Stop the Bombs, Thambi's Bowling (The View From Victory Blvd)

In South Asia, it seems, cricket can do what the tattered remains of a five year old ceasefire cannot.

But like Sri Lanka's now-defunct 2002 Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), without a consistent political process, it's a stop-gap measure. And as we should be well-aware by now, the island doesn't take too kindly to damming.

On Tuesday, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE, otherwise known as Tamil Tigers) carried out a second air attack against a Sri Lankan military installation (Myliddy army camp) 3 km from the airport/base at Palaly, Jaffna, following last month's bombing of Katunayake military airport. The bombing at Katunayake, 16 km from the country's only International airport, was claimed to be a "preemptive" strike, and unprecedented in the ongoing conflict, although rumors persisted throughout the CFA period that the Tigers were building up these capabilities. Unsurprising, given that both parties to the agreement showed little commitment, saving face with donor countries and the international community in periodic talks while stockpiling arms in the meantime.

Despite the recent attack on Palaly, and daily military offensives between state forces, the LTTE, and the Karuna faction, AFP reports that there was a short respite for fighters on both sides:

Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels are to take a brief break from battle later Tuesday to watch the national cricket team play New Zealand in the World Cup semi-finals.

"There may not be any attacks tonight because we are also watching the match," Tiger spokesman Rasiah Ilanthiriyan told AFP by telephone from the rebel-held north of the island.

Tamil Tiger supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran is believed to be a cricket fan.

The comments came the morning after the Tigers staged an air strike against the military's main facility in the northern peninsula of Jaffna-- the latest violence in a bloody civil war. [Link]

Stop the war, the game is on?

Some might say cricket bridges the 'ethnic' divide. It certainly reveals multiple, at-times contradictory, attachments on the part of Sri Lankans, as the above picture of a pro-LTTE supporter/SL cricket fan rushing the grounds in Australia attest. (links from A Week in Sri Lanka.)

S Kishore, an MP of the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and a human rights activist, said unhesitatingly: "I have always supported Sri Lanka, because I am a Sri Lankan."

This sentiment was echoed by Sashi Kumar, a Tamil journalist in the eastern district of Trincomalee, who is covering the war in the North-East.

"Even the LTTE feels that sports should be viewed differently from politics," said N Vithiatharan, a Tamil from Trincomalee, who edits the Tamil daily Sudar Oli.

"In 1996, during the finals which Sri Lanka won, the LTTE had set up TV sets in its camps, and the cadres were cheering the Sri Lankan team!

All this in the midst of war and the exodus of Tamils from Jaffna," he recalled.

The exodus referred to is an infamous moment in Sri Lankan history, when the LTTE instructed civilans, particularly in Valigamam and Vadamaradchi districts, to leave their homes, or risk getting caught in the crossfire of battle with the Sri Lankan army. Within 24 hours, nearly 500,000 people were forced to leave their homes. Those who couldn't walk or be carried were left behind, in the hopes that their loved ones might return to find them alive.

Ironically, Sri Lanka's most surreptious cricket fan is also responsible for the killing of C. E. Anandarajah, the principal of St John's College in Jaffna, after the latter organized a match between local youth and SL military personnel in June 1985. (Here's a link to a Daily News editorial on Anandarajah; take it with a grain of salt, since DN has essentially become an SLFP government mouthpiece.)

In the height of war and a fractured local polity, Anandarajah's decision could be seen as unwise. Nevertheless, it was an effort to put bats, rather than guns, into the hands of youth; it was an attempt at channeling competitive energies towards sportsmanship across division and strife. Likewise, today in Sri Lanka, cricket appreciation at its best is hailed as a force of national unity, a testament to the plural, multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic, and multi-religious country we should aspire to be.

After all, our Murali is a Tamil, Sri Lankans, diasporic or not, are wont to say.

This is true. But is this enough? Can we simply rest on the laurels of the team? Sri Lankan cricket represents the ideal nation and its aspirations, not the realities of all its citizens. Sri Lankan cricket, in some sense, is what we hope to be. (I'm bracketing the gendering of that abstract model of citizenship-- for now.)

