Sri Lanka's insatiable appetite for sport | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 11, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, March 11, 2018

Sri Lanka's insatiable appetite for sport

When you walk around the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo, the first thing that will catch your eye will be the presence of grounds in almost all parts of the city. Those grounds will not be empty either; there will be various sports being played.

February and March are the most colourful periods in Sri Lanka as the country celebrates the beginning of summer by engaging in several types of sport.

Yesterday was no exception. Within a few metres, this reporter witnessed three types of sport being played in three different grounds with such a festive vibe that one would forget the fact that the government of the country has called a nationwide emergency due to communal disharmony in Kandy just a few days ago.

The first, seen just beside Independence Square in the heart of the capital at the Sports Ministry ground, was a netball tournament, a less fashionable sport but one that had drawn a huge crowd.

A walk into the ground revealed that it was a mixed gender netball game, with each side featuring four boys and three girls. Interestingly, it was one of many annually held corporate tournaments.

And despite the fact that the sport is not that popular, there were quite a few sponsors aiming to nurture the growth of netball among the Sri Lankan population.

Just a few metres away at the Race Course ground on the other side of Independence Square is the first and only synthetic hockey turf ground, where another tournament was being held.

This time it was an under-15 inter-school hockey tournament organised privately by President's College Maharagama with the permission of the National Hockey Federation of Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka have not fared that well in the international hockey circuit, but there are quite a few initiatives to involve youngsters in the sport. The organisers even provided food for the parents, who came out in numbers to watch their kids.

Finally, this reporter went to the Sinhalese Sports Club ground, also adjacent to Independence Square, where the biggest, oldest and longest school rivalry, a Big Match cricket game was taking place.

Luckily it was the second day of the biggest game of the year, the Battle of the Blues -- a rivalry between Royal College Colombo and S Thomas' College Mount Lavinia, which turned 139 years old this month, two years older than the Ashes.

School cricket has roots deep in Sri Lanka and there are at least 32 separate school battles which inject the culture of the game deep into the islanders. However the Battle of the Blues -- a three-day game which started on Friday -- stunned this reporter by the sheer scale of celebration that centred this rivalry. Fascinatingly, this game lasts three days while all other school longer-versions matches are played over two days.

The Royal-Thomian encounter attracts everyone, not only Sri Lankans but people all over the world, and seeing an 80-year-old great grandfather wearing his school colours and passionately waving flags next to the kids was an extraordinary sight.

The love and nurturing of these different sports in various societies is certainly something Bangladesh can take a cue from and encouraging different sports and growing their culture from the grassroots can only lead to something positive.

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