CRITICS of Sri Lanka’s human rights record are calling for a boycott of the national cricket team’s tour of Australia and say the Boxing Day Test will be an opportunity to protest.
Two groups have called for a boycott ahead of the first Test in Hobart this week, prompting a scathing rebuke from Sri Lankan high commissioner Thisara Samarasinghe.
Claiming inspiration from the former anti-apartheid sporting sanctions against South Africa, the Tamil Refugee Council and the Refugee Action Collective in Victoria are pushing for the boycott.
”There will be a stain of injustice that won’t wash out of the cricket whites if the human rights abuses of the ruling Sri Lankan regime pass unremarked,” the groups say in an open letter.
Mr Samarasinghe branded their call unworthy of attention, saying of the Sri Lankan team: ”They have not come from the back door. They have been welcomed by your government and everybody in the system, so don’t let this great country be spoiled by people like this.”
The call has provoked a mixed reaction from refugee advocates, with some arguing that the Boxing Day Test represents an opportunity to get information to a mass audience, and they plan to distribute leaflets attacking Sri Lanka’s treatment of Tamils to cricket fans.
Former prime minister Malcolm Fraser has called for an independent assessment of the situation in Sri Lanka, including whether members of the Tamil minority are being persecuted and how those sent back from Australia after coming here by boat are being treated.
If an inquiry found that Tamils were still being persecuted and if verifiable commitments were not given that this would stop, ”then the international community has got to take action”, Mr Fraser told Fairfax Media.
The Australian Tamil Congress’s Bala Vigneswaren supported the boycott call, saying the Australian Cricket Board should apply the same standard to Sri Lanka that was applied to South Africa when that country was boycotted.
The boycott call came as opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison announced that he and foreign affairs spokeswoman Julie Bishop would travel to Sri Lanka for meetings with government officials at the end of January.
”We’ll also go up and visit the Tamil areas in northern Sri Lanka and see things on the ground there,” Mr Morrison told Sky News on Sunday.
Mr Samarasinghe has previously dismissed claims of continued persecution of Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority, describing those who have attempted to come by boat as ”economic opportunists”. Those talking of boycotts had a vested interest and should not be taken seriously, he said.