Tapiocafication Of National Rugby

Watching the telecast of the Asian Five Nations Rugby Tournament – being held at the newly revamped Havelock Sports Club ground – brought me memories of the TinTin comics which I used to read growing up. On the opening day of the tournament the second game was contested between the Sri Lankan “Tuskers” and Chinese Taipe. Incidentally, this was the first time since the current national captain’s taking of office where Sri Lanka was fielding a “choice A” side for an international fifteens tournament. As most of us know, due to differences among the rugby big brass, the political VIP who oversee the sport and certain club teams (which felt they were being snubbed) Sri Lankan rugby had many issues: players boycotting national duty being just one.

Lady Rajapakshe being introduced to Fazil Marija by Yoshitha Rajapakshe as captured by the Daily News. A perverse sense of a nose for news

Lady Rajapakshe being introduced to Fazil Marija by Yoshitha Rajapakshe as captured by the Daily News. A perverse sense of a nose for news

The Sri Lankan XV was lead by Yoshitha Rajapakshe – the second son of the Head of State. This, incidentally, is where the TinTin allusion comes in, for Yoshitha has on his team his parliamentarian elder brother Namal playing as Hooker (and to be fair by the MP, he played for three quarters of the first half). The special guest at the game was the First Lady Shiranthi Rajapakshe, who was also coincidentally the Sri Lankan skipper’s mother. The game was telecast live on Carlton Sports Network which – as it is known to the common fellow – is “Yoshitha’s channel”. Chandrishan Perera, Chief Selector of the Sri Lanka rugby pool, was also the chief commentator. He was at his premium best, distracting the viewer’s attention from the game as he launched on his “Ode to the Royal Family” once every few minutes. They say that this versatile rugby figure, in his day, was a solid back division player. He continues his good form. The camera, too, one felt was too eagerly focused on Yoshitha and Namal every other move they made and the VIP box, from where the First Lady and His Excellency followed proceedings.

A scene from "TinTin and the Picaros": General Tapioca speaking through Tapioca TV

A scene from “TinTin and the Picaros”: General Tapioca speaking through Tapioca TV

In Herge’s TinTin, there is a dysutopian state by the name of San Theodores. This is Herge’s “Banana Republic” with revolutions, coups and all forms of nepotism. The state lacks method or policy in government and is rallied around the central administrative figure at a given time – a figure that keeps changing once a coup. There are two rivals – General Alcazar and General Tapioca – who contest power. In San Theodores and its capital Los Dopicos (Tapioca renames it Tapiocapolis in “TinTin And the Picaros”) the “Jumbo Peanut Theory” of concentration (as opposed to devolution) is at its highest. The businesses, media, public grounds, chief offices are all centered under the wing of the despot. In “TinTin And the Picaros” there is a sequence where Thomson, Thompson and Bianca Castafiore – TinTin’s friends – are charged of conspiracy by Tapioca and are tried in a San Theodores court. Here, the case is presided over by influenced judges, and is broadcasted by the national TV channel, which is essentially pro-Tapioca.

Chandrishan Perera and his team insists that “club loyalties” have to be overlooked in performing national duty; and that now there seems to be some form of compromise among all players and quarters. These words, however, do not fool too many. The truth is that Sri Lankan rugby is a San Theodoran institute and the whims of power are prioritized. Ceylon Today, in a report titled “Rugby Selectors hit rough Seas” on March 17th documents how the selectors “have come under increasing pressure to pick a majority of the players from Navy [Sports Club]”. At the point of submission, Ceylon Today notes that 13 of a pool of 33 were from Navy SC. One should be selective in the questions one asks, but it might indeed put the selectors in a spot if one was to ask them to name the top “Flankers” and “Hookers” playing the game in Sri Lanka right now.

The Thepapare.lk records an interview with Chandrishan which is published in their site on January 18th. Here, the Chief Selector is questioned about Yoshitha’s appointment over the more experienced Fazil Marija. Chandrishan Perera’s answer is recorded by ThePapare as follows:  “[the decision was based on] a lot of things. His stint with the Sri Lanka team last year in the Philippines was very good. We didn’t have all our number one players and we fielded quite a young side, however he managed to get all of them together … He has shown over the years his leadership skills leading Navy SC to the top three in the league on numerous occasions”. And questioned on overlooking Fazil, he says:  “We’re thinking long term, therefore we want to get in young blood in to the squad”.

Both responses above are meant to camouflage the truth and are badly rehearsed. If Yoshitha has led the Navy SC to the top three, Marija has been the lynchpin of Kandy SC’s proven track record over the years. His years as an international player only adds to the shine and the respect all players and all fans have for him has seldom divided a national squad or caused sneers. A comment under the Chandrishan-ThePapare interview sums up the general opinion of the Chief Selector’s unequivocal stooge-craft: “hahaha what a joke”.

Comic strip heroes are essentially entertainers. That is their prime function in the stories they come in. of others, though, I am not so sure about.

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