Rajpal's Column

1st October 2000

Sports theatre and politics, a postcript

By Rajpal Abeynayake
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Eric Hobsowm explains in his acclaimed treatise on civilizations that sport is the outlet for aggression among modern nations. National identities he writes, are re - asserted in the playing fields.

Susanthika Jayasinghe's bronze at the Olympics has let off a "damned be politicians'' reaction in an election crazed nation. Some lounge lizard academics, Ph D's and parrots from the US recently sought to argue that Sri Lanka's cricket success was a nationalist pursuit, and therefore somehow negative. But, these guys should have been at the Olympics. And read Hobsowm too…

Sunsanthika Jayasinghe's Olympic win had the correct amount of the bizarre rubbed off on to it, because after the win, she told pressmen " find me another country.'' Pressmen, who came to listen to Marion Jones, ended up listening to Susanthika who regaled the medal - jaded Olympic press corps with a story of sexual harassment and a Minister who was on the make. But such theatre seemed to accentuate the fact that nationalism and sport are symbiotic, as Hobsowm explained. In India for instance, there is one bronze medal from the 2000 Olympics for one billion people. ( Kandam Malleshwari in weightlifting….)

Malleshwari's story after her bronze, here in Delhi, was similar to Susanthika's, except that she blamed the press more than sports officials. The press had collectively jeered her as a beer guzzling has – been. 

The media wanted her taken off the Olympic team, but sport officials gave her a last shot at a medal. Malleshwari delivered the only medal for India in the games, and Delhi ( and probably the rest of India) went into delirium. 

Andhra Pradesh and the central government minister's in unison delivered gifts at her doorstep, amounting to lakhs of Indian rupees, and the Times of India and other papers of that class led with the story. One bronze could do that to an Indian press, which is usually looking for political scandal or stirring up trouble for one Mr. Vajpayee.

All those who were of the opinion previously that the Olympic fever was for the most part buffoonery, seemed to change their minds fast, and become more nationalistic. ( More even than when India gets battered in a Pakistani backed insurgency in Kashmir. That's the Indian press. No looking for corruption in the forces when it comes to war with Pakistan. It's holy and the patriotic fervor is of a cloying unctuous kind….)

The Sri Lankan press is hardly rooting for Susanthika in comparison, even though the Susanthika story will forever be the favourite underdog story in this country for the next four decades at least. But, back to Hobsowm, and the odourless brigade of academic anti - nationalists who want to dismember Sri Lankan sport from Sri Lankan nationhood.

It's funny that this stuff is churned out from ivory towers in the United States, because the nationalism displayed by the US at the Olympic games is of the raw unsophisticated kind. With 32 something gold medals at the time of writing, there is no cracker lighting frenzy, but the US fans are watching Marion Jones with an almost ravenous sense of expectation. And they are not exactly happy about her carrying the Belize flag in one hand either. Anyway, the Sri Lankan academics in the US who sought in their work to connote negatives with regard to Sri Lankan cricket are among the international script rewriting brigade that regularly obfuscates local politics for international consumption.

Susanthika's bronze and the attendant theatre conveys even more powerfully than the World Cup cricket victory, that nations cannot be pseudo- deconstructed or pseudo - demystified at the whim of academic hit-men.Sri Lanka cannot also be tarred with a special brush. If the mission to dismember nationalism and sport as applied exclusively to Sri Lanka is a failure, it's particularly because the entire sub- continent is also in apoplexy when an Indian weightlifter wins one bronze. 

At least some look-in can be given to some other naysayers who are of the view that all of Olympics and competitive sport is buffoonery. That at least is a tenable argument, because it follows some line of palpable logic. But, the odourlesss academic species ply their trade particularly in an atmosphere when any academic drivel from Sri Lanka can be purveyed, due to the readymade market that exists on account of the ethnic issue.

The main aim of the pseudo- demystification carried out by such folks is to label any Lankan identification with success in sport as an exercise in jingoism that is not only anti national, but is also in some way anti Tamil too. (Anti Tamil because nationalism in some way is supposed to exclude the Tamil.)

This academic scripting is juvenile and wishful. Take the Diaspora in Australia that rushed to congratulate Susanthika. And the fact that the whole of Pettah was partying on Friday, including mosque going Muslims and the Sea Street chettiars who lit crackers. The Diaspora in Sydney included Tamils, who are also heartily sick of the Australian love affair with Cathy Freeman, the darling aborigine of the Australian media.

Patriotism as said famously is the last resort of the scoundrel and the petty patriotism of the sections of the Lankan academic Diaspora, especially some of them resident in USA is manifest in their focus on imagined situations in the motherland. ( Old county, to most of them.)

It's a patriotism of desperation . In short a syndrome of having nothing to write about, so write about the old country, and say that the jingoism there is not doing any good for the old country. It's a confused skewed sort of patriotism, disguised as disaffection for all forms of nationalism which is "not doing the old country any good." In the process of grabbing that bronze, Susanthika has shown these little chaps too a considerable finger.

( This column was written from New Delhi)

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