Cricket Australia faces dilemma ahead of Sri Lanka tour

LTU JRN3AJP #2 · Cricket Australia faces dilemma ahead of Sri Lanka tour


Two weeks ago, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared a state of emergency for the second time in just over a month.

What began as peaceful protests by the country’s youth has now become battleground full of tear gas and water cannons.

Civilians walking down the street asking for their leader’s resignation have been met with force.

Eight people are dead including a ruling MP.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka’s previous leader and the brother of the current president was forced to resign as prime minister and there are buildings in Colombo ablaze.

A curfew is in place with the country’s military ordered to shoot looters on sight.

Australia’s travel advisory for Sri Lanka warns travellers to “reconsider travel” to the country “due to fuel and medicine shortages” and urges them to “exercise increased caution in Sri Lanka due to terrorism”.

One would think then that Cricket Australia’s tour of Sri Lanka starting 7 June would be in direct contradiction to the advisory.

Why is the country’s national men’s cricket team being allowed to travel to a place in deep civil unrest; where there is not enough petrol, gas or electricity; and where there is a curfew in place?

The situation in Sri Lanka is nothing short of volatile – the island nation’s problems are deep and multi-faceted.

The economic crisis is seemingly endless with a multitude of factors (such as a depleted tourism industry and the government’s financial mismanagement) making living conditions for Sri Lankans almost unbearable.

Photo: Sri Lanka Protests by Basterous available here (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Rohan Bastin, associate professor of anthropology at Deakin University, specialises in Sri Lankan politics and explains the dire living conditions that are currently prevailing.

“The country basically can’t afford to purchase things like diesel to run their power generators and because they can’t afford to do that there have been power cuts, there have been massive fuel shortages and there are also shortages of natural gas,” he says.

“On top of that, the Sri Lankan rupiah has become almost worthless against a whole range of currencies – it is probably about one third of its original value when compared to the US dollar and so the ability of the country to generate capital in order to purchase goods is really shockingly low.”

Associate Professor Bastin says that the pandemic has smashed the tourism industry, which is something that is outside the government’s control.

The country wasn’t able to send workers to the Middle East, meaning it lost the income received from remittances and now the war in Ukraine has meant that Russians, who are one of Sri Lanka’s biggest customers, cannot inject money into its tourism sector or buy its tea.

Emeritus Professor Damien Kingsbury, who works at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Deakin University, believes President Rajapaksa and his government have dealt with the economic crisis “pretty poorly”.

“The government needs to enact politically unpopular austerity measures to get the economy back on track, however, populist governments such as that led by Rajapaksa can rarely afford to spend limited political capital on unpopular cuts,” he said.

It seems ironic that a country which is so reliant on visitors for income is now a place of such hostility in an inconvenient and demoralising truth for its government.

Cricket Australia (CA) has issued a statement on whether they would still be touring the troubled nation given the current guidelines.

”Our players and support staff have been briefed and will continue to be kept up to date,” the spokesperson says.

“There are three weeks until the scheduled departure of the squad and at this stage there are no changes to the schedule.”

If we boycott Sri Lanka at this time, it’s like we are abandoning them at their hour of need

— Rohan Bastin, anthropologist

Cricket Australia find themselves in a tricky predicament as time draws them closer to a final decision, with a choice either way leading to opposition.

The sports governing body will know too, that the world will be watching it closely due to its less than reputable recent record when it comes to touring overseas.

If Australia proceeds with the series, expect much conversation as to whether the players shake President Rajapaksa’s hand.

Associate Professor Bastin believes Sri Lanka will do all in its power to ensure the tour goes ahead.

“I suspect that the government will be desperate for the cricket to take place,” he says.

“It raises the question for Cricket Australia – if we go, are we going to be looked upon as effectively supporting the government of Sri Lanka at a time when people shouldn’t be supporting them?”

He believes there will be a section of the population that call for a boycott, but if Australia decides not to go ahead with the tour the result would be far worse.

“There will be others saying a boycott is the last thing we need, you know, we need Cricket Australia to come to Sri Lanka, to play games of cricket, to highlight the scenic wonders and to attract Australians to go to the country and be tourists,” he says.

“If we boycott Sri Lanka at this time, it’s like we are abandoning them at their hour of need.”