In answer to the comment 'Stand up for Human Rights in Sri Lanka', a young man wearing a sombrero and an Australian flag draped around his shoulders, responded, 'Fuck human rights.'
It was 10:05 am on Thursday January 3rd, a hot blue sky day, perfect for the start of the Australia v. Sri Lanka Test Match. In the company of about thirty others, on a pathway some distance from the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG), I was attempting to hand out leaflets which said, ' Don't Let Cricket Hide Genocide, Boycott Sri Lanka.'
The "fuck human rights" man was followed by other expletives from a few others, so several of the boycott protesters changed tack and tried to be informative, '40,000 Tamils slaughtered, do you care ?' A middle aged couple hurried by, looked straight ahead but answered 'No we don't care, we're going to the cricket.'
Others strode along stony faced, some apparently dismayed by the sight of the protest, some obviously embarrassed at the thought that if they took our pamphlets they might be filmed by the accompanying television cameramen.
To add to the '40,000 slaughtered' plea, I tried, 'Journalists have disappeared and others have been killed for criticizing the Sri Lankan Government.' Most people stared ahead and kept on walking but a large, swarthy man in short shorts responded ,'That's bullshit' and a few meters behind a smaller man said, 'Don't support you mate.'
A more understandable response came from groups of young men daubed in green and yellow, some wearing wigs of curled hair in the same colours. They seemed to think the protesters were supporters of the Sri Lankan team, a perception which provoked their patriotic 'Ossie, Ossie Ossie, Oi, Oi, Oi.'
With a few exceptions most cricket followers did not seem to want to know about the lives of Sri Lankan Tamils, let alone about any past slaughter.
The task of informing the public had been made more difficult when security guards representing the Moore Park Trust forbade the erection of placards outside a main entrance to the ground which they said was SCG Trust Land. The leaders of the protest were directed to move to a pathway 400 metres distant.
This official Sydney reaction, ' Don't let human rights interfere with cricket' contrasted with the response of officialdom at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) on the opening of the Boxing Day Test when a similar Boycott Sri Lanka protest was permitted at a prominent entrance to the hallowed MCG. There are no regulations about political demonstrations outside the MCG.
That Melbournites might be more sympathetic than Sydneysiders towards protests against the appearance of the Sri Lanka team, could be implied from an Age poll taken on the day after the Boxing Day test . A sample of 650 readers of that newspaper were asked ' Should Sri Lanka be banned from world cricket?' 66 per cent said yes. 34 per cent said no.
The case for boycotting Sri Lanka was listed on pamphlets taken by only a handful of people streaming towards the SCG. At least that small number could have read that the UN has called for a war crimes investigation of the Sri Lankan government over the murder of 40,000 innocent Tamil civilians, that the persecution of Tamils continues and largely explains the numbers of Tamils seeking asylum in Australia.
Former Sydney Morning Herald cricket writer, the late Peter Roebuck, wrote that a TV exposé of the execution, rape and abuse of Tamils had 'provoked deep consternation' among Australian cricketers. A heading in the London Guardian said, 'A Sri Lankan Scandal; Cricket and the Killing Fields.'
Stuart Rees is Professor Emeritus of the University of Sydney and Chair of the Sydney Peace Foundation. He is the former Director of the Sydney Peace Foundation (1998-2011) and of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (1988-2008), and a Professor of Social Work (1978-2000) at the University of Sydney.