Adam Shand, in The Australian, 26 December 2012, with a different title “Tamils take their cause to the Boxing Day Test”
THE Sri Lankan cricket team faces up to 1000 protesters at Melbourne’s Boxing Day Test today amid claims by organisers that Australia had helped sanitise Sri Lanka’s brutal repression of its Tamil minority to stop the flow of asylum-seekers before next year’s federal election. One of the organisers, cricket writer Trevor Grant, said the Tamil Refugee Council would stage a noisy but peaceful demonstration outside the Melbourne Cricket Ground to send the message that the Gillard government was supporting the genocide of Tamils for its own political ends.
Sri Lanka’s willingness to use its navy to prevent asylum-seekers leaving the island nation by boat was a key factor in Australia’s support for the regime of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Mr Grant said. “The Gillard government needs to take a tough stance on asylum-seekers to the next federal election. They need the Sri Lankan government to stop the boats so Australia is prepared to turn a blind eye to the genocide of the Tamils,” he said. Mr Grant said protesters wanted a boycott of Sri Lanka until Mr Rajapaksa agrees to UN demands for an independent inquiry into war crimes and his regime ends the persecution of Tamils.
A UN report has said that during a long-running civil war, at least 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed by Sri Lankan army artillery while sheltering in hospitals, schools and other buildings. They had been ordered to go to these so-called “safe zones” by the army, who then targeted them.
Many Tamils have been in detention centres since the end of the civil war in 2009. The Sri Lankan government recently refused a request from the UN Human Rights Council to allow the International Red Cross to visit detention centres, Mr Grant said. The Tamils in northeast Sri Lanka are under the control of the Sri Lankan army. A leading Indian newspaper reported in June that three years after the war there was one soldier for every five people in the north of the country, Mr Grant said.
The Tamil Refugee Council criticised Sri Lankan cricketer Kumar Sangakkara for making negative comments to Sri Lankan media about the MCG protest. Sangakkara reportedly said that the tour was “about showing the world what Sri Lanka is like now. People from outside should really come back and visit. If you don’t see what’s happening on the ground it’s hard to change your opinion,” he told reporters.
“We all respect Sangakkara as a cricketer but he would have no real idea how life is for the Tamils in the north and east of the country,” said Tamil Refugee Council spokesman, Mal Bala.
Sri Lanka wary of emotional distraction from expats
- by: Wayne Smith
- From: The Australian
- December 26, 2012 12:00AM
SENIOR Sri Lankan batsman Kumar Sangakkara believes the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne will almost be like a home match for the visitors but that might not necessarily turn out to be a positive. Sangakkara, who needs just 40 runs in this match to become only the 10th player i to reach 10,000 Test runs, spoke enthusiastically this week about the prospect of a big turn-out at the MCG from the expat Sri Lankan community.
“It will affect the mentality of the side when they see such a lot of support in a foreign country,” Sangakkara said. “That sort of atmosphere will help us. But at the same time, it’s pretty important not to get carried away by your emotions and the occasion.”
Yet that applies outside the fence as well as inside, with the Tamil Refugee Council planning to use the occasion to protest against the Sri Lankan Government which, it claims, was guilty of war crimes against the Tamil Tigers during the bloody civil war and still is persecuting the Tamil community.
The Tamil organisation maintains the Sri Lankan side is too closely aligned to the government which it asserts has used the cricketers to improve its standing internationally. Few Tamils are members of the team, although one of them, current vice-captain Angelo Mathews, has been nominated by retiring captain Mahela Jayawardene as the man to replace him. The leading wicket-taker in Test history, Muttiah Muralidaran, also is a Tamil.
The Ceylon Today newspaper reported that any protest by Tamil expatriates against the Sri Lankan side would be a “classical biting the hand that feeds them scenario” because team members had actively sought to lower tensions between Tamils and the wider Sri Lankan population by touring the war-torn north in the lead-up to the recent T20 World Cup.
Sangakkara, whose work in the north of Sri Lanka this year is credited with ensuring 3000 bicycles were given to the Tamils, insisted it wasn’t important from where the country drew its cricketing talent. “For us, sport is beyond politics,” Sangakkara told Ceylon Today. “There’s a lot of talent in the north and east. The more cricketers we have coming and joining the national team from the north, east, west and south and wherever they are, that’s going to be the best thing for Sri Lanka.”
While this Test will be played out against the backdrop of Sri Lanka’s troubled political past and present, Sangakkara also is concerned about its uncertain cricketing future. Unless there are some dramatic last-minute changes made to Sri Lanka’s schedule, this Melbourne Test and the one to follow early in the New Year in Sydney will be the last serious Tests they play before December. With the scrapping of a two-Test series in the West Indies because neither side looked like being anywhere near full strength because of the ravages of the IPL, and the postponement until 2015 of a scheduled three-Test campaign against South Africa in August, again to prioritise a limited overs tournament, Sri Lanka might only play six Tests in 2013, four of them against minnows Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.
Sri Lanka has played only 217 Tests since being granted its first in 1982, while in that same period, Australia has played 331. So it is a testimony to both the patience and durability of Jayawardene and Sangakkara that, on a ration of about nine Tests per year, they have become two of the greatest run-scorers the game has seen. Jayawardene, whose Test average dipped below 50 for the first time in five years when he was dismissed for 12 and 19 in the Hobart Test, ranks ninth in history with 10,671, having begun his 136-Test career back in 1997. Sangakkara, now only one solid innings away from joining him as a member of the elite 10,000-runs brigade, has played 114 Tests since making his debut in 2000.
“It’s disappointing,” said Sangakkara of the decision to pare back Sri Lanka’s Test schedule. “Hopefully there will be more Test matches played and more thought put into scheduling.”
ALSO SEE Michael Roberts, Incursions & Excursions in and around Sri Lankan Cricket, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2011 ISBN 978-955-53198-0-5
TRC deem demonstration a success
Here’s the Melbourne Age website report on the Boycott Sri Lanka Cricket Campaign (BSLCC) protest, which went really well. A couple of hundred people turned out in support. We had people at many entrance points to the ground, stretched our banners across almost 70 metres in front of major ground entrances that thousands of people couldn’t help but see, had a PA system that sent out messages, and speeches the cricket fans couldn’t ignore.
We did interviews for all commercial TV stations and ABC radio. I have done radio for 3AW, the major commercial station in Melbourne. I did a 10-minute interview on the breakfast show and this afternoon I’m doing another interview on the drive program.
We were all dressed in special yellow T-shirts with Boycott Sri Lanka written on the front. We gave out 7000 leaflets in two hours. We also had a truck driving around the roads in the area, with messages on an A-frame on the back about Tamil persecution, plus graphic pictures taken from the massacre at the end of the war.
All up, we created a huge impact on the cricket fans, and it sets a foundation for future rallies everywhere.