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Are Sri Lankan Tamil cricketers discriminated against?

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By Theviyanthan Krishnamohan | November 15, 2014

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Why do so few Sri Lankan Tamils take to cricket professionally? © AFP PHOTO

A popular theory put forward by some Tamils in Sri Lanka is that the Sri Lankan cricket team does not represent the Tamil speaking population of the island. This is a delicate matter that needs to be looked at objectively rather than subjectively, since manifolds of political agendas have been executed in the past over this topic by both the Tamil diaspora and politicians in Tamil Nadu, India.

Cricket in Sri Lanka galvanises the nation together. It distracts children from homework, men from jobs, lovers from romance, drunkards from alcohol and a country impacted by ethnic crisis from ethnic distinction.

With blue and yellow face paint on, no one at a cricket ground will ask you what language you speak, or which religion you follow.

When the WT20 squad returned to Sri Lanka victorious, the team was received by a large crowd that encompassed ethnic diversity. In the packed crowd was me, a Tamil, standing in between a Sinhalese and a Muslim. We spoke different languages and followed different religions, but our goal was one and the same: to get a glimpse of the hard-earned silverware and the men who fought ruthlessly to bring it home, and if things go well, to get a chance to shake hands with the men who helped our flag soar high. Many Tamil songs were sung that night by Sinhalese singers without any discrimination, and the crowd too didn't hold back from dancing to the tunes. What a microcosm of Sri Lanka it was. That once again reiterated the fact that cricket can help Sri Lanka find solidarity amidst plurality.

Cricket brought a ceasefire between the LTTE and the Sri Lanka Army in 2007, during the course of that year's World Cup.
 

"In 2007, the LTTE declared a ceasefire with the government of Sri Lanka for the duration of the World Cup." — Shehan Karunathilaka

"Rumours have circulated in Colombo society that the LTTE also celebrated Sri Lanka's victory at the World Cup in 1996" — Michael Roberts

Despite the universal truth that sport is a panacea that heals all evils, cricketers from Sri Lanka have been targeted by Tamil diaspora groups and Tamil Nadu politicians to unleash their wrath on the government of Sri Lanka. Sports should never become a substance for politics, yet , there are those who believe that banning Sri Lankan cricketers from playing will yield results like it did in South Africa to end apartheid.

Some malevolently claim that minorities in Sri Lanka are deprived of the chance of representing their country of birth at international level. These arguments, despite being apocrypha, is fortified by the fact that few Tamils have played for Sri Lanka in the recent past. Is that a credible reason to not to support their nation? Is discrimination the sole reason for the sparse Tamil representation?

Tamils who played for Sri Lanka

The best bowler Sri Lanka ever produced is a Tamil. Sri Lanka's best batsman is also a Tamil (Mahadevan Sathasivam, a Ceylonese batsman who was regarded as better than Don Bradman by prominent cricketers). Even though Muttiah Muralitharan has been a totem of unity, the latter is all but forgotten.

Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews's father is a Tamil. Russell Arnold, one of Sri Lanka's best finishers and a popular TV commentator, hails from the Tamil ethnicity. A Tamil cricketer by the name Pradeep Jayaprakashdaran took the wicket of Virender Sehwag in the only match he played for Sri Lanka.

History has the names of 15 Tamil players who have represented the country at the highest level. Apart from Muralitharan, Sathasivam, Mathews and Arnold, there is Raveendran Rathnayake, Sabapathypillai Illangaratnam, Ravindra Pushpakumara, Vinothan John, Sridharan Jeganathan, Roy Dias, Joe Saverimuthupillai, Gajanand Pathmanathan, Neil and Dennis Chanmugam.

If the theory of ethnic profiling within Sri Lanka cricket is true, then none of the above players would have represented Sri Lanka.

