(1999 February 10)

Politics, national as well as international, in the last two weeks has not been confined to the paddy fields in Wayamba. The Adelaide oval cricket field in Australia and the football fields in England have been the arena where international politics came to limelight reminding us that the clash of civilisations started with civilisation itself is continuing. Much has been written in the Sri Lankan papers on Muttiah Muralitharan, Arjuna Ranatunga and Ross Emerson but hardly anything on Glenn Hoddle, the former manager of the England football team who steered England to finals in the world cup.

The Australian press, the public and many others in the western civilisation have said that Arjuna has committed a cardinal sin by questioning and arguing with the umpire and the match referee. It has been mainly the media, which incited the public, one radio station going to the extent of asking the listeners to "boo" Arjuna in the field. So much for the Australian media culture. Even in Sri Lanka there are some who are of the opinion that Arjuna should not have questioned the umpire, as the umpire's word is the law. However, a game of cricket or football or any other sport for that matter, especially at international level has never been merely a game completely devoid of politics. It is too easy to repress one team by appealing to the laws, which are not applied in the case of other teams.

For example take the case of providing information to bookies and match fixing. The Australians made a big fuss over the alleged involvement of the Pakistanis in match fixing, but it has been revealed now that the Australian Cricket Board had swept under the carpet the allegations against Steve Waugh and Shane Warne on giving information to the bookies. The law is not applied evenly in the cricket field or in general.

Very often it is applied in favour of the people or groups with power and influence. If I do not pay back my housing loan I will be in trouble and in the name of the law I will be taken to courts. But very often the loans amounting to millions taken by some others are written off legally by some authority or other who has the power to do so. The problem is that both actions are legal implying that, except in a few cases, anything can be made legal by resorting to certain procedures. If everything else fails, if it is necessary, it is possible in many cases to give a presidential pardon popularly known as a "Sunil Samawa" (after the infamous pardon given by Mr. J. R. Jayawardhane to Gonawala Sunil).

In cricket the laws are very strict in the case when the accused are from South Asia. When Pakistanis are charged on match fixing, Australians are either exonerated or the matter is conveniently forgotten. People who talk of human rights in the west maintain a deafening silence over these matters. Why do countries such as England and Australia belonging to the western culture behave in this disgusting manner? It is true that cricket was introduced by the English and that England and Australia are the oldest cricket playing countries in the world. However the South Asians, though with different cricket cultures (for example Sri Lankan cricket culture of bands and "ara okata arro" type cheering), play the game of the English without any modified rules. But the high priests of cricket at Lords and the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in Australia discriminate against the South Asians as if their subordination is not enough. Arjuna and Muralitharan have proved that they belong to a different generation and that they are not prepared to be at the receiving end forever and will not bow down their heads to injustice. It appears that Arjuna and the team have succeeded in adopting a different strategy and the fact that they are the world champions have helped them a lot.

Let us for a moment assume that instead of Kerry Packer a South Asian invented one-day cricket played in what were referred to as pyjamas, meaning the coloured costumes. The high priests of cricket had some problems in coming to terms even with Packer. If Packer happened to be a South Asian it is very probable that action would have taken against him and there would not have been any day night cricket.

We are told that the umpire's word is the law. There is some truth in that as without umpires referees etc., it is not possible to continue with the game, according to the rules formulated by the "authorities". In cricket, all the cricket-playing countries have agreed to abide by the laws as formulated by the International Cricket Conference (ICC). However as I have said earlier the law is biased and favours those with power and influence. The main function of the umpires is to see that the game is continued to the end, and adhering to a set of rules agreed by both teams is obviously a pre requisite for this purpose, even though it is possible to interpret the rules unevenly. Now what happens if the umpire is not only partial in interpreting the rules, but is not interested in continuing with the game and wants to sabotage the match pretending that he is only upholding the rules of the game. Then the umpire is negating the very purpose that demands his presence in the field. If a saboteur comes in the form of an umpire what can the players do? Should they say that the word of the umpire is the law and continue with game only to stop, not merely that particular match but the entire series, a little while later. The high priests of cricket should not be allowed to get away with slogans such as "umpire's word is the law". These adages are meaningful only under certain circumstances and are not universally valid. They gain efficacy if the premise from which they are derived remain binding.

After umpire Haire made various remarks in his autobiography he was not appointed as an umpire for the matches involving Sri Lanka. However Emerson who also has a history was appointed to officiate by the Australian Cricket Board (ACB). It is now clear that Emerson has been waiting to "call" Muralitharan. When Muralitharan was called there were number of options available for Arjuna. He could have continued with the game waited for the second call and then sent Muralitharan out of the field, or he could have straight away taken the team out of the field and complained to the authorities through the manager of the team. A third option would have been to wait for the second call and then make a complain. Among so many options he chose to question the umpire to get him to say that Muralitharan had thrown, in the presence of few others and then take the team to the edge of the field to get instructions from the management.

It would have been clear by then to Arjuna and the team and probably the management what Emerson was up to. If the ball he called was not different to the previous one, then with his past history he would have called Muralitharan again arbitrarily forcing Arjuna to send him away. Emerson was determined to call Muralitharan not because of his action, and there was no way that Sri Lanka could have continued to take part in the tournament. Thus Emerson was there to sabotage by forcing Sri Lanka to withdraw from the tournament.

