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India - Sri Lanka: Keep chauvinism out of sport and politics; Cricket must be open to all foreign players

27 March 2013

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Deccan Herald - 27 March 2013


Playing politics

Though everyone, including politicians, would ideally agree that sports should be insulated from politics, in practice it becomes, not too uncommonly, a victim of political vicissitudes and caprices.

The mass appeal of sports makes it a favourite target for political posturing, and it is unfortunate that this year’s IPL matches have also been hit by such a posturing. The IPL governing council has decided to keep Sri Lankan players out of the matches to be held in Chennai after Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalitha declared that matches would be allowed in the city only if Sri Lankan players and officials were kept out. Jayalalitha’s threat was entirely political and she abdicated her responsibility to ensure the safe conduct of a legal sports activity in the state. Rather than using the ‘sentiments’ in the state as an excuse, she should have offered protection for the matches.

But it is not the first time Jayalalitha has used the Sri Lankan issue for political ends. She had earlier refused to host the Asian athletics meet in the state because Sri Lankan athletes were to participate in it. There is a competitive chauvinistic game indulged in by parties in Tamil Nadu to extract political mileage from the Sri Lankan issue. If the DMK withdrew support to the UPA government the AIDMK would beat it with the IPL issue.

The IPL organisers have done a great disservice to the game, the players and the spectators by succumbing to the threat and dropping the Sri Lankan players for the Chennai matches. They should have rescheduled the matches leaving Chennai out of the itinerary. That would have involved some logistical problems but they were not insurmountable. Instead they allowed financial considerations and the desire to kowtow to political caprices to rule over principles and a commitment to the game.

This has happened before also when Pakistani players were manipulated out of the IPL. There is no need to blame only the Shiv Sena for mixing politics with sports. Sports is an activity which should unite people rather than be a means to divide them and to create bitterness. The politics being practised in the country unfortunately thrives on divisive passions. The Sri Lankan players have now been made to feel different from others and have even been belittled. That amounts to ill-treatment and discrimination which should not have a place in sports. It does not also help to promote the cause of Sri Lankan Tamils.

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(Text of an Editorial in “The Hindu” of March 27th 2013 under the heading ”Chauvinism at its Worst”)

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa did more than give her stamp of approval to calls for protests against the participation of Sri Lankan players in the Indian Premier League. By declaring that the State government will permit the matches to be held in Chennai only if the organisers provided an undertaking that no Sri Lankan players, umpires, officials or support staff would participate in these matches, she effectively endorsed chauvinism and discrimination in sport and politics.

But the IPL governing council did more harm than Ms Jayalalithaa. Its decision to keep the Sri Lankan players out of the matches in Chennai after talking to the team owners will have larger, long-term repercussions for not only cricket, but also India’s international relations. Protesting against atrocities by the Sri Lankan military is one thing, preventing cricket matches involving Sri Lankan players is entirely another. For a person entrusted with the task of ensuring law and order, Ms Jayalalithaa, in her letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, appeared too eager to surrender her responsibilities.

Far from extending assurances on the law and order front, she voiced her apprehension that the participation of Sri Lankan players “will aggravate an already surcharged atmosphere and further offend the sentiments of the people” of Tamil Nadu. To drop the Sri Lankan players on this ground is to blatantly discriminate on the basis of nationality and ethnic identity.

If the IPL is to be open to foreign players, it must be open to all foreign players. For a government to decide who should or should not be in the playing XI, and withhold permission to host the matches on this count, is plain wrong. The IPL organisers evidently took the easy way out. Taking the matches out of Chennai would have involved greater costs than keeping the Sri Lankan players out of the city.

Not too long ago, when India’s relations with Pakistan were at an all-time low, the cricketing authorities worked behind the scenes and prevailed upon team owners not to bid for any Pakistani player. But now, the IPL governing council does not have even this fig-leaf. The arm-twisting is in the open. It is not just cricketing logic that is at stake here. That dropping some players and selecting some others will distort the game is the least of the problems.

True, teams had bid for and taken players at huge costs, and those who put their money on Sri Lankan stars are at a huge disadvantage. But worse, sport, which brings peoples together, has now been turned into a vehicle of jingoism and ethnic affinities.

The effects of such divisive politics will surely be felt beyond the realms of cricket, and for far longer than will be obvious immediately.

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Editorial - The Hindu, 19 March 2013

Mindless solidarity

A fanatic fringe seems intent on hijacking the protest movement in Tamil Nadu against Sri Lanka’s treatment of its Tamil citizens. With the terrorist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam no longer in the picture, large sections of the people in Tamil Nadu have begun to openly sympathise with the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka. But, even as the protest movement gathers momentum, extremist outfits without any popular base have started carrying out violent attacks on Sri Lankan students and offices. After the ransacking of the Madurai office of Mihin Lanka, which offers cheap flights to Sri Lanka from different cities in Tamil Nadu, activists belonging to some of these outfits assaulted a Sri Lankan Buddhist monk who was part of a student team. Even Sri Lankan Tamils on pilgrimage to India have been at the receiving end of violence by people claiming to represent these outfits. Also, the very same people claiming to champion the rights of Sri Lankan Tamils have sought to paint the troubles of Indian fishermen venturing into Sri Lankan waters in the colours of a Sinhalese-Tamil conflict, though the conflict is essentially between Indian Tamil and Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen over fishing rights and livelihood concerns. Clearly, the efforts of these outfits seem directed at gaining publicity and winning new followers rather than at furthering the cause of Sri Lankan Tamils. Obfuscation of the real issues appears to be part of the overall strategy.

That the protests and attacks have peaked at a time when a resolution on human rights abuses by the Sri Lankan military toward the end of the war with the LTTE in 2009 is before the United Nations Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva is certainly no coincidence. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa and the principal opposition party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, have been asking the Centre to put pressure on Sri Lanka to punish those responsible for human rights abuses and to honour its responsibilities and commitments to Sri Lankan Tamils. However, the mindless violence of some of the fringe Tamil outfits is putting at risk India’s own moral authority to urge Sri Lanka to move towards a political settlement of the ethnic conflict. India’s approach toward Sri Lanka cannot hinge entirely or even primarily on domestic politics in Tamil Nadu. Those in Tamil Nadu talking of a separate Tamil Eelam as a solution seem to have no clue about the human costs that would be involved in partitioning a country and a people. India must look beyond Tamil Nadu while bringing to bear diplomatic pressure on Sri Lanka and working in coordination with other countries to ensure full and equal rights for Tamils as citizens of a united Sri Lanka.