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Protesters use cricket to voice opinion

cricket Updated: Jun 10, 2009 01:44 IST
Arjun Sen
Arjun Sen
Hindustan Times
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The noise inside Trent Bridge was deafening. As a famous victory drew closer, Sri Lankan supporters started dancing in the aisles, loudly cheering every run, bringing down the house with the hits to the fence.

Not all Sri Lankans at Nottingham were happy, though.

A group of 70-odd Sri Lankan Tamils were demanding the Sri Lankan team be banned from international cricket and sent back home from the World T20. The reason, it claimed, was the ‘gross violation of human rights’ by the Sri Lankan government in its fight against the LTTE.

This was not the first time they were voicing opposition. This same group was also seen outside Lord’s, where Sri Lanka had been playing a warm-up game.

“If Zimbabwe can be banned from cricket owing to its woeful human rights record, Sri Lanka should be too,” said Gawri, leading the protest.

“We want to get the message across to people.” And it seems the best way to do that is turn up at international sporting events. That a protest like this outside a World Cup venue will generate interest among people and TV crews is not hard to understand.

Arguably the easiest and sure-shot way of getting a message across all over the world is by showing up at an international sporting venue.

“We know that the only way people will learn about us and our plight is when they see us. And it is the best way to do that is by coming here,” said Gawri.

“When we were at Lord’s, the Sky TV cameras beamed our pictures all over the world, that is what we want.”

Using the medium of a major sporting event to get a message across is not a new phenomenon. Pro-Nazi and Fascist banners have been a rather common sight at football games in Spain and Italy. Cricket has seen this too, especially during the apartheid years that caused South Africa’s isolation, which ended in 1991. With the unrest in several cricketing nations — including India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe — the trend is again visible. The World T20 might only be 4 days old, but there have already been three such cases.

The Sri Lankans have already been at two games now, and the third instance came at the India-Pakistan game at the Oval.

Hours before the high-voltage clash, about three-four Pakistani fans started shouting slogans of ‘Azad Kashmir’. Though they were quickly asked to shut up, first by the other fans around them, and then, by the cops, their brief protest did not escape the cameras around. They had achieved what they had hoped to - airtime.

Sport and politics, it is often said, are inextricably linked. And if the recent happenings are anything to go by, it sure seems like a sound piece of judgement.