By Emil van der Poorten –
Like all those seeking to comment on what is emerging out of the cesspool that passed for governance until this country rid itself of the Rajapaksas, I have found myself having to indulge in superlatives of the wrong kind, the mildest of which are probably “ludicrous” or “bizarre.”
The recent, poorly written article/media release from Namal Rajapaksa, obviously not a G. L. Peiris production judging by its grammar and syntax, has our erstwhile (I hope) Crown Prince first directing his white charger towards those pointing to the positively outlandish conduct of members of his family other than himself and the man he expected to/was expected to succeed, H.M. Mahinda Rajapaksa. He proclaims from the rooftops that it is fair game to be critical of the erstwhile Monarch of Sri Lanka and his Heir Apparent but that it is not cricket to criticize the rest of his family.
Given the documented conduct of various members of the Rajapaksa family, both extended and immediate, I expect that comment is hardly necessary in that regard.
However, what I would like to take up today is the matter of the conduct of the Rajapaksa Triumvirate on the rugby field and all that flowed from that conduct. The reason for this is the conduct of yet another opportunist crosser-over who portrays himself as a defender of all that is noble in the field of services rugby.
I will come to Mr. Navin Dissanayake, Minister of some kind, in due course, but I make no apology for what might seem like a long lead-in to that narrative.
Namal Rajapaksa has proclaimed that his participation and that of his siblings in competitive rugby was driven purely and simply by love of the game and an overweening compulsion to promote it in Sri Lanka. I find that particularly interesting in the context of what I was witness to as a member of the Kandy Sports Club (KSC) on several occasions when its team met the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) in club competition.
On every occasion that the SLN played the KSC at Nittawela what should have been post-game celebrations ended up as monumental brawls. On one occasion, I was witness to the fact that men in uniforms of some description, described as “Namal Rajapaksa’s personal security,” led by the Personal Trainer to the Rajapaksa siblings, clambered up to the second level of the main stand, assaulting people willy-nilly with plastic chairs and, as they broke, with pieces thereof, because, allegedly, a small plastic water bottle had been thrown at Namal when he was entering the visitors’ dressing room at the end of the game (that the SLN had lost). Picture, if you will, the unerring marksmanship of whoever threw the missile into players, officials etc. all bunched together on their way into the visitors’ dressing room and finding the target, the Crown Prince! Of course the Presidential entourage which included Anarkali Akarsha, the star of movie and other enterprises, her mother, H.M Mahinda Rajapaksa and his Consort and a few political hangers-on had left the VIP row of seats to go into the post-match reception as guests of the KSC’s President and its primary Patron by the time this happened. The attack by the goons went on right around the wives of the President of the KSC and one of the Vice-Presidents who were waiting to leave the “VIP row” in the stadium once the human traffic bottleneck cleared. I have been provided video that more than adequately documents what was taking place. This doesn’t include footage of the chief cheer-leader of the KSC who usually dances and waves a KSC flag the colours of which are painted on his face. The reason for his absence from the video was that he was being hidden under a chair on which the wife of one of the VP’s of the KSC was sitting, cowering in fear of his life!
When the melee was over, three or four dozen KSC fans were hospitalized and a few Kandy fans were charged with being intoxicated! That was the kind of rugby culture that the Rajapaksa siblings were active participants in. And as they used to say in an old, old radio serial, “now for the rest of the story:”
As might be expected, there was a great deal of anger in Kandy at what had transpired and several spectators contacted the hierarchy of the KSC with a view to having “something done” about all of this.
The upshot of that agitation was that a meeting was convened of those who’d expressed dissatisfaction with the status quo and wanted something done to, at least, prevent a recurrence of this kind of totally unacceptable behavior by visiting goons brought in by the SLN to their rugby matches. I should add here that, on at least one occasion, the SLN paid the KSC directly for 5000 tickets for their personnel to attend matches at Nittawela. Part of our national “Defence Budget?”
I was invited to participate in the recording of written statements and I was aware of at least one individual who risked his very employment to provide a signed statement describing what had transpired.
The results of this inquiry was presented to the next General Committee Meeting of the KSC and it was unanimously decided by that august assembly that a formal complaint should be made to the International Rugby Board about the state of affairs prevailing in Sri Lankan rugby and requesting their intervention. I was delegated to prepare the letter of formal complaint, which I did.
Sri Lanka being Sri Lanka, I picked up the fact that the formal complaint to the IRB was being shelved and was, therefore, going nowhere.
When I raised the issue at the next General Committee Meeting I was informed, not to put a fine point on the matter, that the KSC’s “movers and shakers” had got what is colloquially known as a case of “cold feet” and had decided to shelve the whole business. The reason I was given was that going direct to the IRB was “not the right procedure.” On that day, I ended up as a minority of one in my belief that, if it was not the “right channel,” the IRB would tell us so and, probably, indicate what was the “right channel.” The fact that I was in a minority of one on that occasion is a badge of courage that I will carry proudly for the rest of my days!
