30 October, 2020

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Forces Rugby: The More Things Change, The More They Remain The Same

By Emil van der Poorten –

Emil van der Poorten

(In case anyone looking at what transpired at the August 12th, 2012 rugby match between the Kandy Sports Club and the Sri Lanka Navy Team, here’s what I contributed to a Sunday newspaper on the 10th of July 2011, more than a year ago)

Less than a year ago, on the 1st of August 2010, the Sunday Leader published a column of mine that was titled, “A Damned Disgrace.”  It dealt with the travesty of a rugby match that was the Kandy Sports Club vs Sri Lanka Air Force semi-final held at Bogambara in Kandy.  More disgraceful even than what transpired on the rugby pitch was the response of Roshan Goonetilleke and the Sri Lanka Rugby Foothall Union’s Interim Committee of the time when it chose to totally ignore the facts and do nothing about it.

On the afternoon of Sunday the 3rd of July, 2011, several busloads of Sri Lanka Air Force supporters, all of them Airmen, arrived at the Kandy Sports Club grounds in Nittawela,  in two contingents, some in “civvies” and others in what I’d term “off-duty uniforms,” consisting of blue trousers, blue shirts of a different hue, and Air Force caps.

Most of those in “civvies” forced themselves into the grounds without buying tickets, intimidating those manning the gates.  They then proceeded to mix in with theKandysupporters who, waving flags and cheering in orthodox fashion, were only too evident.

The airmen in “regulation, off-duty garb” or whatever it is called, streamed in just before the game began and took over the pavilion at the far end of the Nittawela grounds.

The reason for this very curious “separation of forces,” as it were, and the total absence of even one senior member of the Air Force in the area reserved for visiting “dignitaries” and senior members of the Kandy Sports Club became evident as events unfolded.

The game began in very similar fashion to the semi-final of a year before, with the Kandy side settling down and establishing a rhythm that promised dominance.

Again, as happened in 2010, the Air Force team cut loose with the same brand of violence that they had visited upon their opponents the year before.

This was accompanied by some of the worst refereeing it has been my misfortune to see since I was first acquainted with the oval ball about three score years ago.  It was not merely bad: it was indescribable!

When the Kandy supporters, perennially-considered the most knowledgeable in Sri Lanka, voiced their disapproval, they were set upon by the Air Force personnel in mufti, joined by their uniformed brethren and armed Air Force personnel in camouflage uniforms.

It should be noted that the year before, a similar contingent of armed Air Force personnel in camouflage uniforms controlled the ENTIRE security function and presided over the assault and battery that was visited upon spectators after one of the Air Force players was ejected from the game for rough play at Bogambara.

History promised to repeat itself, this time with an even more sinister twist.

At the inception of the violence in the game, I observed a player, in front of the seating reserved for distinguished guests and senior members of the Kandy Sports Club, behaving in a manner reminiscent of people I’d had the unsolicited opportunity to observe after they had partaken of that most violence-inducing of substances: Crystal Methamphetamine.  I couldn’t help but remember his number given the fact that he was being both physically and verbally abusive to any Kandy player who strayed onto his path.

The level of violence among the spectators escalated to new heights in very short order, with determination of who was a Kandy supporter made easier by the fact that the Airmen had been injected in among the home team’s followers and had clearly identified them before the mayhem started!  Great planning and execution in a vicious cause!

Mixed in with the screams of those trying to escape the assaults being delivered by our “heroes” were what were distinctly identified by several of those in my group as gunshots!  This proved to be accurate when my cellphone rang a few minutes later and a friend who’d chosen not to attend the game asked me “what the hell I thought I was doing” exposing myself and my spouse to gunfire!  It transpired that a friend of his (and his child) had narrowly escaped being shot by an Air Force player who had, apparently, grabbed a T56 from one of his camouflage-wearing compatriots and fired, doing significant damage to the Kandy Sports Club broadcast booth but, very fortunately, not hitting a human target.  My friend’s informant, as might be expected, was beside himself recalling the fate that might have befallen him and/or his child.

This must certainly be a “first” for rugby in this country because, even with a succession of corrupt and incompetent “Interim Boards,” guns had not been considered the tools for determining rugby supremacy.