But, as is all too evident now, cricket fanaticism at its worst serves as a distraction from the war, and a convenient way to suppress debate and dissent in favour of a superficial image of national unity.

As it became increasingly clear that Sri Lanka was moving up in the game, Amnesty International launched a campaign to coincide with the Caribbean matches. Titled “Sri Lanka: Play by the Rules!” the campaign is a well-intentioned but poorly-strategized attempt to raise awareness of human rights violations in Sri Lanka. AI's timely and urgent call for human rights monitoring in Sri Lanka thus arrived almost dead-on-arrival to national and scant international attention.

Although AI did note that its campaign was not targeting the Sri Lankan cricket team or cricket fans, all it served to do was generate a hostile backlash in the Lankan media. A few independent commentators have given interesting responses to the controversy and its fallout (see the posts and comments at Ground Views here, here and here):

Amnesty International’s actions at the Cricket World Cup, for the best of intent, may well result in the worst of outcomes for human rights activists in Sri Lanka. By raising the wrath of the government and fuelling the already powerful rhetoric of extreme nationalist forces in the country who are deeply and violently opposed to civil society advocacy and support of human rights, we regretfully note that Amnesty International’s ill-thought of campaign may end up severely discrediting the human rights movement in Sri Lanka. [FMM]

I take issue with other aspects of this press release: its espousal of cricket’s meritocracy as a democratic ideal; the conclusion that we can “all enjoy undiluted cricket instead,” without any consideration of who has the luxury to simply enjoy, and as though sport is separable from the political situation on which they are commenting. That said, SL's Free Media Movement (FMM) makes a fair assessment of AI’s misfire and cricket’s strategic importance in Sri Lankan politics.

What’s more, AI's campaign garnered the full attention of the Sri Lankan Parliament, days before it was to close house for a break, reconvening in May.

Earlier the government vowed to launch a massive effort against Amnesty’s campaign “to demoralize the Sri Lankan cricket team at the World Cup.”

“Sri Lankan Cricket has already informed the International Cricket Council (ICC) and Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe is to inform the United Nations and the international human rights bodies of this unethical move by Amnesty International,” the Daily Mirror Monday quoted “a highly placed government source” as saying.

“The government is also planning to collect one million signatures from the public against the AI decision, Besides nine floats will be sent across the country and a television and print media advertisement campaign is also to be launched to create awareness about the AI decision,” the paper reported. [Tamilnet]

This is where the state’s concern and resources are directed in the middle of war? The government has the time to report a campaign using cricket to focus on human rights violations to the UN? If only, oh, actual human rights violations could get this kind of attention.

In the rare moments when the national media does take a critical stand, Lanka’s politicos respond with veiled threats. FMM reports on the latest phone-in from President Rajapakse's brother, Gotabhaya:

The Defence Secretary had allegedly expressed his deep displeasure over the conflict coverage by the newspaper. Referring to a front-page news item published the previous day (Armed Karuna faction running its writ in Pottuvil), the Defence Secretary had said the story had angered the Karuna faction and furthermore was written against the Government. He had gone on to say that Champika should not be surprised if the Karuna faction turned violent against her. In such an eventuality, he had said that she should not expect any security from the government to protect her. [FMM]

Notably, the AI campaign has found supporters amongst Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament. Says Lib Dem MEP for North West England, Sajjad Karim:

"We are concerned by abuses by all parties to the Sri Lankan conflict. Civilians are killed, abducted and forcibly disappeared every day at the hands of government forces, Tamil Tigers, the Karuna faction and other armed groups. All parties are breaching international law by failing to protect innocent civilians.

"Cricket is a great game and the Sri Lankan people are rightly proud of their ethnically diverse national cricket team, which symbolises the best of their country.

"Whilst we celebrate Sri Lanka 's success in the World Cup, we mustn't forget the hundreds of thousands of people who have had to flee the fighting and now live in temporary shelters. These people are not able to live in safety, let alone enjoy the cricket." [Link]

Such words, however, are rarely articulated by cricket fans. And now that India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are out, especially amongst the Sri Lankan team's newfound supporters.

