SL-londonBritish Tamils Forum condemns in the strongest terms the violence meted out against peaceful Tamil protesters by Sri Lankan cricket fans outside the Oval cricket ground on the evening of Monday 17 June 2013. Furthermore, British Tamils Forum calls upon the Metropolitan Police and the UK Government to investigate how Sri Lankan fans were able physically attack peaceful protesters in the midst of a heavy police presence and to take steps to ensure the safety of protesters at future matches.

A dedicated band of activists from a number of organisations, including British Tamils Forum, have peacefully demonstrated outside every match played by the Sri Lankan cricket team as part of the ICC Champions Trophy 2013, currently being held in the UK. Displaying banners and placards informing the public of the plight of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka, they have been demonstrating for two reasons:

1.     To put pressure on the international cricket establishment to boycott the Sri Lankan team;

2.     To engage with the general public and cricket fans, informing them about the current situation in Sri Lanka and explaining the call for a boycott.

The demonstrators have been generally well-received by the British public, many of whom have shown an interest in the history of Sri Lanka and the reasons behind the call for a boycott. However, ever since the first match in Cardiff, campaigners have faced persistent abuse and intimidation from Sri Lankan fans, despite the presence of police and camera-phones recording their actions. This abuse has been well-documented in the Tamil media and by Tamil campaigners on Twitter and Facebook.

Given the brazen and largely unchecked behaviour of Sri Lankan cricket fans at previous matches – hurling racial abuse, making threats of violence, taking photos of demonstrators and threatening to send these to the Sri Lankan authorities – it came as little surprise when these fans sank to new depths on Monday night, physically assaulting campaigners – who included terrified children and the elderly – right in front of the police and recording camera-phones.

Nevertheless, the British Tamils Forum is disappointed at the inability of the police, who were present in large numbers, to ensure the safety of peaceful protesters in Central London. British Tamils Forum is further dismayed at the police’s reluctance to pursue charges against the assailants, despite the preponderance of witnesses to the assaults and ample photographic evidence.

Many British Tamils came to the United Kingdom to escape precisely this sort of racist mob violence, which has been visited on Tamils many times since Sri Lankan independence. They are understandably upset and afraid that they are still at risk of attack by Sinhalese mobs in the UK – their country of refuge.

If they are to assuage these genuine fears – and to preserve the UK’s reputation as a country where every citizen can peacefully demonstrate in safety – the Metropolitan Police and UK government must:

1.     Prosecute all those who took part in and orchestrated these assaults against peaceful demonstrators;

2.     Investigate why the police failed to adequately protect demonstrators from violence on Monday;

3.     Ensure the safety of demonstrators at future cricket matches.

Such firm actions would also send a clear signal to Sri Lankan cricket fans that this sort of racist thuggery – though sadly a commonplace feature of life in Sri Lanka – has no place in the United Kingdom.

Additional information: the case for a boycott

The boycotting of the sports and cultural institutions of an oppressive state has a venerable history; cricket in particular has provided shining examples of the effectiveness of this form of struggle. Archbishop Desmond Tutu explained the purpose of such boycotts succinctly in his 2008 MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture, where he said,

“Many of you will remember how effective the sports boycott of the 1970s and 1980s was in conveying to sport-crazy South Africans that our society had placed itself beyond the pale…”

In the case of Sri Lanka, a cricket boycott is made particularly apt by the strong ties that bind the Sri Lankan State – which stands accused of war crimes and genocide against the Tamil people – and Sri Lankan national cricket. These ties run both ways: with the government having a say in team selection and with ex-members of the cricket team subsequently taking up government posts. Therefore, in the case of Sri Lanka, the common anti-boycott retort that “sports and politics shouldn’t mix” holds little water.

In addition, the violence of Sri Lankan cricket fans on Monday gives lie to the refrain that a cricket boycott would misguidedly target the (presumably Tamil-loving) Sinhalese people rather than the State. The chants, triumphalism and violence of the Sri Lankan fans demonstrate that they largely stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Sri Lankan State. Under such circumstances, an international cricket boycott would send both Sinhalese Society and the State a clear signal that, in the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, it has “placed itself beyond the pale”.

For these reasons, the British Tamils Forum is a strong advocate for an international boycott of Sri Lankan cricket until the Tamil people are granted their rights in full, a credible and sustainable solution is found to their legitimate security concerns, and an independent international investigation is carried out into the war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide that have been perpetrated in Sri Lanka before, during and since the Mullivaikkal Massacre of 2009.