In what must rank as the greatest sporting achievement in our sporting history, Sri Lanka's cricketers with their own daring and debonair style will march to the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore today for the World Cup final against arch rivals Australia.
With the explosive Sanath Jayasuriya already declared as the Man of the Series in the World Cup or in other words the World Cricketer of the Year, Sri Lanka go into today's final as the only unbeaten team in the premier world tournament. These factors and the public support they are likely to get in Lahore and from millions of cricket fans in Sri Lanka and elsewhere would give Sri Lanka a great chance at becoming the first small Third World Island to win any major world sports crown.
We wish Arjuna Ranatunga and his dynamic team all the best in today's Cup final. They have already done Sri Lanka proud and gained worldwide recognition for the country. They have taught their teachers how to play cricket. They have brought mighty India to their knees.
Many observers also see today's Cup final as an occasion where the wheel may turn full circle. It was just three months ago that Sri Lanka were subjected to what were widely seen as the worst acts of bullying, browbeating and bad umpiring in international cricket. The whole team were wrongfully accused and convicted of ball tampering without even a proper trial. Then various elements were brought into play to throttle Sri Lanka's match winning spinner Muttiah Muralitharan. Often by unfair means Sri Lanka were forced into defeat at the hands of Australia in the tests and one-day internationals there. Today at Lahore there will be an opportunity for that injustice to be undone and for natural justice to take its course while hundreds of millions of people watch the showdown live on television.
Yet, we must also not forget that whatever some elements in the Australian cricket establishment may have done recently, it was Australia in the traditions of Donald Bradman, Ritchie Benaud and other great sportsmen who had proposed Sri Lanka for full test status.
Magnanimous in victory we must also understand that the disgraceful crowd behaviour in Calcutta last Wednesday was not a move against the Sri Lankans. The cricket crazy crowd were venting their frustrations against their own Indian cricketers. Thus we hope that no one will allow such unfortunate incidents to mar deep-rooted and ancient ties between India and Sri Lanka.
The saving grace was once again the show of comradeship among sportsmen, where the Indians and Pakistanis were here recently in a unique show of regional solidarity.
So, as we join millions in Sri Lanka and elsewhere in watching today's Cup final we naturally hope for a Sri Lankan victory mainly as an act of justice. But whatever happens, what matters more is not victory or defeat but how we play the game.
In contrast to the inaction or indifference that allowed a Sri Lankan housemaid to be executed in a UAE jail, the government of Sri Lanka acted fast and prudently in gaining the release of Sri Lankan Aruna Kithsiri.
Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike and Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar took decisive personal initiatives in getting Mr. Kithsiri freed from the UAE jail where he had been held on charges of collecting money for Sri Lanka's National Defence Fund.
Premier Bandaranaike had sent a personal letter to the Ruler of the Emirates who had come here for the 1976 Non-Aligned Summit. That letter and Mr. Kadirgamar's visit to Abu Dhabi helped to clinch the issue and shows the respect that Ms. Bandaranaike still commands in many parts of the world and especially in West Asia.
In the backdrop of Mr. Kithsiri's case, we must also point out that many Sri Lankans around the world are collecting funds to be remitted back here for the war effort. Some send it to the LTTE, some to the Sri Lanka military. LTTE agents openly collect funds in the West but little or no action is taken against them.
The US is throwing hundreds of millions of dollars into high-tech methods for Israel to trace and tackle suicide bombers or other terrorists there. But where terrorism against Sri Lanka is concerned, we hear lots of talk and lame excuses but little deterrent action even against LTTE operators in those countries.
If the West is accusing Iran and Libya of supporting terrorism against Israel, then Sri Lanka could accuse the West of supporting or at least not opposing terrorism against Sri Lanka. If the world is to combat global terrorism the West must give a lead not just on personal interest but on a basis that is equal to all.
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