One must also consider that Muralitharan received steadfast support from the Sri Lankan cricket board and the entire nation when he was humiliated in Australia. The island nation went on to consider the treatment meted out to Muralitharan as a national insult, and Austalia's downfall on the cricket field is still often celebrated in Sri Lanka for that reason alone. His ethnicity was immaterial, every one loved Muralitharan.

So is there no discrimination?

To deny discrimination completely would be incorrect. There has been discrimination and there is discrimination, but of a different kind.

Cricketers from certain schools were once given precedence over talents from the other schools. The Thomians and the Royalists often scowled at Anandians and Nalandians within the realms of cricket. Kumar Sangakkara, in his MCC lecture, said when Arjuna Ranatunga was a 15-year-old school kid practising in the nets at the club, a senior stalwart of the club inquired about him. "When told he was from the unfashionable Ananda College, he dismissed his obvious talents immediately: 'We don't want any Sarong Johnnie's in this club'."

Even though there is parity in the selection process nowadays, there is still a dearth of talent coming from outside of Colombo. Players from Colombo and the Western province are more likely to be considered for selection than youngsters from other areas, which can be attributed to the poor domestic structure and below par cricket facilities beyond Colombo's borders.

Why aren't there many Tamil cricketers?

The answer to this question is not straight-forward. There are numerous reasons for the decline of cricket among Tamils. War was one big reason. A rational distinction between the residents of the north and east and the Tamils residing in the rest of Sri Lanka needs to be made. Tamils in Colombo have a greater chance of playing cricket professionally than those in previously war-torn regions.

Even the Tamils who played for Sri Lanka in the past have been from the elite schools from Colombo. Cricket in Sri Lanka has not really expanded out of Colombo, with most clubs having their headquarters within the Greater Colombo Area, so the lack of Tamil cricketers can be consigned to the poor cricket infrastructure in areas with large Tamil populations.

Tamils in Colombo are also known to refrain from seeking careers in cricket. The first-class system has almost no Tamil players in their first XIs, which tells us there aren't many Tamils playing at the domestic level. In order to raise the question on discrimination, we need to know for certain if Tamil players are even attempting to enrol in club cricket.

There is obviously no institutionalised ethnic discrimination at school level. The last big match encounter between Royal College and St. Thomas' had a Tamil captaining St. Thomas' and another Tamil playing for Royal College.

The problems faced by players from the north and east should not be looked upon as an ethnic problem but as a regional problem, for all cricketers out of Colombo are faced with the same plight.

But apart from the aforementioned reason, I would like to shed light on various other reasons within Tamil society (that includes Tamils from Colombo and the north and east) that help contribute to the lack of Tamils players in Sri Lankan cricket.

Attitude of Tamils towards extra-curricular activities

The 30-year war has left Tamil parents with the belief that education is the only salvation for their children. Some hold the view that Tamils will not be given equal footing, and they feel the only way of rising to higher levels of Sri Lankan society is by empowering themselves in the field of academia. This in turn results in minuscule number of Tamils in the skills-based sectors. It does not only explain the dearth of Tamils in cricket, but it can explain the scarcity of Tamils in other industries such as fashion, modeling, music, acting, film, dancing etc.

Tamil students are thrust into books and often forced to give up on their dreams, just to have a few letters appended beside their names.

Caste-based and school-based discrimination in Jaffna

Jaffna has a strong caste-based society, hence being discriminated for belonging to a lower caste is nothing new there. Perhaps it is for that very reason Muralitharan was called a 'non-Tamil' by a Jaffna Tamil belonging to a superior caste. Children from the dispelled castes do not get much opportunities, as opposed to the chances 'more privileged' children receive.

Another stark discrimination prevailing in Jaffna is somewhat similar to the school-based discrimination that was once prevalent in Colombo. Elite school children from Jaffna Hindu College, St. Patrick's and St. John's are given prominence over other schools. A friend who played for Jaffna Combined XI in the Murali Harmony Cup in 2013 was deprived of the chance of batting up the order because he belonged to a less prominent school. Talent from small schools often go unnoticed.

