13 May 2014

Kavan Rambukwella reflects on ‘being Sri Lankan’*

He was a player, a coach, an administrator, a selector, a consultant and promoter.  That’s when it came to rugby in Sri Lanka.  His skills in all these spheres are widely recognized to be legendary.  What if Kavan Rambukwella was alive right now?  What if he could and did send a missive from the Great Beyond?  What would he have to say?  He would have a lot to say given the many issues that plague the game here in Sri Lanka.  But what if he was asked to speak about foreign players donning the Sri Lankan jersey?  Let’s try to figure out…

Well, back in the day, it was a matter of pride to wear the Sri Lankan jersey.  It was a matter of pride to give it our all out there on the rugger grounds.  Of course we wanted to win, who does not?  But size, strength and skill of opponent never intimidated us.  Defeat disappoints, always.  Still, if we played hard, we could take defeat with grace. 

Back in the day, the thought of importing players to do duty for the country never entered our minds.  Countries were countries. Citizens were citizens.  There were things that could be traded but these didn’t fall into that category. 

Countries are countries, citizens are citizens; the fundament difference between the two is that the former can’t move this side of annexure or redefining of boundaries, while the latter can.  People cross borders.  They take up residence in other countries and in time even become citizens of countries they are resident in.  Some have done this because they believe they have a better chance of making the national team in Country X as opposed to their land of birth.  That’s the exception.

Time passed and with the passing of time there was a discernible move to put price tag to everything under the sun.  In the world market that was thus created, things like nation and nationalism too came under the hammer, in more ways than one.  The strange thing is that nation and nationalism, even when they were bartered, was done in their very name.  If this is done in the name of development why not in the name of sport, one could ask. 

There’s something fundamentally wrong here.  It has to do with integrity.  It has to do with deception.  If we want to call a pile of dung a heap of gold, no one will stop us but the chances are that we won’t smell of some exquisite perfume.  Still, if we are convinced that national pride has nothing to do with citizenship we should come out and say it straight. It’s dishonest to field a team called ‘Sri Lanka’ made of foreign players and then saying ‘we are doing this for the glory of the country’.

Some countries have got around this by instituting qualification criteria.  For example, to represent national teams of certain countries one has to be a resident for a certain number of years.  Over the counter citizenship is not granted just because some sports body wants to salvage national pride by winning at all costs, including the import of sportsmen and sportswomen. 

The way things are going we could very well have a Sri Lanka rugby team sans a single player born in this island.  They may or may not bring us glory but outside the official record, it is unlikely that victory would make our chests swell with national pride.

Things change of course, but certain things do not get buried easily.  Here’s a story that might help put some sense into our rugby officials.  The could watch Ron Ichikawa’s ‘Tokyo Orimpikku’ a documentary on the defining moments of the 1964 Olympic Games.  They would be stunned that a man who came last in the 10,000m race was also featured in the documentary, i.e. among all the winners.  ‘The Last Man’ was a Sri Lankan.  R Karunananda was placed 47th out of 52 in the 5,000m race and started the 10,000m race with a bad cold and a considerably weakened body.  He ran.  He completed the race because he wanted his little daughter to be happy that her father didn’t give up.  He was among the leaders when the winner, Billy Mills of the USA breasted the tape.  That’s because Mills had lapped him 4 times by then.  When he continued the spectators were surprised. When he came around again they jeered.  The next time there was silence. When he finished he got a standing ovation.  Mills said the gold should have gone to Karu. 

Back in the day we played because we loved the sport.  We fought the good fight. We lost.  We did not come off second best as human beings.  In time to come Sri Lanka might do better than we did back then.  People might feel proud too.  But somewhere, someone, a true Sri Lankan, would not cheer the way that back in the day the spectators cheered and celebrated us, long after the long whistle.    

*In a parallel universe of course


Ajith Gunasekara said...

cool read | love the word > sans - typography lingo | !