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Are Sri Lankan Tamil cricketers discriminated against?


By Theviyanthan Krishnamohan | November 15, 2014

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


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  1. நான் எப்போதும் ஒருவரிடம்
    நான் எப்போதும் ஒருவரிடம் கருத்து பரிமாறும் போது அவரை பற்றி தெரிந்தால் ஒழிய அவரிடம் ஆழமாக பேசுவதில்லை. ஏன் தம்பி உன்னை பற்றியும் ஓரளவுக்கு(Education/work) தெரித்து தான் பேசுகிறான். என்னை பற்றிதெரிய IC சிறுது பக்கங்கள் புரட்டினால் போதும்.

    சரி விடு, “யுத்தத்தின் கோரம் தனை அண்ணன் அறிந்து இருக்க வாய்ப்பில்லை” என் அப்பா அம்மா யுத்தம் தொடங்குவதற்கு சில ஆண்டுகளுக்கு முன் தொழில் நிமிர்த்தம் தமிழகம் வந்து குடிபெயர்ந்தனர். ஆனால் என் சொந்தங்கள் ( பெரியப்பா சித்தப்பா மற்றும் பலர் ) அனைவரும் இலங்கையில் தான் இருந்தனர். என் குடும்பம் எத்தனை பேரை இழந்தது தெரியுமா ?

    சரி விடு, “சென்னையில் இருந்து “சாயா” குடிப்பவனை விட கொழும்பிலிருந்து கோப்பி குடிப்பவனுக்கு இலங்கை பற்றியும்”. என் பழைய பதிவுகளின் கருத்து பகுதியில் பார் எத்தைனை முறை வடக்கு வந்து சென்றன் என்று. ஏன் போன மாதம் கூட எனிடம் IC பதிவில் சிங்களவர் எதற்கு நான் இத்தனை முறை இலங்கை வருகிறான் என்று சண்டை போட்டார்.

    சரி விடு, “சிங்களவர்களை, எதிரி எதிரி என கூக்குரலிடுகிரீர்களே” எங்க எப்போது கூறினேன். ஒரு போதும் சிங்களவர்களை பற்றி குறை கூறியது இல்லை, என்யென்றல் அனைத்து சிங்களவர்களும் கெட்டவர்கள் இல்லை.சங்கவை பற்றியும் அவர் தந்தை பற்றியும் நன்று அறிவேன். சங்கவை நான் மதிக்கிறேன். ஆனால் அனைத்து சிங்களவர்களும் ஒரே போல் இல்லை.

    “போதையும் தலை விரித்தாடும்! பதினாறு வயதுப்ப் பெண் கர்ப்பம் அடைகிறாள். திருமணமான பெண் கள்ளக் காதலனுடன் ஓட்டம் எடுக்கின்றாள்.” என் சிங்களர் பகுதியில் இந்த பிரச்னை இல்லையா. நான் போடட்டுமா பட்டியல்.

    நான் சொல்லவருவது வேறு, இலங்கை தமிழர்கள் (வடக்கே, தமிழகத்தில் ) வாழும் நிலை சரி இல்லை. அப்படி இருக்க எப்படி கிரிக்கெட் விளையாட வருவார்கள். நீ சொல்வது மிக சிலரை பற்றி நான் சொல்வது பெரும்பான்மையோரை பற்றி. ஆனால் உன் பதிவை படிபவர்கள் இலங்கை தமிழர்கள் சந்தோசமா இருகிறாக்கள் ஆனால் கிரிக்கெட்டில் ஈடுபாடு இல்லை என்று தான் பொருள் கொள்வார்கள். நீ சொல்லும் கருத்து அனைத்து இலங்கை தமிழர்கள் கருத்தாகத்தான் பார்க்கும் இவுலகம். அது தான் தவறு என்கிறேன்.

  2. I don’t want to continue this
    I don’t want to continue this argument in Tamil, since most here would not understand.
    And regarding your comment, your IC profile says your are living in India. Hence I thought you belong to India.

    And majority of the Tamils here are happy in contrast to what you claim. Even though certain people in the north (people from Vanni areas only) suffer the aftermath of the war. And if people are realy suffering they would not have taken to drugs, alcohol, adultery etc.

    I would like to know more on what kind of exclusive sufferings Tamils in North endure?

  3. @Sakthivel, if your family
    @Sakthivel, if your family has suffered losses, then u being not fond of SL is totally understandable. I would be the same. Just support Pakistan, Bangladesh instead of SL…. but not India.. 🙂

  4. Let me ask you this:
    How do

    Let me ask you this:
    How do you think the Tamils who’s family members were killed/raped/abducted by the Sri Lankan Army feel when players like Sangakarra and Jayawardene laud praises on them or see players like Ajantha Mendis in his Army uniform?

    Of course they will be turned off.

    And Thivi, aren’t you contradicting yourself? You say majority of the Tamils are happy but yet you want to know the suffering of the Tamils in the North and East. So with what basis you say majority of the Tamils are happy?

    Maybe you should carry out better research. Just because the war ended (in the process killing thousands of innocent tamils) doesn’t mean the problems have all been sorted.

    The main causes of why this conflict started are still not answered today. Look back to the government policies after independence and how the favoured the Sinhalese greatly and discriminated against the Tamils and the causes of the Tamil riots in the 1950s to the 1980s(Black July of 1983).

    In the present day, the army is forcibly stealing land, resettling Sinhalaese in the north and thereby creating pockets on ethnic tensions. The military is taking over and carrying out civilian jobs and trades or resettling Sinhalaese to do them, causing Tamils to become jobless.

    Lets not forget the thousands who are missing from the war, which the government refuses to investigate, killing or abducting anyone who speaks out against the government.

    What I’m saying is many Tamils in the North and East have no patriotism to the country in the first place let alone any support for the cricket team. Alot the of the youth tend to support India. This is based on what I experienced living in Jaffna and travelling around the North and East.

  5. @ Thivi : Its simple,
    @ Thivi : Its simple, majority of the SL Tamil people doesn’t have better life, so coming into cricket is not their cup of tea as of now. Your claim is based on minority of well settled Tamils in SL. Not entire community.You asked me the exclusive sufferings Tamils in North, thanks to Anonymous 14, he explained it very clearly.If you want to know the sufferings SL Tamils in India I will tell you. I was trying get a job for SL Tamil who got a Bachelor of Engineering in Computer science with 87% from a one of the popular Tamil nadu college before an year, still cant get him a job because he is SL Tamil and lives in a camp.

    @ UppercuT : Its complicated you know. I always support India, maybe I was born in India. I started watching cricket after 1995, that period India always had bad days with SL in cricket : D))) My entire family will be cheering for SL, Im the odd man out. Even now when Rohit gets history runs in the ODI, I was rushing home to see the final minutes of the match, my entire family was watching some other channel as they dont want to see SL losing badly. I never hate SL team because of the past, its like you guys dont like Virat. Personally you SL like him but he scores against SL so you may not like. Its same for me to. Even now Im preparing a Blog post of whitewash you guys not going like, that’s how it is :D))))))

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