Are Sri Lankan Tamil cricketers discriminated against?

By Theviyanthan Krishnamohan | November 15, 2014

Photo
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

Comments

UppercuT's picture
Member since:
19 October 2011
Last activity:
2 years 5 weeks

Hands down, one of the very best articles I have come across on IC. It;s covered from every angle possible and NO BS.

and regarding the topic; Jaffna is the place to look for bowlers who bowls at 150+kph consistently.Hope it happens in the near future.

Anonymous's picture

lovely article

Siri Sirisena's picture

A powerful, relevant, and valid assessment of this matter. Tamils have contributed a great deal to Cricket in Sri Lanka, as they have also done in many other areas. I look forward to the renaissance of schools cricket in the North and East.There is gold there.

Pratheep's picture

Nice one.

Lalindra De Silva's picture
Member since:
14 August 2013
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1 week 4 days

Great Article with details to ponder..!
Hope this article opens some eyes of the SLC & Sports Ministry and actions are taken so that more Tamils could engage in this Sport and to create lasting harmony among ethnicities in Sri Lanka.

(Last edited by Lalindra De Silva on November 16, 2014 - 00:35)
Sakthivel's picture
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28 March 2012
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41 weeks 2 days

கொழும்புவில் உக்காந்து காபி குடிபவனுக்கு எப்படி தெரியும் வடக்கே இருபன்வனின் வலி. முரளியோ, தேவியோ பட்டாள் தான் தெரியும் எங்கள் வலி. எம் மக்கள் இன்னும் அப்படிதான் வாழ்கிறார்கள், இப்படி பூசி முழுகி யாரை நல்வர்கள் என்று சொல்ல வருகிறாய் தம்பி, இல்லை எம் மக்கள் சந்தோசமாக தான் இருக்கிறார்கள் ஆனால் கிரிக்கெட் விளையாட வருவது இல்லை என்று பிதற்றுகிறாயா. அகதியாய் தமிழ்நாட்டிலும் மற்றும் இடங்களிலும் இருக்கும் எம் மக்கள் கிரிக்கெட்டில் இலங்கைக்கு தான் ஆரவாரம் செய்கிறாகள் அனால் கிரிக்கெட்டை விட வாழ்க்கை தான் முக்கியம். இதை விட என்ன வேண்டும் எங்களை சிறுமை படுத்த, எதிரியின் துப்பாக்கியை விட சகோதரனின் பேனா வலிகிறது.

Narendra KV's picture

This situation is not unique about Sri Lanka and is the same in Karnataka and Bangalore. Malleswaram and Basavanagudi were two pillars that contributed talent continuously to the state cricket and there were intense rivalries between the two sides, both on and off the pitch. Rivalries were intense between two Malleswaram teams itself, but everyone got together if the match was against the other club. St. Josephs, Baldwins and National HS contributed a bulk of talent in school cricket and player like me representing other schools were discriminated and made fun off during practice and in matches. The rivalries between Iyers and Iyengars in Madras is no less intense. Things change when the Boards make an effort to move the talent baskets outside the conventional cricketing hubs. That is what the Lankan Board must do.

Byron Raj's picture
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6 August 2012
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Thivi, thanks for putting it out there. But no matter how hard we try there will always be people out there (Tamils) who think it's a birthright being a Tamil that they should support India. And there are others who think it's a prerequisite being aTamil we should support India. I am still trying to understand that logic?

On the other hand there are people who try to pigeonhole and Stereotype with the notion all Tamils are anti Srilankan who loathe thier country. Even recently there was an article written by someone here who tried to expose Angelo Mathews origin as a Tamil..as we didn't know? I wasn't sure why and what was his motivation to write something about a player's heritage. This was as soon as Angelo was named as the captain. I am not really sure what does that got to do being a Captain of the team which he rightfully earned. I am still waiting for the day when he is going to use this as an argument when Angelo fails as a captain.

I would go even further with anecdotal events which I encountered in my personal life. I met this Tamil guy who is in the medical profession who is to spend more time in his prayer room when Srilankan was playing obviously praying for a Srilankan win. I never asked him.. but I was told by his roommate. I know Tamils who doesn't know any other way but support Srilankan team to the hilt. I was at MCG during the final 1992,World Cup final when a Srilankan Muslim was holding a placard which said" 1992 Pakistan World Champions ..1996 Srilanka World Champions".

I would even go further in naming so many other Tamil speaking cricketers who made our nation proud. Who can ever forge Tamil speaking dual international Uvaisul Karnain who made a dream debut against New Zealand at Moratuwa. I still remember that day he only made 28 runs with his usual style knocking Kiwis out of the park .. but in the process made our commentator loose his cool and utter "Ammata Udu thava six ekak" Then we had K. Sriparam & Lakshman Aloysius who represented Srilanka in under 19 level. I believe Siriparam was lost to Srilanka Cricket.. because he is such a talented cricketer.. but also an excellent athlete.. And then we had others like Rajiv Benedict, Anton Benedict, Dayalan Sellamuttu. R.. Naguleswaran, K.M. Shanthikumar who was in the Srilankan pool.

I hope people who like to use the racial rhetoric to push thier own agendas understand using the same brush to portray all Tamil speaking Srilankans as divisive and anti Srilankan is a ridiculous argument. There is majority of Tamils who bleed when we loose and celebrate like no tomorrow like any other Srilankan because Cricket is the only thing which unites us. Cricket is just not just a game...it's something which unites. every Srilankan regardless of their race or religion.

