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Selected Writings by Nagalingam Ethirveerasingham

Amnesty International, Cricket and Sri Lanka

20 April 2007

Comment by tamilnation.org Nagalingam Ethirveerasingham is a respected Tamil and a sportsman who won a Gold Medal at the Asian Games in 1958 and we publish his article here as an expression of a  point of view. Please see also  Amnesty, Cricket and the War in Sri Lanka - Nadesan Satyendra]

Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have been campaigning against the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) and the LTTE to stop human rights (HR) violations for a long time. 

When the GoSL�s HR violations began to occur on a larger scale since August 2006 and in ever increasing frequency the local HR organizations paid only lip service and held an occasional demonstration.  These HR organizations became a non-factor as far as bringing pressure on the GoSL to scale down the violations. This ineffective action is mainly due to a fear of violent reprisals or disappearance caused by the GoSL forces, its paramilitaries and non-uniformed forces of SL. 

AI started its campaign, �Play by the Rules�, to coincide with the ICC Cricket World Cup, but the campaign, as they said, was in no way intended to be against the cricket players or the team.  The HR campaign by the Local and International NGOs or exhortations by the UN institutions or the Co-Chairs were having little to no effect on the GoSL. One would imagine that the local organizations would welcome AI taking up the slack and put their reputation on the line. 

It is indeed disheartening to read the statements being made by the GoSL and local NGOs critiquing AI and their �Play by the Rules� campaign against the GoSL implying that the campaign was against the Sri Lanka cricket team and that such a campaign would affect not only the performance of the SL cricket players or the team but also set back the local struggle against HR violations.  It is understandable that the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister in charge of Human Rights Affairs and the pro-government media spouting out such rubbish as it is in their interest to do so. Knowledgeable persons ignore them. But for the local NGOs to give such excuses only expose their ineffective efforts and fear of victimization.  

It is a common tenet among international level sportspersons that, �When the going gets tough the tough gets going.�  They are sensitive to tragic events, including human rights abuses and suffering of the refugees and IDPs in Sri Lanka, Iraq, England, Sudan and other violators.  Sportspersons also have the ability to shut off such events when they are focused on practice or performance.  Sports Psychologists and sportspersons who achieved international fame would call this ability, �Tunnel Vision�.  When a bowler starts his run, delivers the ball and until the ball is �dead�, he sees only the spot where he is going to pitch, the wicket, the batsmen and the ball. He hears and sees nothing else. A batsman sees only the ball, perceives the speed and swing or break until the bat has hit the ball or missed the ball. �Tunnel vision� ability is a prerequisite for optimum performance in all sports. 

Such skills are a characteristic of excellent sportspersons or for that matter for all peak performers in the arts and sciences too. This ability is present not only during competition or performance on the stage but also during the years of preparation.  The oldest of Sri Lanka cricket player was born 37 years ago and the youngest 22 years ago.  Even if they are not informed of the tragic events of 1956, 1958, 1961, 1977 and 1983, they are all either witness to some of them or are well informed of the war and the atrocities. But they were bent on their practice and performance.  I was a witness, who escaped the 1956 riots by denying my origin, and the army atrocities in 1961 in Jaffna.  The day I won the Gold Medal in the high jump in the Tokyo Asian Games was the day of the killings of Tamils in 1958. Sportspersons are tough enough to shut off all unpleasant thoughts that would hamper their performance.  

In 1958 I was not selected to compete at the Asian Games, even though I was jumping two inches higher than the Asian Games record of which I was a co-holder. I was also the best in Asia at that time.  The 1958 anti-Tamil feeling had crept into the Ceylon Amateur Athletic Association (AAA) and the Ceylon National Olympic Committee.  When finally selected due to pressure from an independent Daily News - that bears no resemblance to the state controlled Daily News of the current era, except for the paper and ink - I was determined to win and prove the communally motivated majority of the selectors, wrong. 

I have no doubt that the Sri Lanka cricketers are made of sterner stuff to let any imagined propaganda against them affect them.  Cricketers are intelligent sportsmen who deal with numerous variables of different intensities and make split second decisions as individuals and as a team to perform at the top level.  They are fully capable of understanding the real objectives of Amnesty International�s �Play by the Rules� campaign.  They without doubt know about the HR abuses going on in Sri Lanka.   

