Sri Lanka police - a World Cup public relations disaster waiting to happen

By Trevor Chesterfield in Dambulla | June 27, 2010

Sri Lankan policemen talk to an English fan who ran across the playing field naked during a Test match against England at the Sinhalese Sports Club Stadium in Colombo, 09 December 2007. © AFP/Deshakalyan CHOWDHURY.

This is a timely warning to those in charge of Sri Lanka police. Get your public relations behaviour sorted out or face a World Cup disaster.

Eight months from now the island nation is to act as one of the three South Asian countries hosting the 2011 edition of the World Cup. As part of security arrangements, it means the local police force, involved in venue safety regulations have until then to brush up on their public relations act. This also includes their top brass, who should know better, but are among the major offenders.

If they don’t understand how to act, it will develop into a major disaster area and it is no use pointing fingers when it is too late and the nation’s ugly image of poor police behaviour is splashed around the headlines of the world. And this is what will happen.

Already there are enough examples of crass, arrogant behaviour by the bullies in khaki outside the precincts of Rangiri Dambulla Stadium to make any senior tourist board official trying to show off the nation’s ability to handle the public, cringe with embarrassment. Men with caps full of braid and sporting enough pips on their epaulets and fruit salad on their left breast trying to impress any visitor.

It is how they behave which tells its own story of whether they have earned the right to wear such paraphernalia or whether it is an ostentatious display and they are showing off their rank in a typically pretentious manner.

As any observant visitor will tell you, there are two types of security. The first involves efficient policing with good public relations and how police behave at major sports venues, where there are international events or the streets where public go peacefully about their business.

Those attending games are members of the public are not demonstrators: they have paid admission to watch cricket, or are attending the game or games for reputed news organisations representing the fourth estate and wear a name and ID tag that no security official can miss.

No one minds security, especially when you know there are fundamentalist fanatics around who would dearly love to massacre anyone who didn’t share their twisted logic and beliefs. The more body bags the happier they are. In such cases, it is how the behaviour of security and law enforcement is applied which reflects on those involved and the image of the country.

Polite, helpful and smiling behaviour gets a far better, co-operative response than having what looks to be the barrel of an Uzi or whatever weapon they happen to push in your face as if your desire to go and watch a game, and you are left with the feeling you are actually intruding.

This is the jackbooted, snarling aggressive, bullying and swaggering behaviour so reminiscent of the horrific days of apartheid South Africa. This is where such dehumanising laws subjugated many to worry about how they reacted to objectionable police or security behaviour.

And having spent 32 years in South Africa, seeing similar tactics applied by Sri Lanka Police creates the same putrid stench of fear among the locals, or in our case questioning the need for such fractious behaviour of how the rules of entry into the Dambulla stadium had suddenly changed without notice, despite clearance.

The World Cup will attract a large number of foreign tourists to watch the games, many from various countries where police forces are well behaved and more organised. The emerald isle will be staging a number of games at three venues, one in Colombo. After this latest uncalled for experience, it is with relief there are none scheduled for Dambulla, the cultural centre of the island where local senior police officials, instead of being helpful were rude, arrogant and all that was missing was the truncheon and jackboot.

If this is how Sri Lanka’s police and security are going to behave during next year’s World Cup, it will become a major public relations disaster. The country and police cannot afford a repeat of the incident where police last August closed the gates on spectators with legal tickets trying gain access to Premadasa Stadium where Sri Lanka were playing Pakistan in a 20/20 international and treated them as demonstrators.

The police then resorted inexcusable behaviour, exacerbating their actions by baton-charging the spectators, resulting in major public condemnation of such an unnecessary brutal incident and where women and children were also among the victims.

It took almost a month before D S de Silva, chairman of the government appointed ad-hoc (non-elected) body that masquerades under the name Sri Lanka Cricket, apologised for the uncalled for incident. Yet memories are still deeply etched of such appalling behaviour by a law enforcement body, which acted as with the cops in apartheid South Africa, above the law with impunity because they were dressed in khaki with smirks on their faces.

Senior police officials behaved in a similar arrogant manner as media personnel, using the same gate for entrance to the Rangiri Dambulla Stadium for the Asia Cup game they have used all week were rudely directed to another gate without adequate explanation because the officials involved could not speak coherent English.

If this how Sri Lanka police and others security are going to act during next year’s World Cup, it will turn into a public relations disaster for the island. Unlike the 2002 Champions Trophy when there were no security problems, certainly none involving the games or entrance to the two venues used, the current security has become officious and with a fatuous attitude.

Sri Lanka have recovered from 30 years of civil war, but the manner in which some security officials are going about their job, the feeling is that being a member of the public and fourth estate marks you as an enemy. The humiliation of their own people through such behavioural attitudes will not be tolerated by other South Asian visitors and foreigners visiting the country for the World Cup.

It was only inside Rangiri Dambulla Stadium where the policing was effective, efficient and performed with care and attention to the public and the media. It is the sort of example that those outside the venue who consider themselves as top brass could learn a lesson.

© Trevor Chesterfield/Island Cricket.

(For reasons of copyright, permission is required from the author and/or webmaster/editor of for publication).


