| by Victor Cherubim
( December 3, 2014, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) We know that Europe is the home of sport, particularly football. We also know that FIFA is the governing body of football. What’s novel in Sporting Diplomacy?
Sri Lanka has had many visiting world leaders and celebrities recently. On the heels of the visit of the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe to Sri Lanka in early September 2014, we had the President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping visit our shores.
It was on the sidelines of the APEC meeting in Beijing in November, both these heads of government met after years of soured ties, over competing territorial claims in the East China Sea. Was this a diplomatic breakthrough facilitated by our President, Mahinda Rajapaksa? Who knows?
FIFA Visit to Ariyalai, Jaffna
But it was only yesterday, 2 December 2014, that another world dignitary, a sports personality, the Head of FIFA, Sepp Blatter visited Sri Lanka for the grand opening of the purpose built Jaffna Football Training Centre at Ariyalai. He was accompanied by H.E. the President of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, together with many distinguished guests and top FIFA officials.
It has never been noted in the annals of any sport that a President of an Arabian State having time to attend and declare open a football training stadium in unknown Ariyalai
It appears it is a feat of football “sporting diplomacy.” Is there a new player in geopolitics in Sri Lanka?
Many will know of the investment in the Seychelles, by the State of Qatar.
Many of us know that Qatar was chosen as the venue of the 2022 FIFA World Championships.
What is the significance of this high powered visit?
On face value we may surmise, that it was to give football a tremendous boost in South Asia, particularly in Sri Lanka. According to the press release this visit of such a high powered delegation was for national reconciliation. Member Association Presidents from Japan, Korea, Thailand, Pakistan, Bangladesh, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, attended the ceremony at Ariyalai, Jaffna. One wonders why it coincided with the rainy season in the North, or why it took place weeks prior to the Presidential election.
Football is a team sport with rules of fair play. It hopes to foster character formation along with respect and discipline. As it is more than just entertainment, it has much appeal for the media and is more than a sport. According to some observers, football is also a trusted “economic driver”.
What then is the economic impact of this opening of the stadium in Jaffna?
We know we are in an era of Asian consumption led growth. Is it much to expect that rising income levels led by stable prices for oil, will usher in a rise in domestic consumption, boosting trade among South East Asian nations. Could we anticipate the demand for imports for items ranging from cars to electronic goods will be seen in future years in Jaffna? We also note the rate of growth too in the North is growing at a faster rate than elsewhere.
If a sea change is to take place in Jaffna, we need to look no further than the attitude to work among the youth of Jaffna. There have been no incentives to work during the near 30 year war. A culture of dependency, assisted by handouts, remittances from abroad from diaspora, became the norm. The need to change is imminent.
Perhaps, driving this change will be the incentive to train in sport and in football. The moral support given by FIFA and the Asian Football Federation may be the necessary “influence” to entice the youth of today, to train and be the elite footballers of 2030.
Act of engagement in sport
This act of engagement whereby people with similar interests in football associate in training may perhaps, create the conditions for organising competitions locally, nationally and regionally. It thus makes sense that people tend to be not only footballers, but also fans, sharing their enthusiasm of the sport to strengthen their ties.
Much more important may be the deeper and underlying impact of the opportunity of
taking “cricket crazy” fans in the island, and perhaps, South Asia and turning them to become fans of football.
We saw in Brazil a growing number of football talent scouts recently during the World Cup trying to recruit potential and talented youth as Football players for teams abroad in Europe on lucrative contracts. Could this also be another reason of FIFA support in training? European Club Football thrives on talent and there is nothing stopping a Jaffna Tamil or a Sri Lankan playing for an elite club abroad in the years ahead.