So, whence solidarity in cricket?

True, a World Cup win will raise the flagging spirits of many millions in and outside Sri Lanka. Moreover, it gives neighboring desis, postcolonials and diasporics an underdog to root for and proclaim "solidarity" with.

"One billion people of India are supporting us," exclaimed Nelson Thenuwara, after watching Ajay Jadeja telling NDTV: "I desperately want Sri Lanka to win!"

"I would like a South Asian country to win the cup. It does not matter if it is India, Pakistan or Sri Lanka," said Shakunthala, giving expression to a new found South Asian solidarity, in the context of the grim possibility of cricket's slipping out of the hands of South Asian countries. [Hindustan Times]

God forbid cricket should slip out of South Asia's hands. But with whom are these "South Asians" proclaiming solidarity?

Will a World Cup win protect the precarious lives of millions in Jaffna, in Colombo, in Kandy and Nuwara Eliya, in Batticaloa and Trincomalee, in Puttalam and Vavuniya? Will it give homes to the hundreds of thousands displaced in and from the North and East? Will it rehabilitate the thousands of children recruited and forced to fight this unending war for the LTTE and the government supported Karuna faction? Will it give sustenance to half a million Tamils in the Jaffna Peninsula, who have been cut of for months from the rest of the island, with almost no allowances for humanitarian aid? Or well over 70,000 Sri Lankans living in Tamil Nadu refugee camps with the barest of rations? Will it support the impoverished Sinhalese families of sons (and increasingly, daughters) who died fighting their brothers and sisters for army wages? Will it ensure internally displaced Muslims from the North and East the ability to safely return to their homes?

Or is a World Cup win for Sri Lanka a distraction from this dire picture? A lone beacon of hope for war-weary Lanka?

Maybe a win for Sri Lankan cricket is a multi-million dollar business? A pastime for the old boys of Royal-and-Thom, and those in Colombo and abroad who, distanced from the visceral horrors of war, are enjoying the game via satellites and charter flights? A means for the more comfortable in (sometimes regionally powerful) former colonies and their diasporas to hash out their postcolonial ressentiment with the next available brown squad?

Shriyani de Silva, a housewife, said she was moved when she saw Black West Indians supporting the Sri Lankans against the Kiwis.

"I desperately want a brown or black team to win the cup. We should rid the game of the White's domination," she said. [Hindustan Times]

I’m inclined to say, it’s all of the above.

I'll conclude with the thoughts of Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, in response to the hallah over the Amnesty campaign:

We must win the World Cup, BUT, we must protect human rights in this country. One is a game; the other is about rights and duties, of matters of life and death. It is what makes us a country before all else. [Ground Views]

Hear, hear. Sri Lankans are justifiably proud of their cricket team’s international accomplishments at a time when we have little else to guide us.

But to support a national team without any consideration of the daily realities for the people of Sri Lanka is something I cannot abide by. To forget, ignore, or dismiss the continuing suffering of many Sri Lankans is to partake in exactly the same conceits separating sport from politics that allow the LTTE and the armed forces to put down their guns to watch the game-- but only to be able to pick them up again. Depoliticizing the sport for our own enjoyment allows us to erase the masculinist violence of these nationalist projects. The link here is quite clear:

"In a country where, presently, there is so little for the masses to be cheerful about, the exploits of the armed forces and the cricket team bring joy and hope for the future," said Malinda Seneviratne, an advertising executive. [Hindustan Times]

So you won't find me cheering on a national team during this World Cup.

When Sri Lanka can proclaim its commitment to the safety and security of all of its citizens - a nice start would be an end to abductions, extrajudicial killings, and independent human rights monitoring, perhaps? -- that is when you will hear me shouting from every rooftop and verandah,

GO SRI LANKA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Until that day, I'll save my appreciation for the brave souls who are compelled to quietly persevere in their suffering in order to survive, and the few among them who are, and were, not-so-quiet. Let their bold words and deeds reverberate as Sri Lankans rejoice:

Speaking for Sri Lankan Tamils, N Vithiyatharan, editor of a Tamil newspaper said: "We certainly want Sri Lanka to win, though there are sharp political difference with the Sinhalas. After all, we all belong to this small island. Blood is thicker than water!" [Hindustan Times]

Whether Vithiyatharan can be said to speak for all Sri Lankan Tamils is debatable.

