard Rohana Wijeweera commented about cricket even though he married to a family from cricket loving Moratuwa.
Dr. N.M. Perera was criticized for his colonial practices in relation to some sports such as cricket but those comments was not affects to his political life as old left had many such characters and as it was an accepted norm. English Language manipulate entire cricket setting up to late seventies until Singhalese radio commentaries started and then its gradually begin to move towards Singhalese speaking masses thank to wonderful commentaries done by Premasara Epasinghe and Palitha Perera Duo. It was commercial interventions through Ceylon Tobacco company that cricket went to the remote areas with the commercial interventions by the Radio and then lately by television. It’s still an elite in relation to the Tamil community as they experience the colonial experience of cricket that Singhalese experience some times back where they watch cricket together with an alien language. It’s very important to find out how does this elite game become popular game. Its not much different to 1956 revolution which given birth to certain ideology. For the cricket revolution it was creative and excessive usage of Singhalese language brought masses close to cricket. People living in non-urban areas started to identify them selves with cricket, as now they can understand it in their own language. It’s not like Tamils Community seems to be look at it in a very elite manner except for those who living in urban areas in southern Sri Lanka. Mr.Arisen Ahubudu , Karunaratna Abeysekara are few veterans that contributed to these Singhalese language revolution in cricket.
Market Cricket – Ranatunga – Sumathipala Era
Ranatunga era of Cricket blended with Sumathipala flavor took cricket in to new greener pastures with plenty of scope and new dimensions. This was visible in the pre and post 1996 cricket. Arjuna Ranatunga’s expulsion as captain was debated in parliament and it was more or less projected as political discrimination and also discrimination towards his political affiliation towards then pro nationalistic SLFP. SLFP government of CBK raise Ranatunga image in to very powerful position with a political flavor and latter he became a politician of the government party as well as he was clearly visible in the inauguration of Sihala Urumya political party (now JHU ).
I mentioned this as Arjuna was a clear Singhalese cricket captain he kept his sign in Sri Lankan not only because World Cup 96 but his new measurement in leadership and the manner he lead the national team while political backing is assured. In the same era another factor emerged in the cricket with strong commercial background it was Thilanga Sumathipala. Thilanga Sumathipala entering in to cricket administration as powerful vice president of Ana Punchhewa tenure with the backing of his media power through Lakbima and other news papers. The sign he kept in Sri Lankan cricket was his ability of project the potentiality and capabilities of Sri Lankan cricket as a commercial venture. He exploited the popularity of post 96-cricket enthusiasm in to a good market intervention for cricket . In addition to the above factors these two personalities in combination pushed Sri Lankan cricket gradually in to Singhalanisation.
Also made Sri Lankan cricket as a good platform for politics, and market. One should not forget that today patriotism and nationalism has profitable market in all media outfits and any thing that people like. It’s valid to “handun kuuru” as well as Luxury apartments. It is visible among other communities in lesser proportions. What I did described is the cradle of that market cricket. Thilanga during his chairmanship added many new features in to Sri Lankan cricket that gained the endorsement of cricket loving public until he falls apart with CBK and Rantungas family over cricket administration. Since then the nationalistic camp within Sri Lankan was divided. But never be able to leave out from the influence they made over Sri Lankan cricket irrespective of who ever come to the driving seat. It is very important to reflect on a statement made by Ven: Ellawala Medhananada Thero M.P of JHU to Lankadeepa newspaper some times back.
The statement said that “ there are few Singhala Buddhists leaders that foreign powers and their agents operating in Sri Lanaka continuously and mercilessly attacks and they are namely Arjuna Ranatunga, Thilanga Sumathipala and Chief Justice Sarath N Silva. This statement clearly indicates the inner thinking, political depth and sentiments of Sri Lankan nationalistic platform that Rev: Medhananada represent and the Nationalistic affiliation towards cricket. I decided to bring this examples as we clearly see this period is the period that insertion of nationalism in to cricket happened knowingly or unknowingly. During Gamini Disanayake, Dr. NM Perera, Tyrone Fernando Ian Peiris or Ana Punchewa tenures there is no such nationalism roaming around cricket body, as their cricket was different to toady cricket. But very clearly post 96-cricket administration blended with many other non-cricket things. This doesn’t mean that entire cricket playing bodies are nationalistic but influence of nationalism is a key factor in Sri Lankan criket. This is not a single minded agenda neither interest of one segment of people but it’s a collective coexistence for diverse objectives. The recent traditions of chanting Prith and tighten Prith threads are more visible in this era even though there is no clear evidence on when was it entered into cricket. This is a clear power shifting from elite and colonial power block to new market oriented commercialized and singhala oriented administration of Cricket.
Diversity in Cricket and Myth of Unifying Point.
Ethnic diversity of cricket was very long tradition and was much visible in national team and club cricket in Sri Lanka. Especially the old clubs are clear evidence for the above diversification of ethnicity in cricket, moors cricket club, Tamil union, BRC Singhalese sports club are some clear evidence for such diversification and the very representative composition. This was visible in cricket even though it was not a intended or strategic move but due to its eliteness. Especially colonial inheritance encouraged various nations living in Sri Lankan to equally enjoy cricket in especially in elite level. When it comes to the eighties the ethnic landscape were gone through much changes there were times that Sri Lanka fielded pan Singhalese teams in early test cricket. The advent of minorities were very slow and there were only 12 players out of 105 test cricketers Sri Lanka has produced are from minority communities.
