By Caroline Jaine
My love affair with cricket began in Sri Lanka, which was my home over a decade ago. In 2002, the island welcomed the world’s greatest talents in the game for the mini world cup, better known as the now defunct ICC Champions Trophy. We enjoyed the company of some the biggest names of the game over cold beers on the Mount Lavinia beach and were awe-inspired by their performances on the field. Spending time with Jonty, Shoaib, Allan, Brian and Makhaya was a great way to finally understand the game. When England toured Sri Lanka, the Barmy Army marvelled at Murali’s action and made up songs about Chaminda Vaas (it was hard to find lyrics that rhymed with Sanath Jayasuriya). We were delighted that the tropical island we lived on, although blighted by a bloody civil war, was still able to entertain the sport.
It was heart-breaking then, when the Sri Lankan cricket team came under an attack, whilst on tour in another country close to my heart. The Lahore attack in 2009, which killed eight Pakistanis and injured six of the Sri Lankan players, spelt the end for international tournaments in Pakistan – a nation deemed too dangerous for the game.
This, however, is not about cricket or, for that matter, Pakistan.
With the arrival of the Olympic Torch, I feel compelled ask whether Britain is safe enough to host the Games. Security is supposed to make you feel, well, secure. Yet, in the past few weeks I have felt increasingly insecure in my home, which is approximately 35 miles from the Olympic Park – the home of the Games.
Last week, we learned that spectators will be banned from bringing water bottles into Olympic Park – for the fear that they may contain liquid bombs. Londoners have witnessed the deployment of RAF Typhoon aircraft (fighter jets), and learnt that there are six air defence missile systems poised for action. Britain’s largest warship (HMS Ocean) is now parked on the Thames as part of the Olympic security preparations. Residents of east London recently told BBC Radio that their neighbourhood seemed like a ‘military zone.’ Apartments have been taken over by the Ministry of Defence, who are using them as potential launch pads for air weaponry. The BBC have kindly provided an enlightening collection of photographs.
Is the British Government responding to a tip off? Or, has it unearthed the vast number of end-of-the-world conspiracy theories on YouTube? Whatever the case, I feel saddened to be living in a country (and time), where this level of military protection is required for a sporting event.
Some cynics say the water-bottle ban is to ensure that people buy branded water once inside the stadium. The London Olympics have signed exclusive sponsorship deals with a number of companies, meaning that spectators are urged to only drink a certain brand of cola or beer and eat at a particular fast food outlet. There has been further criticism for the selling of sponsorship to oil giants and a multi-national consumer goods company. At a London underground station this week, I was greeted with an advert for the Games. It wasn’t promoting the incredible human endeavours that would be showcased – it merely asked me to buy stuff: “Gear Up For The Games”, it said – “Be Part of It with Official Merchandise.” That’s the spirit.
Apparently the arrival of the torch in our lands has given a boost to the ‘British spirit.’ Let’s hope it raises the sporting spirit – for that has been buried under a sea of commercialisation and a show of military might. I am hoping for a summer similar to those I experienced in Sri Lanka – where we could relax in the sunshine, drink “British ale” and learn about new, exciting sports. While I am looking forward to being primarily awestruck by the ability of our fellow humans, so far it all feels too dangerous. I can’t help wishing myself in an altogether safer place like, say, the Galle Stadium in Sri Lanka.