Sach's picture
Member since:
25 December 2008
Last activity:
3 years 3 weeks

Good one Trevor, right to the point. It'll be wise of the officials to note these things and take necessary precautions because, I'd hate to say 'we told yo so'.

And as an added thought, I think it'd be much better to appoint Army officials to cricket matches if possible. From my experience and from what I've heard, Army officials are far more disciplined and professional than the retard police of ours.

Anonymous's picture

maybe those outside were pissed tht they were not on duty

Ravana's picture

Couldn't agree more ! Take last weekends Rugby in Kandy. A total shambles from the Police point of view. Resulting in Players and officials having to park their cars miles away from the stadium in Nittawela and walk to the ground due to Moronic Police Officers ( I mean Inspector and Sub -inspector ranks) "enforcing" the law in a totally unreasonable manner.

Crown fights after both games last weekend largely un-policed but scores of policemen seen watching the game from neighboring buildings without being in their duty stations.

Imagine what will happen during the perehera in Kandy (not to mention the world cup) if donkeys like this continue ?

Nish's picture
Member since:
9 April 2010
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8 years 12 weeks

Timely article Trevor ! . This only underscores the point that those who supposedly make laws and should therefore set an example to the general public are the worst offenders when it comes to breaking them . As someone hailing from a police background and with associations to the police for over 35 years through my family . I am appalled and thoroughly disgusted by the crass , overbearing attitude of the majority of today's police force . This is a reflection of how the behavioral aspects of our society has steadily gone downhill and reached a nadir and the buck lies solely with our so called political leaders !!!

dilaudid's picture

As most of you know that this kind of behavior is not accepted in Sri Lankan Society. Having,lived in Sri Lanka for no of years, I know when someone else do something like running naked in a field,especially a tourist,it gets talked quite a lot by people.However, I know this is not a big deal overseas.But,I think tourist should respect other cultures too and just behave like respectably.I not saying anyone is wrong or right,but something based on cultural difference.

Anonymous's picture

Very well explained, I can remember police mis behaviour back in the 70's during the big match season so no surprise that they are worse now! The example has to be set by senior officers and the force must become proffesional and law abiding and respect the public it serves-they seem to be conviced they serve the government in brutalising the public into submission with no regard to the law.
Please, the authorities must take steps to educate and inform the police about their role and responsibilities and to have a more public friendly attitude so the show case that is Sri Lanka can be seen in the right light not as some police state run by thugs. Ask Britain for help, the police here carry no weapons and in most cases have learnt to deal with violent drunk thugs wielding broken bottles so a few high spirited cricet fans should be no problem-no need for AK 47's just polite but firm action works 99% of the time.

Hilal's picture
Member since:
20 November 2008
Last activity:
11 hours 47 min

Oh gosh! You didn't read the article did you? This has nothing to do with a guy running naked on the field. That's just the photo caption from 2007.

Kelum's picture

Were there any complaints during the 1996 world cup? They did a good job then and I think they will do well this time too.

David's picture

@Kelum - how do you know there were no complaints? The game in Kandy against Kenya was a total shambles long before the start. Helf the people with tickets couldn't get in.
Whyat Trevor says here is how those manning the gates caused the problems not inside the venue. If you weren't at Dambulla, don't comment on such an issue. Anyway, 1996 was 14 years agi and a lot has changed since then. There is nothing to be smug about.
Were yiu atr Premadasa last year?

SMSD's picture
Member since:
20 December 2008
Last activity:
8 years 9 weeks

"Ask Britain for help" that has got to be the joke of the month. LOL. No, actually make that the joke of the year.

Like somebody posted here already, they did alright in 1996, I am sure they will do it again.

As with every other institution, there are some idiots in the SL Police force too, but to say that it's a public relations disaster waiting to happen is just condescending.

David's picture

@SMSD - when did you last go to a day/night game in Colombo at Premadasa? Or to any vennue where they have day/night cricket. Or are you one of those TV armchair types? The police were a joke at Premadasa last year and the result was games played to half-empty stadiums because of the security arrangements and SLC lost millions. Check the newspapers.
This was after the spectators were baton charged - as Chesterfield says, a point in the story that you all have overlooked.
It suggests, like others cokmmentung here, you also have read the headline the first few lines and not the bulk of the story. Take off your rose coloured spectacles - all of you. All too often, top police in Sri Lanka is a disaster area. Or do you not read the daily newspapers other than the government mouthpiece?
Foreigners are stopped and asked for their passports by police wanting a bribe. I have experience of this this more than once with friends in Colombo, the poluce can barely speak English. Unless their is a specific reason, none of the foreigners I am in contact with do shopping with a passport, most that I know use their driver's licence as a form of ID.

David's picture

It seems SMSD has a lot to say but doesn't like to respond when asked fair questions about when last they were at Premadasa, or any game in Colombo or Dambulla, even Kandsy.
Reading these comments of others, I don't think many go to day night games. There are a lot of Sri Lankans, like Indians and Pakistanis, who are TV watchers and not genuine followers. Police say a lot about security and then behave as if spectators are the enemies.

