Chennai, Aug. 4: Police have sent back an under-15 Sri Lankan cricket team from Chennai, apparently because of a pervading anti-Colombo mood since a Lankan government website carried derogatory references to chief minister Jayalalithaa on Friday.
The Lankan team of 13 players and three officials had arrived last night to participate in the J.M. Haroon Cricket Trophy, which also involves a Malaysian team and 11 Indian sides from different states.
“Just a few minutes after the Lankan team had checked into a hotel, the police arrived and told them their presence could pose a security threat and escorted them back to the airport,” said J.M. Haroon, tournament organiser and former Congress MP.
“They remained at the terminal from 1.30am till this morning before being put on a 7am flight to Colombo.”
Haroon said it was “unfortunate” that young cricketers “looking for some international exposure” had to be sent back. “Why should politics come into the picture?” he asked.
A senior police officer conceded that the local police had cleared the Lankan team’s participation in the tournament but argued that the sudden anti-Lanka mood in the state had changed the picture.
“We did not want them to become easy targets for the anti-Colombo protesters. They were sent back for their own safety,” the officer said.
Colombo had apologised to Narendra Modi and Jayalalithaa on Friday after the title of an article on its defence ministry website referred to the chief minister’s correspondence with the Prime Minister as “love letters”.
Haroon said the denial of visas to teams from Pakistan and Bangladesh had already clouded the eight-year-old tournament, and the Lankan team’s forced exit would further reduce its competitive edge.
In the past, Lankan pilgrims touring Tamil Nadu have faced attacks during spurts in anti-Colombo sentiments.
Two years ago, Jayalalithaa had ordered the return of two school football teams from the island nation that were to play friendly matches in Chennai.
Her government had also refused to host an Asian athletics championship where Lankan contestants were to participate, forcing the event to shift to Pune. She had once declared that Lankan players and officials were unwelcome at IPL matches in Chennai.