Thoughts on Kumar Sangakkara’s Speech at Lord’s
Posted on August 31st, 2011

By Dr. Ranjith Hettiarachi (Melbourne)

It was a moment of enormous pride for Sri Lanka when Kumar Sangakkara delivered the Eleventh 2011 MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey lecture on July 4, 2011 at Lord’s, touching on the history, culture, role of cricket and the opportunities for cricket in a country liberated from the clutches of terrorism. It gave a huge uplift for Sri Lanka at a time when its international image was being sullied by groups with a political agenda.

The choice of Kumar Sangakkara by the MCC to speak at this prestigious event at Lord’s universally accepted as the home of cricket, was appropriate and proper. Sangakkara has displayed all the qualities one would like to see in a guest speaker. He is peerless. Unsurprisingly the speech produced waves of a kind rarely seen in the aftermath of a public lecture even as exceptional as the MCC Colin Cowdrey lecture. He received a standing ovation at the end of his speech. Only one other guest speaker on a previous occasion of this Cowdrey Lecture had received a similar kind of applause. One noted Cricket Columnist referred to Kumar Sangakkara’s speech as the “ƒ”¹…”greatest speech made in cricket history’. One leading British newspaper i.e. the Daily Telegraph, published Kumar’s entire speech the very next day – a courtesy that the newspaper does not usually extend even to the British Prime Minister.

Kumar Sangakkara metaphorically speaking has the world at his feet today. He is a living treasure for Sri Lanka. He has a promising long future ahead of him whatever path he chooses to take.

What next in the immediate future for Sangakkara is an apt question?

The ICC has named Kumar Sangakkara as the Captain / Wicket Keeper in its ICC Test Team of the Year, as chosen by a specially appointed selection panel chaired by West Indian batting legend Clive Lloyd. This was announced by the ICC on August 26.

Kumar Sangakkara is now a contender for the second LG Peoples’ Choice award, to be decided by a vote cast by cricket lovers. A panel of past cricketers will make the final determination in the next two weeks. The LG ICC Awards 2011ceremony is due to be held in London on 12 September 2011.

Kumar’s nomination and the prospect of his winning the LG Peoples award provide Sri Lanka with an immense boost in the international arena.

Sri Lanka has been vilified in several western countries following the telecasting of a controversial video, and followed by parochial opinion writing in the print media.

It has given rise to negative perceptions of Sri Lanka for so-called human rights violations, random executions and rape. The most distressing part is the tendency on the part of some to paint the alleged excesses as the “ƒ”¹…”norm’ – representative of daily life and governance in Sri Lanka.

Overseas Sri Lankans and well-wishers of Sri Lanka, have taken up the challenge and driven tooth and nail to counter such adverse publicity. With the victory over terrorism achieved in 2009 Sri Lanka is now perhaps the most peaceful and safest country in the world. There has never been any reported incident of a Srilankan or a group of Srilankans inflicting violence on any other racial or religious group anywhere in the world, other than the acts of violence perpetrated by LTTE terrorist supporters overseas (e.g. Australian, French, British and Canadian reports MAY 2009).

Kumar Sangakkara, who proudly identified himself as “I am Srilanka and I am Srilankan” at the aforesaid Cowdrey lecture, has undoubtedly delivered a powerful message to the international community of the existence of internal cohesiveness and solid integration of the communities within Sri Lanka, and in turn brought re-assurance and solace to the well wishers of Sri Lanka overseas.

The jubilation however was sadly short lived due to the mean and small-minded reaction on the part of a few public officials and politicians within Sri Lanka, critical of Kumar’s forthright stand. Kumar’s right to speak on Cricket, his comments re alleged corruption at the Sri Lanka Board of Control and dismay at the regular intervention of the Government of Sri Lanka in the administration and decision making process of Sri Lanka Cricket has come under criticism from these quarters.

An idea to conduct an inquiry into Kumar’s remarks has been made known and reported in the press, though no further action appears to have been taken up to now.

In contrast, His Excellency the President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Defense Secretary, Mr Gotabhaya Rajapaksa have been reported to have hailed and acclaimed Kumar’s address particularly his warm empathy for the country’s soldiers (Ranaviru), and their courageous efforts and immense sacrifices made resulting in the liberation of the country from the yoke of terrorism.

If there is a move to mete out punishment to Kumar on the ground of indiscretion or breach of confidence given the existence of a temporary employment contract between Kumar as a player and Sri Lanka Cricket as an employer, then the following points need to be taken into account prior to making such a move:-

1.Kumar Sangakkara was nominated and invited to deliver the Colin Cowdrey Oration by the MCC not as a representative of the Government of Sri Lanka or the Sri Lanka Cricket Board. Regardless he should be allowed to exercise freely his rights to speak at a forum without any fear or favour.

2. As an outstanding cricketer of Sri Lanka, the appropriate theme for his speech was the Spirit of Cricket in Sri Lanka. In such a context Kumar had a moral obligation to draw public attention to failings and flaws in the system governing cricket in Sri Lanka.

3. Kumar Sangakkara has mended Sri Lanka’s sullied image like no other person has done in recent times. If the authorities in Sri Lanka were to take action against Kumar on ground of indiscretion because of his outspokenness, then the resulting inference drawn by observers abroad would be that Sri Lanka does not allow free speech. This would strengthen the diabolical campaign of LTTE supporters and fellow travelers to portray Sri Lanka as a failed state. Today the world applauds those who engage in constructive criticism within a nation state with a genuine desire for reform.

4. The people of Sri Lanka should be able to exercise free speech, engage in protest and public debate without any fear of intimidation, reprisal or persecution.

5. Sri Lanka is blessed with a strong, charismatic national leader who has liberated the country from the evil of terrorism with the help of our Ranaviru. Now the Government of Sri Lanka must make every effort to win the battle of wits in the international arena, if necessary co-opting the best personnel available among Overseas Sri Lankans if local spokespersons are found inadequate for the task at hand due to gaps in their credibility.

Credibility that comes with independence from the reach of Government is highly valued and respected in western countries. The best example is our own Kumar Sangakkara. Moral leadership of the kind that Kumar Sangakkara showed in his MCC Colin Cowdrey lecture is the way forward in recovering the good name and image of Sri Lanka.

3 Responses to “Thoughts on Kumar Sangakkara’s Speech at Lord’s”

  1. purohithaa Says:

    Dr.Hettiarachi has been quiet for nearly twenty-five plus years having initially been a strong activist after the 1983 disastrous actions in Sri Lanka. He was one of the members of a team lead by a very eminent internationally respected lawyer. Unfortunately at a time when all highly respected members from the Tamil Diaspora unashamedly came forward to endorse the false propaganda by the LTTE hardcore they went silent. All these people had free education in Sri Lanka, they are well aware of the impartial recognition of their successes that made them to enjoy high positions in the Government administration inland and foreign and in professions in accordance with their achievements! Sadly when good and honest becomes dormant the evil has a free run! There are no excuses for the lapses.

  2. Sarath W Says:

    Purohithaa is right. Those Tamil diaspora who received free education in Sri Lanka and now living in western countries do every thing possible to insult Sri Lanka are no doubt traitors. So are the well to do Sri Lankans of every race who don’t speak out and defend the good name of our country.

  3. dhane Says:

    My humble request to Kumar Sangakkara not to join in any Political Party in Sri Lanka. All political parties like to suck the best out of individual for their benefit. As a reputed cricker continue your gentelman cricket. All Sri Lanka and others will appreciate you! Yes it was a pride for Sri Lanka you delivered the Eleventh 2011 MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey lecture on July 4, 2011 at Lord’s.

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