Lankans in IPL: Why sports should not be delinked from politics

Last Updated: Mon, Apr 01, 2013 07:25 hrs

​With only a few days left to go for the start of the IPL, the uncertainty over Sri Lankan cricketers playing in Tamil Nadu has finally been resolved. The state’s Chief Minister Jayalalithaa is staying firm that all relations with Sri Lanka will be scaled down, and so, some of the biggest names in cricket will not be seen in Chepauk. Not even Sri Lankan umpires and other officials, who are supposed to remain neutral and divorced from national identity, will be allowed to officiate at the stadium.

There are those who believe sport should not be mixed up in politics. However, diplomacy – or the lack thereof – through sport provides a near-equivalent alternative to war and sanctions. There have been several instances of this in the past, and not just in India. Of course, cricket is the first victim of souring relations between India and Pakistan, and now the standoff has spread to hockey.

The echoes of national sentiment are felt keenly in other sports too. An England-Argentina football match can’t, even today, be delinked from memories of the Malvinas/Falklands battle of 1982. The celebrations following Senegal’s 1-0 upset of France in the 2002 World Cup made it clear that the match was seen as Senegal’s revenge against a country that had ruled it for centuries. The protests by Tibetan monks against the Chinese occupation of their land found resonance across the world in the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

I’m of the opinion that sports cannot – and should not – be delinked from politics. For one, it keeps up sustained pressure on the government of the country whose players are unwelcome in a particular country or region. Of course, everyone understands that the players individually have nothing to do with the decisions of their government. However, they represent the same nation.

As a corollary to this, one may ask whether diplomatic ties should carry over to the arts as well. No. The pragmatic reason is that the arts – writing, music, theatre – don’t rouse the same level of passion that sport does, and certainly not on the same scale.

But more importantly, artistes don’t represent their countries in the sense that sportsmen do. I’m not referring only to the fact that the national anthem is not played when a writer or performer picks up an award – artistes are often persecuted in their countries, and by their countries, for daring to speak against the government’s actions. And they are almost always critical of the atrocities inflicted by their countries on others, or on people in parts of their territory.

Surely no Indian artiste can condone the government’s apathy, and in some cases brutality, in Kashmir and the Northeast; no Pakistani artiste can condone military action in Balochistan; no American writer can condone the US’s actions in Iraq and FATA; and so on. If they do, they will be shunned within their own circles.

All writing, all art, is necessarily political. It speaks largely to a politically-aware audience, with strong opinions, almost always tending to the liberal.

However, sport is not political. And by forcing a link between the two fields – sports and politics – we reach out to a vast audience. Sport is about acceptance. Is it acceptable for representatives of a particular country to be received as guests when that country refuses to take responsibility for the safety of its own citizens?

To ban Sri Lankan players from a single stadium in the country will not have much of an impact on the IPL, at least in the initial stages. But as a gesture, it is a firm one, a humiliating one, a gesture that shows Sri Lanka that there are strong sentiments against its attitude to tackling war crimes and its treatment of Tamil fishermen, and that these sentiments will spill over to other aspects of relations between the two countries. How Sri Lanka will respond to this remains to be seen. But we have demanded a response, and that’s something.

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The author is a writer based in Chennai.

She blogs at

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