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
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,
allow 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 happy 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 island 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
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 requires 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. Cricket 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 [itaclicized] 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 Israeli 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, Indira 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 series.
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
That is not really a criticism, it is simply an aspect of sporting mentality.
Call it single-mindedness. I remember when covering a tour of India, I visited
the Konorak Temple. You would expect most cricketers to display a passing
inteest in this monument, a short drive away from the team hotel. After all,
it happens to be covered -absolutely encrusted - with pedantically detailed
carvings of bosomy girls in a series of elaborate priaptic grapples. But I
think only Derek Pringle visited it, though Robin Smith went too.
When West Bromwich Albion made their historic visit to China, only three of
them went to visit the Great Wall. These, inevitably, 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 happened to Australia, and, by craven imitation,
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