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Sport tastes Jaya backlash on Lanka

Jayalalithaa in Chennai on Thursday. (PTI)

Chennai, Feb. 21: Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa today red-carded the Asian Athletics Championships to be held in July in Chennai on the ground that the participation of Sri Lankan athletes would hurt the feelings of Tamils.

The Tamil Nadu government has asked the Asian Athletics Association to hold the meet elsewhere as Tamils will not accept the participation of Sri Lanka.

The request comes close on the heels of suggestions that LTTE leader V. Prabhakaran’s son was killed in cold blood after the child was taken alive by Lankan security forces. The political parties in Tamil Nadu are under pressure to be seen as taking a tough stand against the Lankan government on the emotive issue.

In a statement, Jayalalithaa disclosed that the state government had already written to the association’s secretariat in Singapore to ask Sri Lanka not to field a team at the meet “since the Sri Lankan government had been acting repeatedly against Sri Lankan Tamils.”

The statement added: “But since there had been no reply, the government was announcing its decision not to host the meet. The external and sports ministries have also been informed of this decision.”

In September last year, Jayalalithaa had sent back on similar grounds two football teams from Sri Lanka that were playing friendlies in Chennai. Subsequently, there had been sporadic attacks on Lankan pilgrims visiting Tamil Nadu.

Even then, the state government had gone ahead with the preparations for the meet with a Rs 30-crore facelift underway for the Nehru Stadium near the Central Station.

But the government’s latest decision has been prompted by the publication of photos depicting Prabhakaran’s 12-year-old son Balachandran in protective custody of the Lankan army just before being shot dead at point blank range in May 2009.

Even Jayalalithaa, staunchly anti-LTTE, had condemned the “cold-blooded murder” of the innocent boy just because he happened to be Prabhakaran’s son.

This only proved the war crimes committed by the Lankan army against innocent Tamils which was reminiscent of genocide of Jews by Hitler, she had pointed out.

There had been anti-Lankan demonstrations across the state, more recently during Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s visit to Bihar and Tirupati, by various Opposition parties. But the photos of Balachandran alive and dead in a matter of few hours have stirred the collective consciousness of even apolitical Tamils who had chosen to look the other way on the Lankan issue.

“When there is so much pent-up public anger, imagine what could happen if 50 Lankan athletes marched with the Lankan flag in a stadium filled with over 10,000 Tamils?” asked a senior intelligence official.

Hosting Lankan athletes against such a backdrop could prove politically costly as well for the ruling party, he added.

For the state police, providing constant security cover to the Lankan delegation for almost a week during their stay, training and participation would have been extremely challenging. “One nasty incident could blot the state’s sporting record forever and affect future international fixtures,” pointed out a sports administrator.

He, however, added that the cancellation of an international event of this stature was indeed a setback to sports lovers and administrators. Such a late pullout could even result in the cancellation of the event unless another ready venue could be identified, he explained.

By writing to the Centre, Jayalalithaa has also sought to exploit the growing anti-Colombo mood and jump ahead of the others trying to cast themselves as protectors of Tamils across the world.

It remains to be seen if the state government would also banish Lankan players from playing IPL matches in Chennai for similar reasons. “It might be conveniently argued that in the IPL, these players represent only their clubs whereas in the athletics meet, the participants will be representing their country,” a cricket enthusiast said.