Are the IPL right to ban Sri Lankan players in Chennai?

With IPL 6 starting imminently Naveenan Thanendra gives his thoughts on the controversy surrounding the IPL's decision to ban Sri Lankan's from playing in Chennai.

As an avid follower of the Indian Premier League and a Brit of Sri Lankan Tamil descent, I feel compelled to share my opinion on the league’s recent decision to not allow any Sri Lankan players play in Chennai this season.

It should be said that this is not a decision that the IPL has made purely on their own volition but rather as a reaction to a letter sent from the Tamil Nadu state government to the prime minister requesting action based on what was described as rising emotions due to the treatment of ethnic Tamils in Sri Lanka.

Before I begin, I should state that I am not going to discuss the reason for the letter. The documentary aired by Channel 4, as well as Sri Lanka’s refusal to allow the press in when the civil war was reaching its peak suggests that there is sufficient reason for an investigation to be conducted from the appropriate bodies, but in my opinion it is not cricket’s place to weigh in on the matter.

In so many occasions when global politics are under the microscope one thing that can always be relied upon to bring some unity, at least for a moment, is sport. Cricket is no exception in this instance. If we look at Sri Lanka’s progression since the 1996 World Cup, the leading star in the pack was indeed a Tamil. That man of course is Muttiah Muralitharan. His journey to almost every bowling record possible served not only as an inspiration to Tamils but was celebrated equally throughout the country.

The impact of Tamil’s in the national team has only grown ever since, to the extent that Angelo Matthews, a Sri Lankan Tamil, is captain of the test side, which was once an unthinkable feat. However, it is not the Tamil players alone that fly the flag for hope. In 2011 Kumar Sangakkara was invited on to the biggest platform a cricketer can get, the MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture. He utilised it to deliver an awe-inspiring speech (which can be found here) which not only criticised the political struggles in Sri Lanka but highlighted the unifying impact that cricket can have.

For one of Sri Lanka’s greatest cricketing hero’s to come out and make such a definitive statement in such times was not only courageous but it also underlines just how important Sri Lankan cricket is in trying to achieve the dream of a peaceful coexistence.

Are these really the people we want to victimise? They have featured throughout every edition of the IPL and that is particularly the case for Chennai’s beloved team, the Chennai Super Kings. What is stranger about the timing of this ban is that this hasn’t even been an issue in any other season. Quite the contrary in fact, they have been roundly loved by their respective franchises so why must we single both them and the state of Tamil Nadu out. As a fan of the Super Kings I fail to believe that the team’s Sri Lankan players, Akila Dananjaya and Nuwan Kulasekara would have experienced anything but the same adulation shown towards the rest of the squad.

So the first issue this ban raises is a league wide debate about the fairness of competition if the Sri Lankan players cannot play in Chennai. Near enough every team has a key player that is Sri Lankan as shown below:

  • Chennai Super Kings – Akila Dananjaya, Nuwan Kulasekara

  • Delhi Daredevils – Mahela Jayawardene (captain) , Jeevan Mendis

  • Kolkata Knight Riders – Sachithra Senanayake

  • Mumbai Indians – Lasith Malinga

  • Pune Warriors India – Angelo Matthews, Ajantha Mendis

  • Rajasthan Royals – Kusal Perera

  • Royal Challengers Bangalore – Tillakaratne Dilshan, Muttiah Muralitharan

  • Hyderabad Sunrisers – Thisara Perera, Kumar Sangakkara

While every team has sufficient depth in their resources it would be foolish to suggest that every name on that list has a key role to play with their respective franchises, even if some are more notable names than the others.

That being said, I don’t think that it will have that considerable effect on the overall standings, as I believe that those recognised as the strongest teams still possess the best squads, even if their Sri Lankan players have to sit out a few games. The issue that it really impacts is if we look at it from a wider perspective.

Placing a ban on Sri Lankan players in Chennai is intended to sustain a peaceful tournament, however I believe that it can only have the opposite effect. For a set of players that helps bring some unity, such a ban only alienates them and leaves them hung out to dry for trouble they have not caused nor will cause. It also will leave a portion of the Chennai fan base disillusioned, as they are not only stripped of the chance to watch some world class cricketers live but the spotlight is put on the people of Chennai as potentially being a potential security threat, when in reality that spotlight should placed on greater area of need than cricket fans who were more than prepared to support top class cricket, irrespective of race, faith or culture.

Whether it causes any agitation in Sri Lanka is unknown and if the intention was to raise the profile of a situation that is still fresh in the minds of those affected, it certainly has done that. However, the people that are paying the price are the same people that have been the one continuous beacon of hope for the dream of a nation truly at peace.

Unfortunately, it is unlikely that such a ban will now be reversed, so the hope is it neither overshadows the tournament itself, nor affect the good work the national team has been doing for the nation of Sri Lanka. Only time will tell if there are any lasting effects, but I for one certainly hope that at the very least, the Sri Lankan players that have earned an IPL contract stick around.

images: © Loz Pycock, © Ashwin John