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Sri Lanka at World Cup bringing together two communities long divided along ethnic lines

by Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times

A world cup win for Sri Lanka on April 2 and even the interest generated here by the home team’s steady performance in the lead-up to the final could carry the sport beyond the boundaries of cricket. Many are looking at this cricketing opportunity as a part of the process to reconcile the Sinhala a nd Tamil communities in country emerging from a bloody ethnic war.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s call to win the cup for Murali, an ethnic Tamil, is being seen as an endorsement of that.

Murali has contributed more than just his talent and over 1000 international wickets to Lankan cricket; in a society divided on ethnic lines, he is seen as the champion whose popularity cuts across the ethnic rupture.

Captain Kumar Sangakkara’s recent statement after a visit to the war-ravaged, and Tamil dominated, north has also been hailed as a positive.

"[The people of the north] have been deprived for 30 years of everything that we’ve taken for granted in Colombo. Sometimes Colombo seemed a world away from the war. We’ve never felt it as much as the communities in the North and East did. And sometimes we have to understand that we owe them our very lives and all the comforts we enjoy,” Sangakkara, a Sinhalese, said.

"Sri Lanka’s cricket team is …is a microcosm of what we should be and ought to be – a multi ethnic and religious group based on merit and performance and working together successfully as a team. It is something of which we can be justifiably proud of as a country," Groundviews, a citizens’ journalist website said in write-up on "World Cup cricket aiding reconciliation in Sri Lanka: Fact or Fiction?"

The last time Sri Lanka won the world cup in 1996, the civil war between the separatist Tamil Tigers and government troops was raging in the north and east of the country. In 2007, when Sri Lanka reached the final, the LTTE carried out its first air attack on Colombo, dropping bombs on the city while cricket lovers were glued to the game on television.

This time will be different.

The war’s been over for nearly two years and the process of rebuilding the north and east is on, though not at the expected pace. Like in 1996, Murali remains the only ethnic Tamil in the team.

Adelaide-based Lankan Professor of anthropology and cricket historian, Michael Roberts was cautious. "Ethnic animosities are due to multiple factors. So one channel is not adequate," he said via email.

"We enjoy good cricket, but I don't think a World Cup victory will make it any better for us," opposition Tamil legislator Marvai Senathirajah told AFP.

"Cricket offers a happy, episodic escape, yet may not address these underlying problems. Cricket has little or no presence in some parts of the country, especially in the North and East. If you don’t have grounds to play or facilities to train and practice, you won’t see cricket, or any national sport for that matter, as a healing or inspirational," Groundviews said in the same article.

But for many, Saturday could indeed bring together two communities long divided along ethnic lines and by a violent history. ~ courtesy: The Hindustan Times ~

3 Comments

The writers intensions and wishes are good and welcome. But president's call to win the world cup for Murali is absurd. Sri Lanka's win will not bring the two communities together.If the majority Sinhalese treat the Tamils as equals,, remove all high security zones and allow the Tamil people to settle in their own lands, devolop North and East without prejudice, raise the living standards of the Tamil people who had suffered for past 30 years and the two communities will come togather. The War is over an year ago and still the Tamil people are suffering.
Cricket is only a sports. Of course we all wish that Sri lanka should win the world cup and go into the record books.But the president has to do lot more for the Tamil people.

Posted by: Sellam | April 1, 2011 02:01 PM

"[The people of the north] have been deprived for 30 years of everything that we’ve taken for granted in Colombo..."

Sangakkara is in his early 30s, so he can be excused to think that the violence and depravation started only 30 years ago with the rise of the LTTE. But many others, not so young and ignorant, intentionally lie about the one-sided violence that existed long before the LTTE came into existence.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 2, 2011 12:48 AM

This is mere talk. Tamils should be treated as equal partners in this country before any reconciliation takes place. This is the bottom line.

Posted by: Winston | April 3, 2011 05:34 PM

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