Ah, well, there’s always got to be a first time!

In retrospect, it is very obvious why the Air Force’s “shock troops” had arrived in two groups, differently garbed, though all in Air Force buses which somewhat eroded their efforts to disguise themselves completely.

It also explained the fact that not one Air Force officer, several of whom were only too evident at the post-game social at which alcoholic beverages were served,  chose to sit with their Kandy Sports Club hosts in seats reserved for them, during the game.

Give them credit, though, all three elements had polished the tactics they’d employed a year before to a significantly higher sheen!

What now?

The Kandy Sports Club will, presumably, follow the same ritual it did a year ago with, probably, the same result.

Then, the KSC wrote a formal letter of protest to the President of the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union.  This letter went unacknowledged for better than six months and when a response came, it didn’t come from the national rugby organization to whom the original communication was addressed.  It came from some demented member of the Air Force who appeared to suffer from (what was hoped!) was a terminal case of verbal diarrhoea, which, as might be expected, was comprised entirely of irrelevancies.!

But one shouldn’t be surprised, should one?  The President of that august sports body was then (suprise!) the head of the Sri Lankan Air Force!

And guess who the current head of that same body is?  (And we are not awarding a million rupee prize for the correct answer!)  The self-same Mr. Roshan Goonetilleke!

Given the manner in which Mr. G originally entered the Air Force, his proclivity for devastating areas designated as World Heritage Sites in pursuit of hedonistic endeavours and the fact that he still enjoys the ultimate in patronage, it may be foolhardy in the extreme to expect even an acknowledgement of the fact that shooting opponents with T56s is “just not done, old chap!”

There is one little fly in this Air Force ointment, however.  The little ballet of the player grabbing the T56 from his camouflage-garbed buddy and firing the weapon was captured on the video that the Swarnavahini television crew was shooting and was broadcast that night, notwithstanding the efforts of the culprits to beat up the TV crew and prevent the evidence being broadcast.  But even what might, in other circumstances, be considered incontrovertible proof could be summarily dispensed with in a culture where it only takes a pronouncement from on high to make the truth a fabricated lie!

In any event, those of us who count ourselves among the great unwashed, can but hope that life will go on without having to take an assault-rifle bullet at a rugby match, because we chose to support the “wrong” side!

Obviously, the danger specified in the last sentence of that piece of writing is still not past!

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Latest comments

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    Unfortunately, the ‘unwashed masses’ continue to support this govt. and it’s patronage of thugs and worse!

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    In the old days we used to attend ‘rugby encounters’ at the Longden Place grounds in Colombo.It was a pleasure to watch and hear the comments and shouts even from the fair amount of women spectaters.The matches were like “social” occasions.
    Now it appears that ‘thuggery’ by members of the forces predominates.
    These are signs of the times – we have a militarised nation and have to tolerate this type of behavior including what appears to be attempted gun-violence – by the ‘heros’ who carried out 5,000 bombing missions dropping thousands of bombs on combatants and non-combatants alike,from safe heights.
    In no other civilised country is there such behaviour by the military durig civic occasions.

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    Rugby is a game where there is physical contact. The prowess of one is displayed through sheer dint. Hence it is said it is a Rowdy Game played by Gentlemen. For that matter all sports should be played by gentlemen and not engaging Rowdies, but sadly not anymore. First and foremost, the game of Rugby has to be understood by the spectators in the first place for the game to be free of violence. In the days gone by, during the time of this writer playing for Kandy Sports, the scenario of players where the majority players were the cream in society. Matches were played with no quarter asked nor given and lasting friendships have been built between rival players. Both winning and losing was accepted with humility and no grudges carried off the field. Today’s culture of winning at any cost was unheard. Refrees were impartial without the present advanced technology and his word was final and more often than not a fair game was assured to the spectators.

