A controversial ban imposed by the Indian Premier League on Sri Lankan cricketers playing in the state of Tamil Nadu appears to outsiders a lot like cutting off your nose to spite your face.
Cricket's Indian Premier League has been in action for two weeks, but a ban imposed by the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu on any Sri Lankan cricketer playing in that state because of alleged human rights violations against the Tamil community in Sri Lanka has generated bad blood.
The Indian Premier League is a money machine, not only for the players and franchises, but also for the media and advertisers. Over the years, the IPL has made it an art to ensure that matches are held, even if there are issues around the league, be it in 2009 when the whole tournament was shifted to South Africa due to general elections in India, or the exclusion of Pakistani players due to tensions between the two nations over the last few seasons, even though cricketing ties have since been restored.
The issue of Sri Lankan players, umpires and officials taking part in Tamil Nadu had to be solved. So, before the start of this edition, the IPL governing council, along with team owners, decided not to have any Sri Lankan players, umpires or officials take part in matches played in Chennai.
The move followed a letter written by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa and sent to the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh saying that no IPL matches would be allowed in the state capital, Chennai, if they involved Sri Lankan players, umpires or officials.
Tamil Nadu fans support the move
The decision wasn't to the liking of all IPL team owners, except the Chennai Super Kings, because it gave the south Indian side an undue advantage, since many Sri Lankans playing in the IPL hold key positions with three teams. There are Sri Lankan captains with the Delhi Daredevils (Mahela Jayawardene), Pune Warriors India (Angelo Matthews) and Sunrisers Hyderabad (Kumar Sangakkara). But for the show to go on, the team owners had to take this collective decision.
The decision is fully supported by cricket fans in Chennai and across the state of Tamil Nadu. Long-time cricket fan, Satish Kumar, told DW, "We are happy because we would not like to miss IPL here in Chennai and our Tamil sentiments were understood when it comes to the topic of Sri Lanka."
"This decision might not be taken well in other parts of India, but it is in the best interest of the game and the people, because if Sri Lankans came to Chennai it could have been a security issue and something negative could have happened here," Kumar added.
If it isn't just cricket, then it just isn't cricket
Meanwhile, in Sri Lanka, opinions are very much divided. On the one hand, they do not accept that their country committed human rights violations against the Tamil minority, but on the other, the decision to play in the lucrative Indian Premier League should be left to each individual player.
The Sri Lankan players taking part in the IPL have kept quiet on the issue, not to make matters worse, but the Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) governing body would have preferred its players to boycott the Indian Premier League after raising concerns over security with their Indian counterparts at the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).
Some ex-Sri Lankan cricketers have openly called on Sri Lankan players in the IPL to boycott the T20 tournament in support on their country, but 1996 Cricket World Cup winner Aravinda de Silva is of a different opinion. “As I have said in recent weeks, they are all grown up enough to decide what they want to do in life. They understand the situation well and I think those guys themselves decided to go.”
Aravinda de Silva went on to make a very valid point about politics and sports. “I think politics should be kept completely outside sport. Sport is something that bridges differences between people. The best thing is to forget about politics and continue sport as sport.” “It's an individual decision. As I said, I don't believe in bringing politics into sport. I would have preferred if the youth had not been forced to make decisions on things such as politics. I can't speak for anyone else,” de Silva added.
The issue once more highlights how the Indian Premier League has been able to sustain itself in a very difficult Indian political environment. The league had taken a collective decision in the interest of the IPL, which, in the end, had to be accepted by all stakeholders. Although many did not support the decision, it just had to be taken, or no IPL matches would have been played in Chennai. But furthermore, one should not forget that BCCI president, N. Srinivasan, is also the owner of the Chennai Super Kings.
The whole episode sounds absurd for the world's largest democracy, not to mention to outsiders: In India, Sri Lankan sportsmen are not welcome in Tamil Nadu and the league agrees to play without a set of players at a certain venue.
The IPL has perhaps safeguarded its interests and the league, but it has lost credibility after giving in to political pressure.