There were 5 Tamils 5 Muslims and two from burger community. There is one Muslim converted in to Buddhist playing in the present team according to world cup profiles in cricinfo. The other factor is that there is myth spreading by many elements that cricket is the rallying point for unity among various ethnicities. This has been told but followed blindly even progressive media. It’s true that cricket has become a popular sport of urban Sri Lankans but there are other factors that more uniting point for Sri Lanakns. When we carefully analyze Tele-Dramas in Sri Lanka we can see how Indian Soap operas such as “Mahagedara” and “Praveena “ becoming real rallying point for Singhala, Muslim , Tamil and burger homes. Irrespective of language of the third party, soap operas were enjoyed by many urban and rural women and children and further take the values of those dramas as family values.
Its same for Bollywood films therefore its not only cricket but Bollywood films and Indian soap operas also making serious impact in to our society whether we like it or not. It’s also enjoying by the majority of television viewers who are children and women. Therefore looking at Cricket as the only rallying point is a created myth by the market and especially by various advertisements and commercial endeavors. It is also a rallying point among many others and therefore its not sacred. The other issue related to the diversity is that within the cricket there are various religions and ethnicities represent and therefore its example for the country. These are very childish statements and giving half baked signals to the world.
Sri Lankan cricket is not sensitive or politically correct over the ethno-religious representation. Even though cricketers wont complain it will register in their minds, as ethnicity and religiosity are prime sentiments of all Sri Lankans. As a example a non-Buddhist cricketer need not to follow Buddhist rituals before or after cricket tours. But its good for Buddhist to do that and administration should not granted this country as a Buddhist country. Some time these non-Buddhist cricketers engage in Buddhist rituals as they were compelled to do so. Some times such rituals may be forbidden for them by their religions but they have no option. There is no space that they can by pass such ceremonies as if they do it will badly reflect on them and it will end his carrier. What I argue is to add an inclusive policy on all these small but sensitive things.
We cannot be fundamentalist countries as some countries doing. Yusuf Yohanna become Mohammed Yusuf can be a personnel event but who can deny that contextual pressure made him to be a Muslim while analyze the Muslim converted to the Buddhim also may have gone through a contextual pressure. These are hidden but becoming a realities of our country. We have to adopt interfaith or inter-religious approaches in our cricket and make players feel more inclusive where all the religions treated equally in cricket ceremonies.
On 1st of March 2007 Lankadeep sports section report s as “ Sri Lankan team is comprise of many ethnicities and religions they seems to be unaware of Sri Lankna traditions such as “ Jayamangala gatha” and cricket officials need to teach these values to them” this is the real psyche that develop in our country today. I don’t understand why should any non-Buddhist to be aware of Buddhist tradition while Sri Lanka is a secular country. Every body has a right to respect a religion and these ceremonies are not national but sectarian things. There is no single photo of other religions presence and the entire settings were arranged for a Buddhist ceremony.
This unequal treatment needs to be stop and cricket need be cricket but not a ground for religious promotions and we shoulnot take things as granted. Politicians a can do any thing for votes and they can play for gallery with out any sense but in the these events it needs to be secular but not Buddhist.
Cricket being the popular sport of Sri Lanka it symbolize the social psyche of mainstream and dominant culture and it influence Human decision-making.
Amnesty Campaign and the Nationalistic Agenda
It seems that every body has found a scapegoat to shed their differences and clear their sins. Last three four weeks in Sri Lankan political arena was heated due to political reason but not for orbital changes of the Solar of system.
Two powerful politicos of Government defects the government party and LTTE attack the air force base and UNHCR had its sessions in Geneva and SAARC head of state meetings in India. All these reasons created a hot atmosphere within the government and entire political out fit as whole. For nearly two weeks government media and other media as well continuously involved in NGO bashing for their role in lobbying international organizations and government over the Human Rights violations of the state. This lobbying was not for the happiness of government that strongly involved in military operations in the eastern Sri Lanka.
Government wanted to stop any international condemnation at any cost and therefore NGO lobbying was seen as mere unpatriotic effort. Then the other incident came one after another and the nationalistic forces was up in arms against NGOs and its so call unpatriotic motives. Then comes the Amnesty International the evil one.
This was a blessing in disguise for many elements of the nationalistic camp and they were started to hammer on AI in all sides, locally and among the Diaspora community as well. Now one has to see what’s the Amnesty campaign about.
In their statement on 5 of April under the heading of Sri Lanka: Urgent need for effective protection of civilians as conflict intensifies Amnesty urge serious commitment form the all warring parties such as GOSL, LTTE and paramilitaries such as Karuna group to follow international Humanitarian laws. Further they raise the importance of International Human Rights monitors visit Sri Lanka as they raise their doubt whether Colombo government is capable of deliver justice for those who abducted, killed and disappeared. The entire statement is for Government as well as LTTE.