Corruption within the sporting system

Complaints are replete about the free cricket equipment from the south failing to reach the hands of the needy. What happens en-route is a mystery. The fact that sports is not taken seriously allows the mysterious disappearance to perpetuate in the north and east. A prominent Tamil boys' school in Colombo has two cricket nets that is used as storage for broken desks and an indoor stadium that is used as a godown. Tamil society here tends not to give priority to sports, and sporting activities are still considered indulging.

The belief that there won't ever be a national call up

Many cricket aficionados in the Tamil speaking regions have constantly been discouraged from turning to cricket as a career, alleging that Tamils will never be given a chance to represent the national team. It must be pointed out that the Sri Lankan net ball team is lead by a Tamil and Sri Lanka's third-highest international goal scorer in football is a Tamil. In the past, the LTTE had been a constant limiting factor in preventing Tamils from taking up sports. Local cricket stars of Jafffna like Kandeepan never became stars due to the LTTE. There is obviously corruption within the hierarchy of cricket administration in Sri Lanka Cricket, but to say there exists discrimination based on ethnicity is preposterous.

We Tamils are responsible for our own plight within the sports arena of Sri Lanka. Of course the diaspora and naysayers will come up with excuses to advocate their aversion to Sri Lanka.

There is a tendency among Tamils outside of Sri Lanka to treat the Sri Lankan cricket team as a 'Sinhala-Buddhist team', even though the team has been made of a diverse group of players over the years. Protests by diaspora groups are not consistent and are only staged when there is a tour by Sri Lanka to their respective countries. Calls have been made to ban the cricket team — a team that transcends all evils and unites — for political feuds. Sri Lankan Tamils must back this team for it represents all Sri Lankans, including Tamils. Everyone has the right to support any team they chose, but rejecting the Sri Lankan cricket team due to myths and half-truths is a disservice to the country you call home.

"I did not feel the difference between the two communities  — Tamils and Sinhalese," Muralitharan was once quoted as saying. "There were no obstacles and barriers for me during my long tenure as a Tamil cricketer representing the Sri Lankan team. I was never discriminated by anyone."

There is no discrimination in Sri Lanka cricket. Sri Lankan cricket fans, irrespective of their ethnicity, are eagerly waiting for the pacemen from Jaffna to bleed blue in order to alleviate our bowling woes overseas. They have been waiting eagerly ever since Pushpakumara announced that a northern player would represent Sri Lanka in the near future.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author's. Click here to submit your own opinion articles.

© Island Cricket

51 Comments

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  1. Sirisena, you think I am
    Sirisena, you think I am going to fall for your persuasive comments trying distance yourself from BR? You can do better than – just be honest with yourself by accepting its you!! I know its hard for you to do so because you want all the guys on this site to view as Sirisena the do gooder!!! You on one hand trying take the moral high ground with your own comment” everyone who comments on this website should be treated with dignity and respect and not subject to the insults you directed at “BR”.!!- but had your blinkers on when comments and insults directed at me by BR. I know it was you who wrote that comment soon after I took you to task on your illogical comment about freedom of speech!! It was not a coincidence that comments of BR from left field came soon after that. Obviously you took umbrage to my comments but didn’t want confront me because of the fake persona you portray as being Sirisena!!It itself proves that my comments shook you. And of course you went for the the jugular coming out claiming to be the innocent Sirisena – defender of the poor and defenceless trying support his bedfellow(who has similar views on Tamils!) who was hardly done by my comments and wanted the moderator to be on your side claiming BR as a victim!!!!Not forgetting the person behind that Pseudonym BR fired the first salvo and I was merely returning fire!! Strangely you couldn’t read his comments but obviously went through with a fine tooth comb over my comments!!! If you claim to be the person who defend the defenceless,how you missed reading the insults directed at me by BR is baffling.

