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Sunday, 3 April 2011

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Cricket fever was at its peak as the ICC World Cup tournament concluded in Mumbai last night. What matters is not winning or losing, but how one played the game.

In this scenario, we should reflect on the peaceful manner on how Sri Lanka hosted its ICC World Cup tournament matches, including a quarter final and a semi-final. While enjoying the game in its true spirit, we remember with deep respect those great sons of our soil who made our World Cup dream a reality.

Many foreign sports teams shied away from Sri Lanka in the past, citing security reasons. Even when Sri Lanka won the World Cup in 1996, Australia and the West Indies declined to honour their preliminary round matches in Sri Lanka and even forfeited their match points.

There had been a couple of occasions where touring New Zealand national cricket teams were obliged to abandon their tours here prematurely due to bomb explosions. This included the horrific experiences the Kiwis had when the then Navy Commander Clancy Fernando was assassinated by a suicide bomber in 1992, within a stone's throw from the five-star hotel where the touring New Zealand team was residing.

To cap it all, the adverse travel advisories and reports against Sri Lanka internationally nearly isolated the country and, moreover, overseas sports tours were curtailed. Local sports officials had to consider various factors before hosting an international tournament due to the prevailing situation in the country at the time due to LTTE terrorism.

Thanks to the unswerving efforts and the supreme sacrifices by the Security Forces, each and every citizen of the country is now reaping the rich dividends of peace. Sri Lanka's hosting of the ICC World Cup 2011 in association with India and Bangladesh was made possible chiefly due to the peaceful environment that had been created by the Security Forces under President Mahinda Rajapaksa's astute political leadership.

The world's cricket governing body - the ICC, did not permit Pakistan to host a single match of the 2011 World Cup though it was the subcontinent's term to host the event. The ICC ruled Pakistan out as a host country, citing security reasons and only allowed Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh to do so.

In the event the Security Forces had failed to eradicate terrorism and vanquish the Tiger leadership, the ICC would have dropped Sri Lanka and the country would have lost its chance of hosting the 2011 World Cup.

It cannot be gain said that there is a passion for cricket all over the subcontinent, but at the same time let's remember with profound gratitude those who made our dream come true. What we all enjoy today - socially, economically or otherwise, are due to the immeasurable sacrifices made by Sri Lanka's valiant soldiers. Those true sons of our soil, some of whom had paid the supreme sacrifice in the final stages of the battle against terrorism, are no more. We also remember the families of these great heroes.

Nevertheless, their memory is indelibly edged in our minds as the island nation enjoys the prevailing peace.

At the time the last World Cup tournament was played in the Caribbean, four years ago, Sri Lanka was gripped in a huge military operation against terrorism and only a handful of people believed that the President would transform the nation to its current status.

What Sri Lanka has achieved during the past four to six years was inconceivable. At the last edition of the World Cup in early 2007, the LTTE's fixed-wing aircraft caused mayhem in the city by dropping bombs at the Kolonnawa oil installation and at the Muthurajawela oil facility. At that point of time, the Security Forces were still battling in the East, while taking on the LTTE which had the Wanni under its total control.

Although Sri Lanka qualified to meet Australia in the 2007 World Cup final, the Lankan team was not in a proper mindset due to the adverse LTTE campaigning at match venues apart from what had been taking place back home. When President Rajapaksa was away in Barbados to witness the 2007 World Cup final between Sri Lanka and Australia, the local authorities had no option, but to shut down the national grid for brief spells due to LTTE air attacks.

In the run-up to the final, Amnesty International launched an unsporty campaign on the alleged human rights violations in Sri Lanka, targeting the Sri Lanka national team and this no doubt had an impact on their mentality.

Four years after these macabre experiences concomitant with a sinister campaign by a section of the international community, Sri Lanka has beaten all insurmountable odds and transformed the country in to a tourist attraction even bidding to host the 2018 Commonwealth Games after the successful hosting of the ICC World Cup.

New sports stadia were built some two decades after Sri Lanka had its first flood-lit cricket venue. It was under the direction of the President that the new stadia in Suriyawewa and Pallekele and the renovation of the R. Premadasa Stadium were made possible.

Barely anybody in their wildest dreams envisaged that World Cup cricket would go to a remote village such as Suriyawewa in the Hambantota district. However, Tharunyata Hetak founder Namal Rajapaksa MP spared no pains to host World Cup matches there and eventually fulfilled that dream to add Suriyawewa to the world sports map.

As former Commander of the 58 Division and Sri Lanka's Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Major General Shavendra Silva had said, the incident-free World Cup cricket matches here prove in no uncertain terms the annihilation of Tiger terrorists. By a ghost of a chance, had the LTTE retained at least one percent of its military capability, it would have wreaked havoc during the recent World Cup matches played in Sri Lanka.

Even a trivial incident could have caused embarrassment to the country and strengthened the hands of those seeking to undermine the post-war recovery effort. Moreover, the presence of the international media in Colombo for cricket coverage consolidates the position.

Hosting events of this magnitude would undoubtedly further strengthen Sri Lanka's image as an international tourist destination. We must take into consideration sports economics and draw up an ambitious plan to secure the maximum benefits in the tourism service sector at the forthcoming South Asian Beach Games, Commonwealth Games, International Rugby Sevens and home series against foreign cricket teams.

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