reproducing it here verbatim. All typos are mine.
Drop-outs deepen Sri Lanka's sense of loss
If athletes don't cheer you up when your life is miserable, then
what on earth is the point of them? And God knows, the people of
Sri Lanka need cheering up. I am not suggesting for a second
that a few cricket matches could diminish the horror of the
Colombo bombing, but a spot of decent sport could, at least, al-
low the citizens of Colombo to set it aside for a few hours.
Yet Australia and West Indies are all set to drop out of their
World Cup matches in Colombo. Thus they fail their duty to
Colombo, to Sri Lanka, to cricket and to the entire concept of
Sri Lanka is a sad and lovely island and, in 1981, I spent a hap-
py couple of months there. I remember drinking the demon arak
and talking late into the night with my late friend, Nalin: black
sheep, as he told me, not without pride, of a famous family, a
man who, among other achievements, pioneered the plays of Jean
Genet in Colombo.
Over the arak, we talked politics and cricket, for this is an is-
land full of both. While I was in Colombo the police, seconded
from the south to the northern, Tamil areas, had rioted, raiding
booze shops, attacking Tamils and torching the liberty of Jaffna,
destroying a treasure-house of centuries-old Tamil manuscripts.
Jaffna was considered a no-go area so, naturally, I went, not
brave but curious, eager for a damn good story (I wrote it up for
the Far Eastern Economic Review). I encountered not *** but
sadness, staying with a once-rich Tamil family reduced to taking
in boarders, their home and property in the sout destroyed by
looters. They were not angry, certainly not supporters of the
Tamil Tigers:just sad.
As I was returning south, waiting for a bus, a cyclist stopped,
dismounting with that bewildering leg-flick that modestly re-
quires of a dhoti-wear. He asked me the all-important question of
that year. "How is your bottom?" Meaning, of course, Botham.
Politics, sadness, cricket. All part of Sri Lankan life. Crick-
et is important because, in the midst of troubles, nothing cheers
as much as triviality. Tickets for the Australia-West Indies
match at Colombo sold out in two hours; they cost as much as the
Sri Lankan monthly wage.
It is Australia's blessing to be free of war. As a result, they
have come to a dreadful error of vision. They think that cricket
is actually important. More, they think that cricketers [itacli-
cized] are important, that cricketers have no duties beyond
sport and themselves.
I am not saying that the idea of playing cricket in Colombo is a
comfortable one. It remains true, however, that apart from the
horrific excepton of Munich in 1972, with the *** of the Is-
raeli competitors, athletes have not, thank God, been the target
of lethal political action.
It is also true that England's 1984-85 cricket tour of India was
similarly affected by political horrors. The Prime Minister, In-
dira Gandhi, was assassinated; so, a few days later, was the
British Deputy High Commissioner, Percy Norris. Naturally, the
cricketers were upset and wanted to go home. Instead, they went
to Sri Lanka. Then, when the official period of mourning was
over, they went back to India, continued the tour and won the
Top international athletes are, on the whole, a xenophobic bunch.
But it is not that they are uninterested in abroad; they are not
interested in much outside the team or, if involved in individual
sports, anything outside their own heads.
That is not really a criticism, it is simply an aspect of sport-
ing mentality. Call it single-mindedness. I remember when cov-
ering a tour of India, I visited the Konorak Temple. You would
expect most cricketers to display a passing inteest in this monu-
ment, a short drive away from the team hotel. After all, it hap-
pens to be covered -absolutely encrusted - with pedantically de-
tailed carvings of bosomy girls in a series of elaborate priaptic
grapples. But I think only Derek Pringle visited it, though Ro-
bin Smith went too.
When West Bromwich Albion made their historic visit to China,
only three of them went to visit the Great Wall. These, inevit-
ably, were the three black players known as the Three Degrees,
Cyrille Regis, the Late Laurie Cunningham, and Brendon Batson.
Xenophobia, then, is part of sporting life. It has to be: every
time you visit a country, it represents the enemy. All this is
inevitable, but those of us who are not international athletes
should not make the same error. That appears to be what has hap-
pened to Australia, and, by craven imitation, West Indies.
A suggestion, then. The New Zealanders, I am sure, are above
such a xenophobic and pusillanimous failure in the duty owed to
international sport. England and New Zealand should offer to
play their opening match in Colombo. That way the poor, sad,
bewildered Aussies will be able to play their own opening fixture
against Sri Lanka in the comfort and safety of Ahmedabad.
Perhaps West Indies will meet Australia in the final of the World
Cup. Is so, we can only hope that they both lose.
[end of article]
Psychology Dept., Florida State University
Tallahassee, FL 32306-1051