Crisis-hit Sri Lanka manages to keep sport going
Indian tennis player Digvijay Pratap Singh talks of long queues of vehicles waiting for fuel, the commodity most scarce as the island grapples an economic and political crisis
A day before Indian tennis pro Digvijay Pratap Singh was to fly to Colombo for an International Tennis Federation (ITF) tournament that started on Monday, he received a call from his friend there. “He told me he saw tear gas being burst just around where he was,” Singh said.
The 22-year-old from Jhajjar, Haryana had already watched dramatic visuals on TV of Sri Lankan protesters flocking in large numbers and seizing the presidential residence—taking a dip in the pool, flexing muscles in the gym and all that. “I have never seen anything like that,” he said.
Despite the protests and upheaval in Sri Lanka, which is battling an unprecedented political and economic crisis, ITF assured the players the country was safe. Singh, along with a bunch of other Indian players, then decided to play back-to-back $15,000 ITF M15 Futures tournaments in Colombo. The first event began on the Sri Lanka Tennis Association’s clay courts.
Landing in Colombo ahead of the event, Singh was taken aback. “I saw the military everywhere; army personnel in almost every street corner, dozens of them at prominent locations and important buildings,” the India No 9, and world No 781, said. “At night, street lights around my area are turned off because of power shortage. The people where I am staying are aware of that, so they keep their own lights on for some part of the night.”
Despite challenges within Sri Lanka, sport has continued. The Sri Lanka-Australia cricket series never stopped even though protesters swarmed the Galle stadium during the second Test. The hosts are currently playing Pakistan in the first Test at the venue. However, international cricket teams are afforded every facility and care, not the same for tennis pros in lower rung ITF circuits.
For starters, they have to find accommodation. For the twin events in Colombo the ITF, Singh said, “suggested we stay at the official hotels”. There were two, and Singh was lucky to find a room in the cheaper one near the tournament venue.
That solved the problem of daily transport, for fuel is in short supply and prices are sky high. The only cab Singh took was from the airport to his hotel, a ride costing $40 (approx. 14,375 Sri Lankan rupees). “The guy who got me from the airport said they sometimes have to park their cars for 2-4 days at the gas station for a refill. That’s the worst thing I have seen here so far: the large queues for fuel. Cars, bikes and autos are simply parked, waiting in lines which run for hundreds of metres. It is insane.”
The cost of essentials and food items has also skyrocketed. Singh has to shell out between 2,000-2,500 Lankan rupees for a decent breakfast. “Which is not bad if you convert it to Indian rupees,” he said. “But what’s actually really expensive here right now is taxis and autos. Luckily I don’t have to worry about that.”
Despite the recent tough times, Singh, who made the final of the ITF M15 in Vietnam last month, said the buzz of excitement was very much there among the locals organising the event.
“I’ve also seen some kids come here and play in the evening,” he said.
A few Sri Lankan players have been handed wild cards. Singh practiced and interacted with some of them. “They know their country is struggling. But they also realise they can do little about it except hope for things to turn for the better soon.”