This decision by the poo-bahs at the KSC should also be viewed in the context of it being one of the latter straws in a sequence of events that was preceded by an Air Force player discharging an assault weapon during a game, on the field of play. The President of the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union (SLRFU) at the time was Roshan Goonetilleke, then the recently-retired Air Force chief and Chief of Defence Staff and it was one of the more-poorly-kept secrets that he had had his term as President of the SLRFU extended on orders “from above.”
(As a side-bar, I wonder what happened to the inquiry into Mr. Goonetilleke’s holiday home in a part of the Knuckles range that is designated as an International Heritage site?)
A couple of things happened subsequent to this. Or should I say one of them, at least, didn’t happen subsequent to this?
The letter of complaint to the SLRFU about the firing of the weapon, backed up by the existence of video footage, was not so much as acknowledged and I believe that there was some kind of sneering, insulting comment about the complaint in the media by a man carrying the name of Baptist, who held office under Roshan Goonetilleke in the SLRFU. Not only was there video footage, I know that the empty shell casing from the assault weapon was picked up off the ground and handed to the police who did not so much as conduct anything resembling an inquiry into the matter. Remember the old, “My enemy’s enemy is my friend?” The KSC was the No. 1 enemy of the SLN and any of its enemies was deserving of any and all support! Obviously!
The final game of that particular season was the championship match played on the grounds of the Royal College Sports Complex. I have a distinct recollection of the events that transpired there and I will make no apology for describing them in some detail.
Contrary to the expectations of even the KSC supporters, their club dominated the SLN in the first half of the game during which the (Sri Lankan) Presidential entourage was ensconced with the afore-mentioned President of the SLRFU which was the hosting authority. The President of the club competing against the SLN for the championship (the KSC) was not allocated a seat in this august assembly and when invited, literally, up, declined to accept the afterthought. This was an interesting “protocol error,” given the fact that the person responsible for it was an erstwhile Forces chief and a clue for the “oversight” might well have been that he was openly cheering on the SLN team!
Anyway, at half-time, the President (of Sri Lanka) left his seat (without any fanfare) and I didn’t notice him returning until the second half was well on its way. What was beyond my experience in many years of playing and watching rugby was what followed: both teams returned to the field for the second half and then, for better than five minutes, had to await the arrival of the referee who appeared to have been “unavoidably delayed.”
When play ultimately resumed the complexion of the game changed completely with penalty after penalty being awarded against the KSC with the SLN narrowing the first half gap. Then, as the game was drawing to a close, the SLN was close to the KSC goal line. Video shows the referee about to award the ball to the KSC in a scrum or award a penalty to that team when the touch judge intervenes and speaks to the referee who then awards a penalty to the Navy, resulting in a Navy try.
What is relevant to this action on the part of the referee is the fact that there is video showing a player who was on the bench at the time and was not supposed to leave that bench according to the rules of rugby, speaking to the touch judge near the KSC goal line, many yards away from said bench. That worthy then speaks to the referee who makes the call referred to earlier. Follow my drift?
Do I have to name the player in question?
Despite all of this, the story had a happy ending because the referee appeared to be arithmetically-challenged due to which the KSC won the championship game by one point!
Of course, this wasn’t the end of that particular saga because the KSC dressing room was invaded by “security” who proceeded to beat up some of the Kandy players and jostled (to put it mildly) Kandy supporters, many of my vintage and female into the bargain, who had gone down to congratulate the victorious team. When I remonstrated with the Navy official with whom I had shared the pre-game comments for the TV broadcast, that senior navy officer intervened by getting Namal Rajapaksa to call off the thugs that had invaded the KSC dressing room. The SLN officer concerned told us that the miscreants were not “navy personnel.”
The most recent icing on this particular cake is Navin Dissanayake galloping off in defence of the Rajapaksa siblings who have apparently been “dis-invited” from participating in Army and SLN rugby. How gallant of yet another parachutist of convenience! I’d really like to know where his sense of sportsmanship resided when those whose wellbeing he is so concerned with now were visiting truly unprecedented mayhem on players unfortunate enough to provide opposition to teams on which they condescended to play? Perhaps, he’d like to tell us what he thinks of the manner in which probably Sri Lanka’s finest rugby player of recent times, Fazil Marija, sustained the injuries he did in a game against the Navy, resulting in his being carried off the field?
I know it used to be known as the “Uncle-Nephew-Party” at one time but given the fathers- and sons-in-law operation it has now become, it might be necessary to find a new nickname for the UNP!
In the meantime, perhaps Navin Dissanayake can find something a little more productive to do than run around playing Sir Galahad to the Bobbsey Triplets of Sri Lankan rugby. Ah, but then, he must be a real acquisition for the current government considering he spent so much more (personally valuable) time with the Mahinda Rajapaksa crew than did his turncoat father-in-law. They have one thing in common though – they came back singly, even though Karu Jayasuriya took eighteen or nineteen with him on his first journey.
Is this government ever going to learn that you don’t deal with massive corruption and violence by enlisting those whose primary intent appears to be to buy “insurance” with the very perpetrators of the unbelievable “governance” that the people of this country had to endure? These individuals had it good then, have it good now and appear to be ensuring that, in the event of a return to that dark age, they will still have it good.