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Being worthy of fans

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Wednesday, 24 October 2018 00:00

Cricket is often referred to as Sri Lanka’s national obsession. Over the last two decades cricket has come to dominate the attention of Sri Lanka’s entire population and in the process absorb much of its sports resources for itself. But of late it has failed to justify the loyalty of fans and the recent performance of Sri Lankan athletes at the Youth Olympic Games has shown the time may be right for cricket fans to shift their attention to other sportspeople worthy of their adulation. 

In the early 1990s cricket in Sri Lanka was a colossal battle against the odds. Players, even those in the national team, held day jobs to make ends meet and played because they were passionate about the sport. The public saw this level of dedication and were loyal in their support of players. Then came the 1996 World Cup, arguably Sri Lanka’s finest achievement in sports, which unified a nation beset by war and economic hardship. It was the first time in more than a generation that Sri Lankans could stand up and be proud of an achievement on the world stage. 

The World Cup win was even more impressive because Sri Lanka entered the tournament as underdogs and beat the mighty Australians in the final. There has never been much love lost between the Sri Lankan and Aussie cricket fans of yore and this was yet another reason to be extra happy about the achievement. Being counted among the best cricket-playing nations in the world was a hard-earned goal and having this moment of triumph in the international limelight was unprecedented for Sri Lanka. Fans responded with almost delirious joy and cricketers went from being merely admired to being idolised. 

Parallel to this came the money. It poured in mimicking a waterfall; from endorsement deals to broadcasting contracts, cricket changed into a multimillion-dollar business. The IPL added to this focus on cash and the reputation of cricket administrators began to take a beating. Allegations of match-fixing and other problems started dogging the game and the lustre of the golden days began to fade. Even though some players attempted to burnish the shine and Sri Lanka did manage to do well for many years, recently the fans have had more disappointment than celebration.   

Cricketers were traditionally loved because they fought against the odds, worked hard and were passionate and dedicated to their sport. Many of them came from rural backgrounds, which made them even more relatable. The crop of athletes who won glory in Argentina could be described in the same terms. Many of them contend with severe economic hardship with little or no support from the Government or fancy endorsement deals. Their determination, passion and hard work is inspiring and worthy of the respect of other Sri Lankans. 

Fans create change too. They can demand that companies support different sports and invest in developing the next generation of athletes. Fans are more than cheerleaders, they decide the power of a sport. Surely the Sri Lanka contingent at the Youth Olympics deserves sustained support and the chance to realise their full potential and perhaps even win an Olympic medal. It’s not just up to the Government to foster such talent. The Sri Lankan public must also show their support and become partners in this journey rather than passive viewers. Fans have the right to choose.

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