Now the most interesting aspect was that Muralitharan was not called after that. Theoretically Emerson or the other umpire could have called him again. Why did not that happen? Was that ball bowled in the eighteenth over the only ball that Muralitharan threw during the innings? Or does it mean that the decision of the umpire was erroneous in that case? Or did he deliberately call it a no ball when in fact it was not so?

Muralitharan's action is something that will be talked about for years to come. In fact according to the press Arjuna is the most hated captain by the Australian public after Jardine, the England captain of the bodyline series, and even the yet unborn Australians would know of him more than say, of Waugh and Warne. The action of Muralitharan has been cleared by various people including members of a committee appointed by the ICC. However as many people have pointed out that does not mean that Muralitharan has been "cleared for life" and any umpire if in his opinion is of the view that Muralitharan has thrown then he can call the bowler. However the question is how does one forms one's opinion on Muralitharan's action?

A bowler cannot throw a ball with a stretched hand so the umpire has to watch whether the hand of the bowler is stretched as he releases the ball. I suppose that in the case of most of the bowlers the stretched hand is fairly straight, though not in a mathematical sense, and not bent at the elbow. But like every thing else a "stretched hand" is also relative. Muralitharan's "stretched hand" is not similar to the "stretched hand" of most of the others and it is said that in his case there is a permanent deviation of about 11 degrees at the elbow. Muralitharan's "stretched hand" is not a stretched hand if it is judged relative to what can be called a "normal hand". So any bending of the hand in Muralitharan's case has to be reckoned from HIS "stretched hand" position and the umpires have to take this factor into consideration before calling him.

There is another aspect to this episode. Emerson was asked by the ACB to stand in this particular match knowing very well that he had a history of calling Muralitharan. What was the ACB up to in spite of the nice words the manager of the Sri Lanka cricket team had to say about the former? Later it was revealed that Emerson was on leave from his job during this time due to mental stress. Now why didn't he let the ACB know of his health problems? It is clear that he had tried to hide that fact from the ACB. Is the ACB going to take any action against Emerson for withholding some important facts regarding his health, in order to stand in as umpire in matches involving Sri Lanka? If not, what is the reason for that?

It is also clear that when it comes to matters like this, the high priests of cricket are not interested whether the cricketer concerned is a Sinhala, Tamil, Indian, Pakistani, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim or even a Christian from South Asia. They are more concerned with their culture and its supremacy. They, their politicians, and the people in the intelligence services may be interested in using the Tamil Hindus against the Sinhala Buddhists in Sri Lanka, the Muslims against the Hindus in India etc., for the purpose of maintaining their hegemony in this part of the world. But when their supremacy is challenged they will try to "clear the mess" irrespective of whether the "mess" is due to a Hindu or a Buddhist.

While the press in Australia has been asking for the head of Arjuna, the English press has managed to get Glenn Hoddle sacked from his manager's job with the England football team. Hoddle in an interview with the Times has said, "You and I have been physically given two hands and two legs and a half-decent brain. Some people have not been born like that for a reason. The karma is working from another lifetime". Apparently Times has interviewed him on football but this statement has also been connected and published on Saturday the 30th of January 1999. We do not know how it came to be connected with an interview on football but it could be probably due to the fact that he is one of the few athletes who help the handicapped children by playing with them and coaching football.

The moment this statement appeared in print the English press and many others wanted Hoddle to resign from his post as manager of the England football team, on the pretext that he had insulted the invalid people and it was against their human rights. Of course they had never mentioned that Hoddle should resign because of his belief in Karma. Human rights of and insults to the handicapped people, in this case, are only slogans like "the umpire's word is the law". The British prime minister had also said that Hoddle had to go.

However Hoddle did not resign but eventually he was sacked after paying a massive compensation believed to be around 500,000 sterling pounds. Now the media has started to come out with stories of his divorce soon after the world cup. Why they waited so long to publish these "interesting" facts should be obvious.

There are some protests against the sacking of Hoddle and already Ian Wright a black football player who earlier played for Arsenal and now playing for West Ham has said that he would resign from the England football squad. In a phone in discussion conducted by a London radio many people have said that Hoddle was sacked because of his beliefs and one person has gone to the extent of saying that it was an insult to the followers of religions other than Christianity. But these protests will not go a long way as the English press and people like Tony Blair seem to be of the opinion that Hoddle had to go.

Hoddle is a devout Christian, and not a Buddhist or a Hindu, though he seems to believe in some form of Karma and rebirth. His views may not be entirely in agreement with Hindu or Buddhist views but the general consensus in Anglican England appears to be that there is no freedom of expression for people who believe in non-Christian tenets. What would have happened if Hoddle had said that the handicapped people are born that way as it is the way the God has created them or that is the wish of the God or some such thing and that they need our sympathy and help? Would the English Christian press have considered it to be an insult to the handicapped people?

What is clear is that sports is not devoid of politics and the clash of civilisations can be seen everywhere from Wembley in England to Adelaide Oval in Australia.