Friday, March 20, 2009

Cricket Fans in Los Angeles Unite to ‘Bat Against Terrorism’ Rally

Los Angeles, CA – At the expansive South Lawn of Los Angeles City Hall, Cricket fans, diplomats, and members of local cricket organizations of Southern California joined hands at a solidarity rally held on March 14, 2009, to protest the recent terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan national cricket team in Lahore, Pakistan.

Among the dignitaries participating in the ‘Bat Against Terrorism’ rally were Mr. Ananda Wickramasinghe, Sri Lankan Consul General (CG) in Los Angeles, Acting CG of Pakistan in Los Angeles Mr. K. K. Ahsan Wagan, Deputy CG of the United Kingdom Mr. David Wild, and Deputy CG of Australia Mr. Philip Minos. Among representatives of local organizations and groups were Mr. Adnan Khan, President of the Council of Pakistan American Affairs (COPAA), Mr. Jamal Khawaja, President of the Council of Pakistan American Chamber of Commerce, COPAA committee member Mrs. Shaista Khan, Mr. T’ Shaka Lee, President of the Southern California Cricket Association, and Mr. Ted Hayes manager and coach of the Compton Cricket Club, Mr. Rashantha de Silva, founder of Paalama.

The rally was organized by the Los Angeles based Sri Lankan voluntary organization “Sri Lankan Patriots” (SLP) and sponsored by COPAA, the Pakistan Chamber of Commerce, and the Compton Cricket Club. “Our aim is to send a message to the world that terror masters cannot either stop cricket in Lahore or disrupt the civilian life in Colombo. Also, as US citizen, we urge US law makers not to fall for different guises of cunning terrorists and their sympathizers. Terrorism should not be justified for any reason”, mentioned SLP secretary Gamini Edirisinghe commenting on the rally.

Despite the cloudy and chilliness of Saturday morning, the rally began with the participants going in procession around the lawn and its pathways, carrying placards and chanting slogans such as, “Cricket not bombs,” “Lets run-out terrorists,” “Solidarity for cricket,” “Bat against terrorism,” “Terror will not stop cricket,” “Zero tolerance for terrorism,” etc.

At the head of the procession was a giant banner reading, “Cricketers Unite – Bowl out Terrorists.” The banner, which was signed by all participants, will eventually be sent to the Sri Lankan cricket team, according to the organizers. The enthused Hayes, draped in the stars & stripes American flag, livened the march shouting, “Cricket! Cricket! lovely cricket’ accompanied with other slogans that called for an end to terror attacks on cricketers. Ananda Markalanda inspired the procession with joint chanting. Some marchers carried cricket gear: bat ball and gloves, while there were others who turned up dressed in cricket uniform.

Some onlookers were gazing in bewilderment as to why such a hue and cry is made of a little creature (cricket) that creeks in darkness. “Well this is a game, somewhat like base ball,” explained a rally participant.

The marchers converged on the flight of steps leading to the City Hall’s south entrance and the proceedings began with a moment’s silence in homage to the fallen victims of all acts of terror throughout the world and a short religious observance. Ven Aparakke Punnyasiri, chief incumbent of the Sun Valley Maithri Vihara, conducting the observance mentioned the close ties Pakistan had with Sri Lanka. “The scourge of terrorism will not put an end to it,” he asserted.
The names of the six security personnel who were killed protecting the Sri Lankan cricket team were read out by COPAA official, Shaista Khan, followed by invocation of blessings by Ven Punnyasiri. Journalist Hassina Leelarathna who initiated the idea for the rally was the emcee for the event. Spelling out the objectives of the rally, she pointed out that the six Pakistani policemen involved in the attack gave up their lives not just to save the Sri Lankan cricket team but also to preserve a part of our heritage and a way of life. She called on the participants to send a message to Washington to ‘stop playing politics with terrorism, to understand the nuances and complexities of our situation, and to help us fight the sources of terror.’

Acting CG of Pakistan in Los Angels Mr. K. K. Ahsan Wagan in his address spoke warmly of Pakistan-Sri Lanka relations and elaborated on the strong sentiments the people in the south Asian region have towards cricket. ‘It is a way of life’ he emphasized and went on to describe how shocked the Pakistani people were on hearing of the March 3rd attack. “We denounce terrorism and all such acts of violence,” he said. “Pakistan is very grateful to Sri Lanka for having accepted the invitation for a cricket tour when other nations had backed off from playing there due to security reasons. While we apologize to the Lankans for what happened on Pakistani soil, we are very grateful to them for undertaking the tour,” he said.

Sri Lankan Consul General Ananda Wickramasinghe said that Sri Lanka had faced a terrorist problem for 30 years but thanks to help from friendly countries such as Pakistan, was now on the verge of defeating the LTTE. He mentioned that in the past when Sri Lanka had been cold-shouldered by other cricketing nations due to the security situation, Pakistan had sent its team to play in Colombo. He went on to say that the friendship between the two nations has always been strong and that terrorists have not succeeded in causing a dent in it.

Deputy CG of the United Kingdom Mr. David Wild in a brief speech said that United Kingdom unequivocally denounced the attack on the Sri Lankan cricketers and that the game of cricket will go on despite such terrorist attacks. “We will defeat terrorism! We must defeat terrorism!” he concluded.

Mr. Hayes addressing the gathering mentioned that his team had the honor of playing a game with the 1996 world champion Sri Lankan cricket team when the latter visited LA in the same year. He pointed to the ‘etiquette and civility’ associated with cricket and said that terrorism absolutely had no place in the cricket world.

Mr. Adnan Khan President of COPAA mentioned in his speech that there is no place for terrorism in the World. Cricketers and Sportsmen are ambassadors of goodwill and friendship. We should all work together to eradicate terrorism from Sports, Cricket and the World. COPAA committee member Mrs. Shaista Khan, too expressed the same sentiments.

Mr. Jamal Khawaja, President of the Council of Pakistan American Chamber of Commerce stated that he was glad to be associated with the sponsoring of this event which promotes peace and goodwill against terror and chaos.

Mr. T’ Shaka Lee, President of the Southern California Cricket Association stated that the cricketing world is a family. “ I attended this function with my kids and my extended family consists of cricket lovers. As such we are very saddened by the terror assault committed on the Lankan team”.

SLP president Podinilame Dissanayake read out a joint statement prepared by SLP, COPPA and the Council of Pakistan American Chamber of Commerce, which states……. “we emphatically denounce this terrorist act and wish to send a message to the perpetrators that it has only strengthened the unity between the nations of Pakistan and Sri Lanka and reinforced the resolve of cricket fans to stand up against violence and terrorism”.

Isaac Hayes and three other rappers from the Compton Cricket Club waving the Sri Lankan flag performed a catchy song denouncing terrorism and supporting Cricket. The rally ended with a vote of thanks by Leelarathna who called on the gathering to stand united in the face of terrorism.