Anonymous's picture

smsd you really need to sit down and calm down, you are starting to believe in a lie that if repeated often enough becoming the truth.
The British People nor the establishment are against Sri Lanka-far from it-but it suits our politicians to portray them as such.
The British police truly do not go armed with AK47 threatening the general public-a tiny minority of them may fancy the idea but I have lived here a long time and armed thugs they are not.
We in Sri Lanka like to think we are special and some unique species-we are not-we are yet another developing nation whith a truly democratic establishment which is now going astray and destroying a very civilised society.
If we need to grow our economy and truly empower our people we need to showcase Sri Lanka in it's best light, not in it's worst light.
So the constructive suggestions should be heard and action should be taken to ensure the Matches are well attended and people enjoy the experience.
This is not an insult or a slight against Sri Lanka but a request from a well meaning son of Sri Lanka.-

David's picture

@Mathri - well said, friend. I have have been trying to advocate similar responsible reaction. Chesterfield states the case well enough and strongly. As he points out, he lived in South Africa in the days of apartheid. It is doubtful whether he would write anything of this nature unless supported by facts.
I find Chesterfield a forthright commentator and which is why there are those like Kelum and SMSD who are blinded by lies of the politician.

Yasitha's picture

Let's be totally honest with ourselves Sri Lankans. What he is saying is correct. We have time to prepare now if we really wanted to. Jamaican police too had special customer service training for WC 2007. Our cops are corrupt and downright rude. We need to work on it now.

Abdeen's picture

Valuable input from most of the comments. Though, I have to say the police these days are unusually polite. Months ago when they stop you at a check point they would address you by "Oye" but now they use "Sir" thats a new word for them!!! Who knows maybe signs of improvment. One thing needs to happen for sure, SLC needs to work closely with the police and they should let there officals stand at the gates not the police. The police should run the background security operation while SLC offcials should be the face of it. Good cop bad Cop!

SMSD's picture
Member since:
20 December 2008
Last activity:
8 years 9 weeks

Thank you David, I do apologise for not responding to your post earlier.I didn't think it was expected.

Unfortunately, my life doesn't revolve around responding to every poster here.

Let me put your mind at rest on the question of attending games at Premadasa Stadium:

I have attended over 70% of games at Premadasa Stadium, most in Dambulla & some in Galle in the last 24-36 months.Even if I am not at a game, usually, I am very much involved in what is going on with every Sri Lankan match for reasons very obvious to those who know me.

On my post, in no part I insisted that Sri Lankan police were blameless angels.

However,It was the idea of you wanting to get British Police helping Sri Lanka that tickled me pink. LOL.

SMSD's picture
Member since:
20 December 2008
Last activity:
8 years 9 weeks

Just as well British police don't carry Kalashnikovs heh? Look what happens when they are occasionally given guns to play with (i.e. Jean Chrales de Menezes, Jimmy Ashley).

On a serious note,

You are absolutely correct in saying "We in Sri Lanka like to think we are special and some unique species", it is very obvious from some comments from few here (including your good self sir) who got very excited because they think that Sri Lankan police is the only police force in the world that is corrupt and rude.

You obviously live in a different world to mine in the UK if you feel compelled to sing the praises of the British Police force.

By the way, all politicians (British and Sri Lankan) lie.

Anonymous's picture

SMSD if admiring the Police for being able to deal with the public Firmly and Politely without the help of a gun is praise then it is!
You may have reason to dislike the UK police-so do I-9 Speeding points at one time does not make me a fan-just slowed me down a bit!
I used to drink in pubs and go clubbing in a town centre till recently and have seen Violent drunk thugs behaving incredibly insanely still being dealt with by un armed cops-so I know it can be done.
My father in Law is an ex policeman in Sri Lanka- I have never seen him advocate violence or disrespectful behaviour.
Asking our police to be given training and guidance on how to deal with lots of overseas and local cricket fans during an oppertunity to showcase wonderful Sri Lanka should not be taken as a slight or an insult against Sri Lanka.
I wathed the Kandy Perehara from a street corner in 2008 along with several members of my family at a time of extreme security risks and was disgusted by a relatively senior officer of the police behaving like a bully to the point where one of his superiors asked him to move on whilst some Lady members of the forces carried out extremely sensitive searches of people and their belongings with a firm but polite attitude.It can be done
Let's just do it.

David's picture

I do not see anywhere in this column written by Chesterfield where he suggests UK police be used. And if you live in UK SMSD how can you go rushing home to Sri Lanka every tournament. My last visit was August and September last year and was caught up in the melee outside Premadasa. If you have not experienced crass police behaviour in Sri Lanka, or being stopped with tourists while in Galle Road near the hotels, and observe their rude behaviour, you are most fortunate.
He mentions too the apartheid police. I wonder if any of you have an idea what South Africa was like in those years.

SMSD's picture
Member since:
20 December 2008
Last activity:
8 years 9 weeks

David my dear, you seemed to have lost the plot, again!

Follow the thread carefully.

My initial chuckling respond was to the chap who said " we should ask British police for help".

What can I say, I am most fortunate. LOL.

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