Thivi's picture
Member since:
25 September 2012
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40 weeks 3 days

@Bryon: As a Tamil adage says, it is tough straightening a dog's tail. However much, we speak about being Sri Lankans, those already filled cups will never budge.
@Sakthivel: சென்னையில் இருந்து "சாயா" குடிப்பவனை விட கொழும்பிலிருந்து கோப்பி குடிப்பவனுக்கு இலங்கை பற்றியும், இலங்கைத் தமிழர் பற்றியும் சற்று அதிகமாகவே தெரியும். "எங்கள் மக்கள் இன்னும் இப்பிடி தான் வாழ்கிறார்கள்". எவ்வாறு வாழ்கிறார்கள் என்று கூற முடியுமா?

மேலும், முரளி என இலங்கையில் இருக்கும் அனைவரும் ஏதோ ஒரு வகையில் இனப் பிரச்சினையால் பாதிக்கப்பட்டவர்கள் தான். முரளி இலங்கையில் இனக்க்கல்வரங்களின் பொழுது பெரிதளவில் பாதிக்கப்பட்டவர். யுத்தம் என்று ஒன்று வந்தால் அகதிகள் உருவாக தான் செய்வார்கள். நடந்தது யாரின் பிழை என்பதை ஆராய்வதை விட, இனி அந்த பிழை ஏடற்படமால் பார்த்துக் கொள்வதே சாலச் சிறந்தது.

நான் இங்கு எதையும் பூசி மெழுக முயற்சிக்கவில்லை. எனக்கு நடந்ததை, என் சகாக்களுக்கு நடந்ததையே நான் இங்கு எழுதி உள்ளேன். எமது கிரிக்கெட் கனவுக்கு முட்டு கட்டையாக இருப்பது எமது சமூக அமைப்பே.

யுத்தத்தின் கோரம் தனை அண்ணன் அறிந்து இருக்க வாய்ப்பில்லை என நினைக்கிறேன். ஏதாவது பேருந்தில் ஏறி, இதில் குண்டு இருக்கிறதா இல்லையா? வெடிக்குமோ, இல்லையொ என அஞ்சி அஞ்சி பயணித்ததுண்டா?

இலங்கையில் இன்று யுத்தம் இல்லை. அச்சம் இன்றி நித்தமும் இலங்கை முழுதும் உலா வரலாம். சிங்களவனுக்கு தமிழ் நாட்டில் இல்லா பாதுகாப்பு இன்று தமிழனுக்கு இலங்கை முழுதும் இருக்கின்றது.

சிங்களவர்களை, எதிரி எதிரி என கூக்குரலிடுகிரீர்களே, அந்த எதிரி எத்தனை ஈழத் தமிழனது உயிர் காத்தான் தெரியுமா? வெறும் சில ராணுவத்தினர் செய்த தவறிற்காகவும், அரசியல் வாதிகளின் அற்பமான (தமிழ் நாட்டு அரசியல் வாதிகள் அளவு அற்பமல்ல) செயடற்பாட்டாலும், ஒட்டு மொத்த சிங்களவர்களையும் எதிரிகள் எனக் கூறுவது முட்டாள் தனம்.

சங்காவின் எம்.சீ.சீ. உரையை சற்று கேளுங்கள், தமிழர் உயிர் காத்த சிங்களவர் பற்றி அதில் கூறியிருப்பார். முரளியின் பேட்டிகளை கேட்டு பாருங்கள், அவர் உயிர் காத்த சிங்களவர் பற்றி அவர் கூரியிருப்பார்.

உறவுகள், உறவுகள் என்று சொல்கிறீர்களே, அந்த உறவுக்காக யுத்தத்தின் பொழுது என்ன செய்தீர்கள்? இன்று வடக்கில் கிரிக்கெட் வளர்வதுக்கும், சிறுவர்கள் பள்ளி செல்வத்துக்கும் சங்கா முன்னெடுத்துள்ள நடவடிக்கைகள் பற்றி நீங்கள் அறிவீர்களா?

சற்று யாழ் சென்று பாருங்கள். குடியும் போதையும் தலை விரித்தாடும்! பதினாறு வயதுப்ப் பெண் கர்ப்பம் அடைகிறாள். திருமணமான பெண் கள்ளக் காதலனுடன் ஓட்டம் எடுக்கின்றாள்.

இது மட்டுமல்லாது கோலிவுட் ஸ்டைலில் அயுதக் கலாசாரம் வேறு! பிரேசிலில் இருந்து வாட்கள் இறக்கப்ப் பட்டு காண்பவன் மீதெல்லாம் பாய்ச்சப்படுகிறது! இது தான் வடக்கே இருப்பவனின் வலியா?

இந்திய தமிழ் சேனல்களை பார்பதனால் அவர்கள் செய்யும் பொய் பிரச்சாரம் பற்றி நான் அறிவேன். அங்கு நீங்கள் காண்பது வேறு, இங்கு நடப்பது வேறு.

UppercuT's picture
Member since:
19 October 2011
Last activity:
2 years 5 weeks

Good on ya @Thivi, @Byron Raj... Kudos to both of u for standing up for SL.

Admitting that current affairs are not ideal at the moment in SL (30 years of havoc leaves a mark), hopefully it will get better in yeasr to come :)

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