Drop-outs Deepen Sri Lanka's Sense of Loss

Drop-outs Deepen Sri Lanka's Sense of Loss

Post by Raja » Fri, 09 Feb 1996 04:00:00

The following article appeared in  "The  Times"  (London).  I  am
reproducing it here verbatim.  All typos are mine.


Drop-outs deepen Sri Lanka's sense of loss



Simon Barnes

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
international sport.

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]


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Psychology Dept., Florida State University
Tallahassee,  FL  32306-1051