Vantage points, security and mumbo jumbo

Recently when I read the news item about Lloyds England declining to do away with the security adjustment charge levied on Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the BIA bombing on July 24 2001 citing the situation in Sri Lanka as yet volatile even though the LTTE was militarily defeated, I kept wondering how on earth these English pundits arrive upon their data.

Then I just kicked myself for being so naïve, even if there may not be any physical threat, there are interested parties about, who would like to trade “Tiger is coming” arguments for their own survival.
On September 12, 2009, one of my acquaintances had driven his vehicle towards the R. Premadasa Stadium with the intention of watching the first One-day International between Sri Lanka and India there, when he suddenly became aware that there was a very uneasy atmosphere prevalent even in the outer peripheries of the area. Then upon his arrival at the stadium, from one barricade to the other, he was directed and then through a back ally towards the rear entrance of the stadium.

Hauling the cricket fans around. Pix by Sanka Vidanagama This car was not entering a war zone

At the fifth stop, security personnel encircled the vehicle, had begun to check the car and asked if they had in their possession any glass bottles, cigarettes and lighters or match boxes. After proving himself clean he descended from his vehicle and walked into the nearly empty stadium.

Meanwhile this game being a cricketing tie between two of the very best teams in the arena many people were interested in witnessing the game. His mobile phone then began to ring. It was a call from a friend of his who also knew about his whereabouts inquiring from where he could buy the tickets as he too was in the vicinity of the ground (but minus a car pass like my friend), but, the third person was given the message that he could not purchase tickets at any counter at the grounds, and he had to search for this counter which was situated in a location in Maligawatte or he would have to go back to SLC head-quarters at Maitland Crescent. Bewildered by this sudden twist of fate, the third party decided to go home to his couch and watch the match in comfort rather than going through all this hassle.
All this fuss began when the authorities could not cope with the crowd in attendance at the first T20 game between Pakistan and Sri Lanka at the same venue. As a result of poor planning and inefficient handling of the situation a section of the crowd had to be baton charged and even the crowd that were fortunate enough get into the ground after buying expensive tickets had to under go some humiliating experiences.

The authorities apologized and had vowed that there would be no repetition of that nature. But, what we could see was that the security authorities began to veer away from the public. Hastily built barricades began to spring all round the R. Premadasa Stadium, the Police vigilance doubled. Ticket sales were done away from the stadium, body searches were stepped up and the cricket mad public became the security pundits’ enemy No1. So much so, SLC’s security head put up a luxury observation post high on top of the press box at the R. Premadasa Stadium and it is said that the same will come up at all international venues.

It is true that the whole cricket world was taken aback when masked terrorists attacked the team bus carrying Sri Lanka's cricketers to the Gaddafi stadium in Lahore on March 3.

Five cricketers, including Mahela Jayawardene, the then captain, Kumar Sangakkara, his deputy, received minor injuries. Ajantha Mendis, Thilan Samaraweera and Tharanga Paranavithana were also injured in the attack. Besides that six security men and two civilians were killed in the attack.
Also stuck in the melee were the two international umpires – Simon Taufel and Steve Davis along with the other umpires and umpiring staff.

So the major issue here is to prevent such terrorist attacks being repeated on Sri Lankan soil and the SLC’s security manager’s job is to ensure that such things do not occur here or anywhere in the world.
However one feels that the post T20 security measures that have been put into effect is to keep crowds under their control if a situation arises, rather than being a people friendly organization.

We just ask with all those steps taken have they been able to dispel the fears of the foreign officials who come here on ICC duty? Certainly not!

Now World number 1 umpire Simon Taufel has told the ICC that he would never more officiate at any of the matches played in Asia. Why? With all the security precautions taken spending millions of rupees, the Lankan authorities failed to provide adequate security to Taufel, a man who was clearly tormented after his March 3 experience in Lahore.

This is an era where dwindling crowds at ODIs is a huge issue in the cricket officialdom. Empty seats in a stadium, while telecasting a game between India and Sri Lanka - two major countries in the World Cricket’s commercial hub - will not do any good to Sri Lanka cricket. At the same time the sentiments of those foreigners who have travelled to Sri Lanka in the aftermath of terrorism in the country and their experiences while going for the match will also not do any good for the image of this country in anyway.
Could one justify the expenditure of Rs. Ten Million for security in a scenario of this nature?

In another few moons Sri Lanka will co-host the 2011 version of the Cricket World Cup with India and Bangladesh. At these matches played in Sri Lanka are we going to be so anti-people like it was? These are just some points to ponder.
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