    Obviously I wear my heart on my sleeve and my scribes are just a reflection of that. I never claimed having penmanship. Furthermore I am not after kudos from anyone and couldn’t care less if you are not impressed. This is a Cricket site and not a dating site or job site – I am not here trying to sell myself to impress!!

    I am neither paranoid nor a coward who will walk away when my integrity is questioned and can differentiate between shade and shadow!!

    I repeat again – I wasn’t born yesterday!!

    Sirisena, we can continue this until the cows come home and I am happy to take you on until you stop attacking me using different pseudonyms. But there comes a time enough is enough. No matter how hard you try I know who you are and we will leave at that.Its ok to be racist in open than being a stalker in the dark!!

  2. Byron, I agree with you that
    Byron, I agree with you that enough is enough. There is no upside to the continuation of our dialogue. That said, there are some points I will make:

    1) I am not “BR” and I do not know who that person is. Perhaps the real “BR” can stand up. You have got it in your head that I write under various pseudonyms all with the intent of attacking you because you are a Tamil. That is a load of hooey and a figment of your confused imagination. I respect you as a person and a Sri Lankan. Your ethnicity has no relevance to me. Like you, I was not born yesterday and that helps in putting matters in the right perspective.

    2) I have ignored all the other bafflegab you have included in your comments. They are off the wall and largely beyond the pale.

    3) I am not afraid of you, or anybody else. I have no reason to be afraid and I am not shivering in my slippers at the thought of you disagreeing with me. I have views and so do you. That is the way it is and should be.

    4) I take the point you make about spelling mistakes. Everybody makes them. I just thought that if you were giving a lesson in English, you would be word perfect.

    5) Unless your response is a combative one, I do not intend continuing this series of comments. I cannot do anything if you do not believe me when I say I am not “BR”. That is your prerogative. I hold strongly to the view that personal attacks and insults in comments on this website are out of order. Hopefully in the future we can exchange views on cricketing matters rather than tangential ones. Ciao.

  3. முரளி, மத்தியூஸ், ஆர்னால்ட்
    முரளி, மத்தியூஸ், ஆர்னால்ட் தவிர நீங்கள் குறிப்பிட்ட எந்த வீரர்களும் தேசிய அணியில் விளையாடியதில்லை. ஒரு கலப்பினத்தவனாக இருந்ததால் அணியில் இடம்பிடிப்பதுக்கு மத்தியூஸ் பட்ட இடர்பாடுகளைத் தாங்களும் அறீவீர்கள் என் நினைக்கின்றேன். தேசிய அணியில் இணைக்கின்றோம், தேசிய அணியில் இணைக்கின்றோம் என வாய் வார்த்தையாகவே கூறுகிறார்கள், செயற்பாட்டில் எதுவும் இல்லை. தனிப்பட்ட ரீதியாக என்னால் இலங்கை அணிக்கு என்னால் ஆதரவை அளிக்க முடியாது. அதன் தோல்விகளை கொண்டாடமலும் இருக்க முடியாது. இது போன்ற கட்டுரைகளால் எந்து மூளையைச் சலவை செய்யவும் முடியாது.

  4. I won’t agree with any of
    I won’t agree with any of your points, save for the last one- no one can brainwash your, since you have none. First of all read the article. There have been many Tamils who represented Sri Lanka at the highest level other than Mathews, Arnold and Murali.

    You ignorance shows that you nothing about Sri Lanka cricket. Sridharan Jeganathan, Vinothan John, Neil Chanumgam, Devn Chanmugam, Jayaprakashdaran, Sathasivam and I can go on.

    And what kind of problem did Mathews undergo? He was the U19 captain, was fast tracked into the national side and he is the captain of the current side.

    You are just another diaspora wanker who has a fetish for representing the minorities as victims and hence, trying to reap the perks sympathies engender.

    You are a betrayer who gains everything a normal Sri Lankan is entitled to but tries using discrimination as an excuse to vindicate your aversion towards Sri Lanka.

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