Australia tour of Sri Lanka is going ahead as scheduled, but the tourists are becoming acutely aware of the significance of their visit. Players and officials were equally moved by the footage shown in the Channel 4 documentary about the closing days of the Sri Lankan civil war and its aftermath, aired on Four Corners in Australia this week, but are resolved to carry on with their first Test series in the island nation since 2004.
The documentary showed graphic evidence of rape, torture and murder of civilians during the final months of the war. A United Nations investigation concluded last year that there was credible evidence for as many as 40,000 civilian deaths during the conflict.
The Australian department of Foreign Affairs and Trade raised no objection to Cricket Australia’s plans during their most recent briefing. Central to CA’s thinking are the ideas expressed by the former Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakkara, who spoke of cricket’s capacity to unite communities and countries during his Cowdrey lecture to the MCC in London. The Australian team has found itself in fraught political and moral territory before, most notably on the brief 2004 tour of Zimbabwe. Australia A’s current presence in Zimbabwe is an indication of CA’s desire to help encourage the regeneration of a county, and administrators view the Sri Lanka visit in much the same light.
“Our view on touring Sri Lanka is the same as it is on going to Zimbabwe [for the Australia A tour], using cricket as a way to bring people together and aid the community,” a CA spokesman said. “Our travel advice [from DFAT] hasn’t changed and the advice is that safety and security for the tour is appropriate.” The pre-tour visit to Sri Lanka by a CA and Australian Cricketers’ Association delegation last month included discussions of opportunities for engagement with the local population, with school visits or clinics two possible options.
Paul Marsh, chief executive of the ACA, said the airing of the documentary had helped ensure the players would be acutely aware of their role as ambassadors for the game when they arrived in Sri Lanka at the end of July.
“I’ve had a little bit of feedback [about Four Corners], not necessarily from players who are going on the tour, but I’ve had a bit of feedback,” Marsh told ESPNcricinfo. “It was an eye-opener for everyone I’ve spoken to, and hopefully that’ll bring a bit of focus to what’s going on there.
“From a cricket perspective the guys are going over there to play cricket and they’ll be good ambassadors, they will bring some joy to the people of Sri Lanka like they have done in the past, and that’ll be their focus, to put on a good series over there.
“We’ve been through this before with other countries, players play an apolitical role as sportspeople, plus as individual players they’ve always got their own options as to whether they tour, who they meet, who they mingle with and these sorts of things. At this stage there’s no reason the tour won’t go ahead, but we’ll make sure the players are aware of all the issues.”
In addition to criticising the politicised nature of cricket’s administration in Sri Lanka, Sangakkara had spoken glowingly of the game’s capacity for good, particularly in his nation’s post-war future.
“Cricket in Sri Lanka is no longer just a sport: it is a shared passion that is a source of fun and a force for unity,” he said. “It is a treasured sport that occupies a celebrated place in our society. “The conduct and performance of the [national] team will have even greater importance as we enter a crucial period of reconciliation and recovery, an exciting period where all Sri Lankans aspire to peace and unity. It is also an exciting period for cricket where the re-integration of isolated communities in the North and East opens up new talent pools.” ESPNcricinfo