Spectators at a cricket match in Jaffna

The concluding ceremony of the 42nd National Sports Festival being organized at the Duraiappa Stadium in Jaffna is significant for quite a few reasons. Chief among them is the message that sport carries to society. The message is that it (sport) is a great leveller. The war concluded in 2009 and if there is a place on this island which needs sport to have the effect of a balm, it is Jaffna.

At the time of writing a good number of sporting events listed in the agenda of the National Sports Festival are over. Athletics is one of the key sports that will attract attention during the last few days of this sports festival. The Duraiappa Stadium during the rebel conflict was used to conduct rallies, mostly political. These northern citizens didn’t know much outside war until a few years back. A sporting event in the magnitude of the National Sports Festival being hosted in the north can surely take the message that the word ‘we’, has the potential to succeed better when compared to the word most ambitious individuals are obsessed with, which is ‘I’.

If one drives through the streets of Jaffna one can observe the culture of a people whose lives are the epitome of struggle. But between these struggles they have educated themselves and rebuilt their lives, the later after an almost three decade war. Surprisingly the northern children have had the time to associate themselves with cricket. The cricket big match culture continued even during some stages of the war. Now the time is rife for Jaffna to look into the larger picture of sport. This is quite possible with the courtesy extended towards the northern people by the authorities in Colombo. Most critics believe that staging the concluding ceremony of the National Sports Festival in Jaffna must be lauded for the fact that that the Government of Sri Lanka now considers Jaffna to be safe enough to stage such a high profile event where there will a lot of VIP movement.
For the record the concluding ceremony of the sports festival will see the participation of distinguished invitees in the likes of the Governor of the Northern Province C.V. Wigneshwaran, Leader of the Opposition R. Sampanthan, Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara and Deputy Minister of Sports H.M.M. Harees.

Festival like this will not only offer government officials a window to see Jaffna closely, but also cut the path for more development work. Cricket is popular in the North and so is soccer. Rugby union was introduced some years ago. But one can’t expect rapid progress in a province like this without staging mega sports events of this calibre. Offering hosting rights to a mega sports event like this gives any faraway place in the island that sense of importance.

So Jaffna is a venue for sport and an important one at that. But the purpose of giving Jaffna this celebrity status in sport would mean little if the sportsmen and women arriving from other parts of the island don’t mingle with those in the North. One of the purposes of sport is to bridge differences and bring communities together.

With Jaffna coming under focus, though this time its sport, we can recall the last incident which put this peninsular in the news was a clash among students in the Jaffna University. Keeping a long story short, the clash occurred when a group of Sinhala students (Studying in the Jaffna University) attempted to include a cultural dance of theirs in the agenda despite there being no provisions made by the organizers to do so. What this writer wishes to portray is that Jaffna University is a place where Sinhala students also make up the numbers in the lecture hall. True enough, the difference in thinking in these two communities surfaces when following their ambitions. Academic studies and subsequent employment are two things which demand one to be ambitious. Sport is different in that it allows people to be accommodating and caring. This is why Jaffna need sports more than cars and highways!

People of Jaffna have shed enough tears due to the war. Now they need to learn to shed tears of a different nature; tears of joy. Sport teaches you to learn through tears as much as through smiles. The 42nd National Sports Festival can offer all that to the folks in Jaffna.

Duraiappa Stadium
Duraiappa Stadium