Glasgow 2014: The Sri Lankan Elephant in the Room
The Games are intended to ‘unite the commonwealth through sport’, championing the shared values of member countries and promoting the values enshrined in the Commonwealth Charter, which include ‘Human Rights’, ‘Democracy’ and ‘Freedom of Expression’.
Sri Lanka has been invited without question to Glasgow 2014. This is a country in the recent aftermath of what can easily be described as a state-perpetuated genocide, whose administration under President Mahinda Rajapaksa is effectively a militarized dictatorship. The UN estimates that 40 000 Tamil civilians were killed in early of 2009, in addition to upwards of 70 000 declared missing as the government military carried out its final attacks on Tamil strongholds in the Northeast. No one has yet been held accountable for these atrocities, and the unexamined lies that come out of Sri Lankan government prevent the country’s people from recovering from their trauma. While the Commonwealth Charter explicitly affirms each member states’ commitment to ‘a free and responsible media’, Sri Lanka currently ranks amongst the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist.
There appears to be an elephant in the room.
The ‘Sri Lanka’ page of the Glasgow 2014 website omits any mention of its recent, inescapable history, choosing instead to discuss the Sri Lankan elephant, which, by the way, is a subspecies of the Asian elephant. This omission is perhaps to be expected in the hands of multinational branding agencies, who sanitize and de-politicize events in the interests of their commercial success.
But the Commonwealth Games are inherently political.
The last Commonwealth Games held here in Scotland were in Edinburgh in 1986. Known as the ‘Boycott Games’ they were boycotted by 32 of 57 participating nations for Margaret Thatcher’s refusal to put sanctions on apartheid South Africa. For the self-proclaimed values of the Commonwealth Charter to go unquestioned whilst blatantly contravened is de-meaning to the spirit of sport.
The Glasgow 2014 Games are currently unfolding against the backdrop of the atrocities in Gaza. It is a heated time, and a reminder of the importance of protecting the integrity of the values shared by the people.
So it was great to see the Games kick off with a kiss celebrating Article V of the Commonwealth Charter, Freedom of Expression.
And it was great to see hundreds of Tamils protest Sri Lankan inclusion in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow on Wednesday.
And it’s been great to see the Queen, David Cameron and Mahinda Rajapaksa appear together live in George Square, dancing in spandex to Cyndi Lauper to protest war crimes in Sri Lanka, then later made demands to the Police that the Scottish Police College withdraw their training programs in Sri Lanka.
It seems the games are off to a fitting start.