When a Tamil cheers for the Sri Lanka cricketers to do well and win the World Cup, the GoSL and some local and international sports NGOs pronounce to the world that Tamils support the GoSL and that sports can bring peace.  LTTE members I know admire Aravinda de Silva, Hashan Tilakaratne, Arnold, Muralitharan, Jayasuriya as cricketers and as persons. They admire Susanthika Jeyasinghe�s performance.

The fact is that Tamils like any other sports fans want the cricketers and cricket teams they like to do well and win. We want Lara and Tendulkar to score a century every time they go to bat. We are disheartened when Pakistan, India and West Indies fail to make the final eight. We want Malinga, Muralitharan, Musharaf and Vass to get all the wickets. 

Sports can bring communities in conflict to interact peacefully. Sports can help reconcile warring communities when they have agreed on a just solution. But sports cannot solve problems between communities at war. Without a just solution and elimination of human rights abuses there cannot be peace. 

The GOSL is trying its best to deflect the heat and inflame the Sinhala and Muslim people by using the ploy that the cricket team is the target and that the aim of AI is to make the Sri Lanka cricket team loose matches.  It is the GoSL that is trying to put doubt and pressure in the mind of the SL cricketers.  It is regrettable that those NGOs for human rights think and write along the same theme as the GoSL on the cricket issue and consider the SL cricketers as if they are porcelain chinaware and the AI the bull in the china shop.  Such speech and writings are an insult to cricketers and sportspersons. The question we should ask is, whether the GoSL and the local HR NGOs hoping for the SL cricket team to loose so that they can then blame the AI? That is like cutting off their nose to spite the enemy.  

Even if one assumes for arguments sake that the SL cricket team is the target of the AI campaign, it is my view that this would make the cricketers want to win more than ever in order to show the world that they are not putty in the hands of the AI or the GoSL. If the SL cricket team looses any games it is because on that day, on that pitch, and in that weather the opposing team performed better. Most sportspersons of caliber, whom I had the pleasure to meet, are made of steel cores and a soft cover. The softness should not be equated to weakness.  Granted some sportspersons are all steel with a hard surface. 

Sri Lanka�s discrimination practices and human rights violations have not yet equalled the apartheid South Africa. But if the slide continues Sri Lanka will gain that status before long. If the slide continues at this rate I will not be surprised if the 2008 Olympic Games and the current World Cup Cricket tournament may be Sri Lanka�s last international games until there is a change of hearts and minds on the part of the Sinhala people and leaders.  Like South Africa, which was banned from the Commonwealth and the Olympic Games, cricket and other international sporting events after 1960, Sri Lanka would become the next country to be boycotted. The LTTE was only forecasting what is in store for Sri Lanka when they called for a boycott of sports in Sri Lanka.   

The LTTE is not against sports organizations or sportspersons in Sri Lanka.  Those who doubt it should ask the Presidents of SL Cricket (Jayantha Dharmadasa), SL football Federation (Manilal Fernando), SL Athletic Association (Major General Palitha Fernando), SL Netball Federation (Mrs. Vijay Kumaratunge) and the National Olympic Committee (Hemasiri Fernando).  As for the elitist sports golf, swimming and tennis I don�t think the majority of people outside Western Province and tourist spots in Sri Lanka would know that there are such sports or organizations in Sri Lanka.  Their membership is miniscule when compared to Cricket, football, athletics or volleyball. However they are members of the NOC and participate in international games!!!  

All sports organizations are governed by the constitution of their respective international associations, and the International Olympic Committee.  The constitutions of the national bodies are in consonance with that of the international bodies.  And in turn the constitutions of the District associations and the constitutions of clubs affiliated to the District associations. The rules and regulations of the member bodies are in consonance with those of the parent bodies. Any individuals or associations that violate the rules will be suspended from participation.  It is incumbent on those who wish Sri Lanka not to be boycotted by international associations to ensure that Sri Lanka does put a stop to its human rights abuses. 

AI is only calling attention for Sri Lanka to play by the rules like the Sri Lanka cricketers and international and national sports associations.  When a state uses majoritarian democracy and sovereignty as a shield to hide its human rights abuses, and disregard the rule of law, that state has failed to be a state.  International intervention to prevent human rights abuses is now a must before Sri Lanka implodes. 


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