    I remember the time I was in Kandy, I used to patronise the Motor Garage just above Nittawaela Grounds. There used to be a young robust lad just out of school who used to apprentice at this Motor Garage. He was from some school in the area and he had never played rugger but in the evenings he used to watch earnestly the Kandy Team practise. As time went by, when the Kandy team was short of players for practise he was asked to substitute and in no time he excelled in running with the ball and tackling that he found himself a place in the Kandy Sports Club. His Rugger armour was paid by the club and he went on to represent the Kandy Sports Club for a number of years thereafter. So the days he played at the Nittawela Grounds the arena was packed by the villagers around to see the boy perform. If he or any other team mate from the KSC was tackeled hard by an opponent, they were assured of stones pelting from the spectators as they did not understand the game, because his supporters thought that it was personal. There was a time the Colombo teams dreaded to play at Nittawala due to this stone throwing. However today the scenario has got worse due to the Politicisation of the game because of the involevement of the first family brats to whom as in politics they have to win hook or by crook. So when the great writer comes he has to write as to who won and not how the game was played or how the spectators were thrashed after the match.

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      Ayyo Gaming When will U Stop Twisting the Stories ??? It is so mean for you to say that Villages around Nittawela did not understand the game & they throw stones !!!

      Its a fact just like nowadays referees favor a team which has VVIP sons, During those old days Kandy crowd very often felt referees favor Colombo Clubs…

      Had you really played for Kandy you will certainly know better about locals !!!

      BTW which year you played for KSC & Which position ? (I wont ask if you know how many players you get in a Rugby team…Lol)

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        Emil represented the KSC in the early and the mid sixties and he Captained in ’65 I think. The spectators then comprised of the families of players of boys who had represented schools, who were playing Rugby at that time. Even if some of the spectators who came from the ordinery folk, they never got involved with violence of throwing stones as the representative players were not their family or friends. At that time not many scools had Rugby in their schools curriculum. So the Kandy spectators were a very orderly lot and knowledgeble of the game. There after many other schools taking upto Rugby and the inclusion of the players I mentioned before, started to draw many a spectator from the Kandy District and the situation changed towards late ’70s and ’80s. This is the Fact.

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    Gamini:
    Yours is, indeed, an experience that not many readers are likely to have shared.
    Kandy was always unique among ALL the towns hosting rugger clubs in Sri Lanka because except for Uva (Badulla)the vast majority of spectators were “ordinary” people, working people who came to watch and developed intense loyalty to the local club, a loyalty which has, seemingly, grown over the years. Also, the spectators at Nittawela are the most knowledgeable in Sri Lankan rugby.
    What is ironical about the violence that they have been subjected to recently by those trained in combat and paid out of the public purse, is that it is the armed forces of an alleged “people’s government” that is subjecting working people to this unprecedented violence.
    I believe that this aspect of the whole problem deserves a great deal more attention than it has been accorded up to now: the minions of a privileged family treating workers violently and with no respect whatsoever. Students of history will, I am sure, find many parallels if they go back a few hundred years to feudal times!

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    OH EMIL,
    COME ON , WHAT MAKES YOU THINK THAT THE NITTAWELA SPECTATORS ARE THE
    MOST KNOWLEDGEABLE IN RUGBY ? I ALMOST FORGOT YOU “PARACHUTED” INTO
    K.S.C AND YOU ARE ITS VICE PRESIDENT!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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      Ayman:
      It seems like the “ordinary” people of Kandy are precluded from being knowledgeable rugby fans. What does it take? An ability and educational level that only enables them to write in block capitals?
      Incidentally, you’ve used that “parachuted into KSC and are its Vice President” piece of you-know-what at least once before and you don’t seem to realise that uttering that fabrication is a dead giveaway and blows your “cover” irrespective of what pseudonym (or name)you use?
      By the way, multiple exclamation marks don’t really increase the dramatic impact of rubbish in any language. But then, I suppose that is “smart” for someone with the skills of a used-car-dealer.

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      Ayman, In fairness to Emil, it appears that you seem to belong to the younger generation to say that Emil has parachuted to the KSC. I believe the time Emil played for KSC, you would not have been in your father’s xxxxs even. It was truely great as Sports was not corrupt then and I still remember under Emil’s Captaincy, Clarence Senanayake,Bunny Stephen, T.B.Madugalle, Stanley Unambuwe, Gouder, Y.C. Chang, Michael Holmes, Perumal, Elhart, Halangoda and a few others playing enntertaining Rugby. So much for your knowledge on Rugby History.

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