Sports lovers, particularly cricket fans, must be highly concerned about the unruly crowd behaviour at recent ODIs.
Last week, there was the wholly unbecoming experience of the Sri Lanka cricketers being booed at a home match and then having to remain in their dressing room until they were escorted away from the stadium by the Police. Then there was the unacceptable episode where play had to be suspended because of unruly crowd behaviour. Fortunately, it was possible to complete the game eventually.
Such unsavoury crowd behaviour has been experienced in other countries. In fact, cricketers in some countries have been subjected to much worse treatment. However, such despicable actions have not been known within our shores. Sri Lanka fans have supported their national teams, particularly the cricket team, loyally through both successful and challenging times.
It should not be forgotten that the Sri Lankan cricket team has brought great honour to the country. Even during the country’s darkest hours, Sri Lankan cricket was a beacon of excellence and success. Since the World Cup 1996 victory, the Sri Lankan team has had a record that has been surpassed only by Australia in ICC tournaments, involving all the major cricket playing countries. The Test team has also been highly competitive. The Sri Lankan brand was both respected and admired, even loved, throughout the cricketing world. Sri Lanka has also produced a number of iconic players who have thrilled fans throughout the cricketing world.
The success on the field was complemented by a fan base which supported its national team with great passion but also a disciplined attitude which celebrated successes with great enthusiasm and accepted losses with philosophical equanimity.
It is extremely disturbing that these lofty standards of behaviour among the fans are showing signs of deterioration just when our young team is in transition, following the retirement of some world-class players. Lack of stability off the field has further complicated matters.
Sport at the highest level is highly pressurised. Coping with such pressure needs much more than just natural talent. It becomes much easier when players are confident and are used to winning. Confident players tend to win the key moments in a match paving the way for ultimate victory. The whole environment becomes much more challenging, if a team is young and short of consistent success. This is the time that the cricketing fans must stand by their national team and help to boost their confidence.
The more support the players receive the better the chance of a quick turnaround in the fortunes of the team – the talent is available.
The behaviours of the fans at the last two ODIs is particularly unacceptable because the young Sri Lankan team played with plenty of spirit in both games and competed vigorously against a strong Indian team which is currently ranked number one.
The unruly crowd behaviour not only demoralises our young cricketers and hampers their development but it also brings disrepute to the country. During a 20-year career with the Commonwealth Secretariat, the writer had the opportunity to visit all the major cricket playing countries and several other ICC members around the world. Sri Lanka seemed to be everyone’s second favourite team after their own country. With the waning of the powers of the great West Indian teams during the 1990s, Sri Lanka stepped into fill the breach as crowd-pleasers who played an attractive brand of cricket with players who were fine ambassadors for the game and the country.
Cricket has become an important window into the country. International matches are beamed to large audiences well beyond our shores. Unruly crowd behaviour demeans the reputation of the whole country in the eyes of a large part of the world. This is not something that the country or its cricketers deserve.
Such behaviour can also have negative economic and social ramifications. Sporting tourism is a rapidly growing phenomenon. Large numbers of fans are increasingly following their national cricket teams abroad, combining it with a
holiday. Seeing crowd unrest on their screens or reading about it is likely to act as a deterrent to visit the country. Such indiscipline, if it worsens, can also influence a wider group of tourists who have many countries to choose from. Tourism has a strong multiplier effect in the economy with its diverse domestic supply chains. Anything that hinders its development will have an impact on a wide cross-section of our people.
Crowd misbehaviour also undermines basic values which are important in a stable society. An inability to accept negative outcomes after a rule-based sporting contest runs counter to the outlook of the vast majority of Sri Lankans. The bad behaviour at cricket matches by a small minority must therefore, be condemned. It is out of character and wholly unacceptable.
Showing disrespect to our cricket team and the country they represent should on no account be part of our sporting culture.
(The writer, apart from being the Central Bank Governor, captained Sri Lanka Rugby XV [1973-77] and represented Tamil Union in First Division Cricket [1972-77 and 82-83])