Colombo Telegraph

Back To The Future; Rugby In The Time Of “Yahapalanaya”

By Emil van der Poorten

Emil van der Poorten

I made a particular effort to attend the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) vs Kandy Sports Club (KSC) game for a variety of reasons, chief of which was to see whether there had been a change in what has become a war rather than a rugby encounter and I use the word “war” literally rather than metaphorically!

The early indications were that, as that American master of the malapropism said, so many years ago, it was “déjà vu all over again.”

The stage appeared set when, despite being one of a relatively few current paid-up members of the KSC, I was not permitted access even up to the club gates (on the public road that goes past them!) to drop off my partner who has a serious heart condition that precludes walking any distance. The police manning the entry point told me that my vehicle was NOT among those permitted access to the area adjacent to the club. I am beginning to wonder whether I am now considered a “security risk” in some circles, a status now even the late-unlamented Rajapaksa Regime did not accord me (not to my knowledge anyway!)

Anyway, having dropped off my partner some considerable distance from the Club, on the promise that she would walk extra slowly to the club premises, I parked about two miles away and walked back to the grounds. If nothing else, even if not by choice, that provided a “constitutional” that I might not otherwise have had that afternoon!

Coming events seemed to cast their (previous) shadows when I observed scores of SLN personnel along the road, armed with assault rifles. Also, while I don’t know whether the SLN had purchased, literally, thousands of tickets for their personnel, at this match as they have done in the past, a part of the “parking problem” was the number of buses bearing SLN licence- and private-plates parked along the roads serving the Nittawela grounds of the KSC. In case there is any doubt on that score, no Kandy supporters use charter buses to get to the grounds of the Club they support, the vast majority simply trudge up the hill!

When I arrived in the Members’ seating area of the pavilion, I found that my partner had succeeded in persuading a couple of non-members to give up their seats to a couple of septuagenarians who had paid an annual membership fee for the privilege of watching a few rugby matches every year. I was also somewhat bemused to see, seated in one of the better seats in that very enclosure a lady who was, until relatively recently a member of one of the “ruling Kandyan families” that is reported to be in the process of participating in a dynastic coming-together. It does seem that ANY association with the “right” people, no matter how temporary, brings with it certain privileges not available to those who go the orthodox route of paying their dues!

Anyway, the rugby game itself was closely contested and the SLN eked out a one-point win which proved to be a Pyrrhic victory because, it wasn’t enough to give them the championship the complex rules of which saw the KSC as the 2015 Champions. One of the bright spots of the afternoon was the absence, compared to matches past, of violent or dangerous play and a referee who did not appear to be “under orders” of any kind!

Once the stage was set up for the distribution of the awards and trophy, with the usual bellowing by an announcer who believed in the superiority of volume over clarity, we were treated to another dose of déjà vu.

At this point, rather than over-use the word “bizarre” I’d like to replace it with the more appropriate “sinister” for what follows.

Not even during the playing days of the Rajapaksa Crown Princes on the SLN team had we seen the kind of armed presence on public access roads around the Nittawela grounds that we saw on March 15th. Now, we had a sailor in uniform, armed with an assault rifle on the stage where the presentation was to be made! This was certainly another “first” for The Debacle of Asia in the matter of an event celebrating a national sports championship. There were enough cameras flashing and video being shot to prove this beyond the semblance of a doubt. And given the presence of Very Very Senior SLN personnel throughout this bizarre sequence of events, there can be little doubt that all of it had their seal of approval, not to mention that of the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union and the Kandy Sports Club’s notoriously supine “leaders.”

You want a bit of icing on this particular cake? The trophy that was presented was courtesy of Dialog, the Telco, and doing so, front and centre, literally, was no less that Hans Wijesuriya, the man under whose watch, this very publication, Colombo Telegraph (CT) and several other websites, were blocked, preventing every Sri Lankan’s right to information. I would suggest that this gentleman’s time could have been more appropriately spent in explaining to the Criminal Investigation Department of this country the particular democratic practice he was applying by presiding over the blocking of such as CT rather than being the cynosure of all eyes at a national sporting event!

On the other hand, I suppose that this could be considered simple proof, if such proof is needed, that it pays handsomely to act in support of a violent and corrupt government with no risk whatsoever of any so-called subsequent “reformers” ensuring that the law and order they claimed to champion is applied against those who prevented the citizens of this country from enjoying their elementary democratic rights.

And for the seal of (current) government approval, if one were needed, you had the recently-minted President of the United National Party who is also the financial Godfather of the KSC as everyone knows, as an active participant in all of this, with customary smile and bonhomie!

Does anyone need to have the irony of all this pointed out to them? Or is it simply yet another instance of what several of us keep pointing out: that the current lot, claiming to rescue us from the most corrupt and violent regime this nation has ever experienced, are no better than those they replaced? Is this simply farce, Sri Lankan style, or a Greek Tragedy being played out on an Asian stage?

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