Their campaign very clearly against the three parties mentioned above. Apart from the government there are two other parties that they challenge in the campaign as Human Rights Abusers. Then why does LTTE did not issue any statement against Amnesty is the million dollar question. Is it because that they accept them as abusers or because Government took the cart before horse. The simple reason is that they exploited the favorable atmosphere that government created to exposed government. Why these Singhalese groups protesting is the other issue. According to the Manager of Sri Lanka cricket Micheal Tissera as BBC reported clearly denied that there is no any impact on cricketers by the campaign, they said that they were not known to any campaign until government informed them. Usually no cricket team has been exposed to the protestors in any part of the world. All the governments provide full security if there is such protest against players. Very importantly there is nor protest at the world cup venues neither in Caribbean Islands.
What’s happening is there is a campaign in Caribbean islands by Amnesty over the Human Rights Violation in Sri Lankan by GOLS, LTTE and paramilitaries. As Sri Lankan Manager says there is no impact then why these people protest over Amnesty? It’s very clear that GOSL nationalistic groups were shattered by the Amnesty argument over Human Rights Violations. These people who protest have skeletons in their wardrobes. But they were clever to scapegoat the cricket enthusiasm against amnesty. Sure GOSL will call explanation from Micheal Tissera over his statement. Even though opposition leader criticized Amnesty move he said that even Muralitharan lived in Colombo he also can be subject to abduction and killing in front of hundreds of crying Tamil citizens who lost their loved once.
These two statements are enough for justifying Amnesty Position and nullify the GOSL and Nationalistic groups on their argument. If this has no impact over cricketers why they’re nationalistic groups such as JVP JHU and government drag cricket in to it. The other joke is these people are protesting over a campaign and it does clearly indicate armature responses of these groups or their shrewdness by cheat cricket lovers and sympathizers and mislead them. Amnesty campaign doesn’t get involve in burning Sri Lankan flag or LTTE flag or shouting slogans it’s a campaign of awareness where people are invited to sign a cricket ball with wording of play by rule.Therefore cricket lovers shouldn’t worry over this no Sri Lankan NGO or international NGO did any thing bad for cricketers we all love them. We want them to win the New Zealand match. None of these protesting nationalistic groups protest against Australian news papers when they abuse Sri Lanakn players or none of these people held protest rallies in front of Australian embassy when Murali was no balled. They say its cricket we say it’s also a tactic by powerful nation that we are not familier with. Its mental war fare in cricket which we are very primitive in responding and which our players are much affected than these amnesty campaign.
If GOSL or any body doesn’t like Amnesty campaign they have full right to campaign against Amnesty but they shouldn’t instigate cricket lovers and abuse their sensitivity for these petty agendas.
Governments Lost Opportunities.
If Government of Sri Lankan is strategic they should have use the given opportunity to make them correct first and also expose LTTE as the other party of the conflict whom responsible for of Human Rights Violations. But unfortunately due to wrong strategies or misleading advises government failed to use a golden opportunity to expose LTTE.
Government reacted to this camping in relations to the country’s Image of and they thought that they would be able to stop the campaign that surely affects tourism. In the other hand if Government on a war they cant imagine of good tourist inflow as no body wants to come to a conflict country. Government one sided strategy make them weaker and more exposed as internationally this was reached to many sections. Final result was that there is serious challenge for Sri Lankan presence in the Millennium Fund of US government as a receiving country as Sri Lanka has bad records on Human Rights violations and freedom of expression.
Enemy of Enemy and LTTE Politics.
LTTE as usual cleverly came forward to support Amnesty campaign. How on earth perpetrators can defend a campaign against them. This is a political gimmick by LTTE as they wanted to be good boys by supporting Amnesty position but this will not give any good marks to them as they were seriously accused for Human Rights violations and killings as well as the Karuna Group that is operating in the east. LTTE never said in any of their statements that they have accept the AI accusations and they will change their strategy. What they did is simply use the opportunity to portrait southern campaign as chauvinistic and support amnesty campaign as it’s the enemy of enemy. There is nothing important in LTTE support to Amnesty campaign if and unless they change their style and reverse the practices accused by international community such as all kind of Human rights violations and killings.
Government and NGOs
Government must come out with strong devolution package in near future and when government forward effective devolution package even with out using the word “federal” NGOs will support such government move in this manner NGOs will support devolution irrespective of UNP or PA in power.
In this case Mahinda Rajapakse Government have to face the strong opposition of their own allies and this will be a bitter truth for them very soon. Whatever name they give, they have to bring a strong federal solution when they bring it they will lose all their Nationalistic allies and they will become enemies. NGO bashing of the government will affect them negatively at that stage, as then government will lose its credibility over their proposals. Government shouldn’t involved in NGO bashing as NGOs and government irrespective of who ever in the driving seat need to work together in when it come to negotiated settlement for ethnic conflict.
Government cannot run with the hares and hunt with the dogs.
[By FD Syndicate]
Related: Amnesty Statement April 12, 2007: Sri Lanka: Human rights is the issue, not cricket