However, the sentiment behind his words, if anything, is what we must remember long after this game is over.

. . .

Call this the view from Victory Boulevard, if you like. But I suspect you’ll find its adherents everywhere from Parc X to La Chappelle, and Toronto to Thiruvanmiyur.

The World Cup of Cricket and Sri Lanka's civil war

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Cricket: Tomorrow, We Are

Cricket: Tomorrow, We Are All Sri Lankan...

When I first agreed to delve in to the World Cup for the mutiny, I did so because I knew it was important to South Asia, our diaspora and several cute commenters here…but I had no idea how powerful the sport truly is, until now. Apparently cricke...

kettikili, this was an

kettikili, this was an extremely humbling lesson in appropriation for those of us who've turned to Sri Lanka as the last brown hope in the World Cup... it's easy to do this and forget that the country which the team represents is currently experiencing a CIVIL WAR.

S Kishore, an MP of the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and a human rights activist, said unhesitatingly: “I have always supported Sri Lanka, because I am a Sri Lankan.”

This is interestingly familiar to me, because of two things he's saying - one explicit and one implicit. Clearly explicit is the claim to a national identity and citizenship of that nation in a context where that citizenship is under fire: Who is a Sri Lankan? Implicit is a validation of his own nationalism and pride in Sri Lanka.

An age-old Hindutva myth is that after Pakistan beats India at anything (usually cricket or hockey), you can hear celebratory fireworks going off in the Muslim sections of town. Such rhetoric forces Indian Muslims into a position where they're forced to prove their nationalism.

These sorts of dynamics are ubiquitous, as far as national sports are concerned. I've gotten flak from folks for supporting teams against the US in the Olympics or the football World Cup, for example, as if my loyalty to the country is somehow compromised.

It's a bit like putting up American flags after 9/11. National teams and national pride/nationalism are so inextricably linked that the politics necessarily form the relationship, which is why cheering for a national team can be a very safe, strategic, political move, in addition to being a genuine outpouring of support for a side.

So Prabhakaran's hypocrisy (I love your title for him, by the way) is that much more pissing off. Opposing the Sri Lankan state and yet expressing support for, interest and even pride in the national side? Puh-leeeeease. Clear case of four legs good, two legs better.

And in other news, Sri

And in other news, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse is set to travel to the great battlefield of Barbados where the 11 best members of the Sri Lankan special forces, with thousands of united Sri Lankan fans behind them, are set to take on the Evil Empire of Australia whose people, lest we forget, are descended from prisoners.

Posted your article

Posted your article here:

Someone pointed out Palay airport is not 16kms from Colombo. Better correct it before some pedant jumps on it! :-)

Thanks comment (#5)! I edited

Thanks comment (#5)! I edited the 3rd para to make it clear that I was talking about the distance from Katunayake to BIA (Bandaranaike International Airport), not Palaly. Also added a note about the camp at Myliddy, rather than the base itself.

I have a lot of thoughts in response to the above comments and other pieces I've seen in the last couple of days, but I'll save them for now-- the game is on and my friends are making their way to the pub. ;)

This is a great blog. I also

This is a great blog. I also note it has a lot of overlap with a new online magazine you might be interested in: Asia Sentinel. The Sentinel will be running a piece about these recent bombings later today.

The Sentinel covers politics, business, and culture in Asia, with in-depth news and analysis from some of the region’s most experienced journalists. I hope you’re interested in checking it out:

Many thanks,

:-( I see tamil kids here in


I see tamil kids here in toronto wearing sl jersey's here and there. i think people separate the team from the country. If I bought an SL cricket jersey, i'd have to cover up the flag with a happy face or something.

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