COLOMBO 11th March 2015
On the 8th of March 2015, Australia played against Sri Lanka at the Sydney Cricket Ground emerging victorious in reaching the quarter finals. A crowd amassing thousands cheered Maxwell on as he propelled Australia to victory over Sri Lanka completely oblivious to the anti-gay slur upheld by the fan written in Sinhala. The photo went viral on Sri Lankan social media showing a man in a Sri Lankan cricket jersey brandishing a sign that labelled Maxwell a “fag” in Sinhala during the Cricket World Cup match. The word Ponnaya, which was penned in Sinhala on the poster is a derogative word to describe an effeminate gay man but is used widely as a term similar to ‘faggot’ to denigrate homosexual men in general.
Sri Lankan social media swiftly moved to condemn the actions of the man responsible for labelling Glenn Maxwell a ‘Ponnaya” thus using the derogatory slur. Despite Australians not understanding the Sinhala word on the placard, Sri Lankans both living in Sri Lanka and abroad were appalled by the audacity of the man whose placard insulted an Australian cricket player on their own home soil and disrespected the LGBTIQ community both nationally and internationally.
Sri Lankan politician Malsha Kumaranatunge who happens to be the daughter of the previous Minister of Sports, Jeevan Kumaranatunge, was quoted on social media saying:
“Cricket is a game you play with respect. Respect for your own team but most importantly, respect for your opponents. Holding placards like this, insulting players of the host country, in their own soil, is not only disrespectful to the people of Australia but reflects us Sri Lankans in a poor light. Using homophobic terms to insult opposing players or anyone is un-acceptable. Cricket is for everyone. Whether you are Sinhalese, Tamil or Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu, rich or poor, gay or straight. Respect.”
The son of former Cricket Captain Arjuna Ranatunga, Dhyan Ranatunga too mentioned he did not understand the people who seemed to find the actions of the man who used the homophobic slur to be funny and a “joke” and considered the actions of the perpetrator of the homophobic slur at the match to be contrary to the concept of cricket as a “gentleman’s game”.
He went on to further condemn the man by saying; “This is just pathetic and disgraceful by whoever this guy is, and also to anyone who sees this as a joke. Cricket is supposed to be the “gentlemen’s game”, and this certainly isn’t an act of any ‘gentleman’. He’s disrespecting the game of cricket, and Sri Lanka too! He’s not a fan of cricket, not a fan of Sri Lanka. It’s such a shame he’s wearing a Sri Lanka jersey! We are better than that!”
Aritha Wickramasinghe who is an ardent Sri Lanka cricket fan and a renowned lawyer at an international law firm too vehemently opposed the usage of the homophobic slur telling trusted LGBTIQ news source Pink News: “Homophobia in sport, especially in Cricket, is something that all cricket loving nations must get together to tackle. Using gay slurs such as this at a World Cup is insensitive and insulting to the millions of young gay men and women that endure discrimination and violence because of who they chose to love. As a Sri Lankan Cricket lover, I am ashamed of fans like this. This is not funny and it certainly isn’t cricket.”
EQUAL GROUND, Sri Lanka’s only truly mixed organization advocating the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and questioning persons in Sri Lanka, is appalled by the action of the man responsible for the homophobic insult during the cricket match that has since made news in International media and portrayed Sri Lanka in a negative light. As an organization striving for equal rights and respect for LGBTIQ persons, an already marginalized and stigmatized minority in Sri Lanka, EQUAL GROUND views the blatant disrespect shown by the man in question as furthering the notion that it is acceptable to discriminate against the already vulnerable LGBTIQ community.
“The fight for equal rights remains a major obstacle so long as respect for all sexual orientations and gender identities are denied both in sport and out of it. Sport banter is not a justification for downplaying players of any team by using derogatory and discriminatory remarks that are racist, sexist, ableist, transphobic or homophobic in nature,” said Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR of EQUAL GROUND.
EQUAL GROUND profusely apologizes to Glenn Maxwell on behalf of all Sri Lankan Cricket fans – whether they agree or not with the apology – for being denied the respect every cricket player rightfully deserves from an opposing team and its fans.
EQUAL GROUND urges the Sri Lankan government and the respective cricket boards of Sri Lanka, Australia and New Zealand and the ICC to take up this matter seriously and enable special measures and protocols to ensure no disrespectful, discriminatory and defamatory remarks are ever tolerated within the arena of cricket in any country.