16 April 2011.
Never underestimate sport’s ability to inspire. Certainly it also provides opportunity and entertainment. It is, too, an outlet for youthful energies that might otherwise be directed into less savoury activities. Now and then a noted sportsman stoops but it’s a small price to pay. Overwhelmingly sport takes the sting out of young males.
Inspiration, though, remains sport’s primary purpose. And it can take many forms, can show that a black man can succeed as captain of the West Indies, that a child from the backwaters can rise to lead India, a man with one eye can play Test cricket, an 18-year-old can still be playing brilliantly 21 years later and that people of different faiths, classes, colours can play and so live together.
Serving a purpose
Every day the forces of darkness suggest otherwise and every day sport proves them wrong – in that regard both the IPL and EPL serve a purpose. Of course sport is not perfect; let us not put anything besides perfection, least of all ourselves, but the good far outweighs the bad.
Such thoughts arise from the news arriving from Sri Lanka that Kumar Sangakkara has paid an unexpected trip to the troubled and neglected north of his country. During the week Sri Lanka’s outgoing captain visited St. Patrick’s College in Jaffna, spoke to the students and staff and mixed easily with everyone.
Naturally the school community was excited and the Rector, Rev. Fr. Jero Selvanayagam, thanked him for his gesture and indicated that it was a moment of high encouragement for all concerned.
Newspapers reported that Sangakkara was moved by the rapturous reception he was given. In a rousing speech he said: “It is high time we shed our differences and lived together as a family representing Mother Lanka. I would be most happy to see cricketers from the North and East playing in the national team and this will be a great symbol of unity in the country.”
If this is not greatness then none exists. Unifying figures are always more impressive than those intent on exploiting the holes in society. It is an action reminiscent of Mandela, a leader prepared to move beyond prejudice and posturing.
Mandela solved the agonised debates about national anthem and language by incorporating all of them. As a result South Africa’s anthem is a glorious mixture of tongues that reflects all sections of the country, including the supposedly dreaded Afrikaners. And the country has not one but 13 national languages. Meanwhile the Lankan anthem must be sung in Sinhalese.
Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene seemed to be under extreme, but baffling, pressure during the World Cup and on a couple of occasions the tension emerged in the form of uncharacteristic conduct. Subsequent events in Lankan cricket, not least the resignation of all major office holders on the playing side, confirm that they had much on their minds.
Now Sangakkara has risen above all the manipulations that made his task so much harder. His mission to the north was founded not so much on politics as idealism.
Plainly Sangakkara has a vision of a united country prepared to judge a man not by his colour or tribe or faith but by the content of his character. It is the vision of Martin Luther King. It is also the cornerstone of sport.