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Boycotting Sri Lanka is not cricket

By Stuart Rees - posted Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Sri Lanka President Rajapaksa tolerates no criticism from journalists and uses his national cricket players as ambassadors to promote the impression that all is well, even though he and members of his family run a dictatorship comparable to the one crafted by another political bully boy Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. That country's cricket team was boycotted by Australia.

On January 3rd, hurrying Sydney cricket spectators also told the boycott protesters, 'Don't politicize sport.' Ironically they identified a key feature of the oppression in Sri Lanka – the direct connection between sport and politics. Team selection needs the approval of the Minister of Sport whose portfolio should really be called the Ministry of Politics in Sport. Other information contained in the boycott fliers offered to spectators identified former captain Sanath Jayasuriya as a Government MP and another former captain Arjuna Ranatunga as a previous MP in Rajapaksa's government.

The response of Sydney cricket fans to this small scale protest about human rights abuses in Sri Lanka could reflect our naivety in thinking that questions and leaflets might influence anyone preoccupied with cricket. At best the presence of protesters was treated as an uncomfortable inconvenience, interfering with pleasure to be experienced over a national sporting occasion. At worst it provoked aggressive responses to information about serious and well publicized human rights abuses.


The 'don't know, don't want to know' attitude suggests a need for a sustained public information campaign. That is in prospect with plans for more Boycott Sri Lanka protests in Sydney and Melbourne before the beginning of January's one day matches. These protests will be followed by a Tamil Freedom Ride to Adelaide on Saturday January 12 th, stopping for rallies in Ballarat, Horsham and Bordertown.

The apparently deep seated attitude ' fuck human rights', 'don't challenge my way of thinking', is more troubling. It suggests a strain of uncaring jingoism in some parts of the Australian psyche and culture; and it's ugly that a culture allegedly concerned with mateship retains a self centred, self preoccupied hub: it's only our mates we're concerned about. It is also disturbing that over the past few years, such a brawny, macho way of behaving has been nurtured by the derision used by talk back radio hosts and by a few of the politicians whom they support.

A colleague at the protest, a seasoned campaigner for human rights, who represented Labor for Refugees, assured me that, leaving aside the angry responses, the stony faced indifference of cricket supporters was not surprising as 'Cricket is more of a conservative, establishment game and nothing should get in its way.' She reassured me, 'I remember protesting against the Springbok rugby tour. If it's any consolation, the football supporters are much more aggressive than those attending the cricket.'

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About the Author

Stuart Rees is Professor Emeritus of the University of Sydney and Founder 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.

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