Monday, July 28, 2014


I feel so old
It makes me feel younger
I feel so alone
It makes me feel stronger
I feel so sad
It makes me be happier
I feel so afraid
It makes me be bolder
I feel so hated
It makes me love deeper
I feel so confused
It makes me feel wiser

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Social Media Number Games

In 2011, just after Kumar Sangakkara stepped down from the captaincy of Sri Lanka cricket team, a protest was organized through facebook to demand him back as captain. This was organized in the backdrop of the dramatic fall of Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt. Thousands said online that they will join the gathering at Independent Square. Not even 20 came.

Speaking at “Forum with Eran” moderated by UNP Parliamentarian Eran Wickremaratne, Groundviews Editor Sanjana Hattotuwa stated that he was extremely disturbed by the amount of hate speech that was circulating through social media, especially in various groups on facebook against the Muslim Community. He stated that he had identified about 35 such groups and each one has over 12,000 members. While the membership of these groups does not add up to 12,000 times 35 (which will be an alarming 420,000) Sanjana correctly stated that the attack directed towards the Muslim Community was organized and vituperative.

Sanjana then stated a very valid point. The anti- Muslim hate on social media is greater that the hate against Tamils even at the height of the war.

Even though I did not state this at that time, Sanjana’s comment on numbers reminded me of the Sangakkara episode. Furthermore, there were several important factors to be considered in discussing this and he pointed out one of them while forgetting another.

In social media culture, even one person could sometimes do harm as he correctly pointed out. However, by saying so, he negated the argument about the numbers he had already stated. I was reminded of the Mongol battle tactics from several centuries back.

When riding into the enemy territory, one Mongol soldier will light more than one campfire at night, giving the impression that the invading army was several times the true size. The defender usually was mortally scared by both the preceding reputation of Mongols and the perceived numbers. By giving a false impression on the numbers the Mongols won half the battle.

If we look at the people who are disseminating hate speech online, one could find that there are only a few real personalities. Most of them are using fake accounts with patriotic sounding names. I know for a fact that a single person can keep a number of fake profiles. Hence, a handful of people can successfully maintain a group like that with little difficulty.

Another reason why I say that numbers do not count is my personal experience on facebook. I am an administrator of two groups, one with a membership of 12,000 and the other with nearly 40,000. But even in the second group which is extremely active, only a maximum of a hundred members are really active. People come in droves for various reasons, especially when the group is larger. It has come to a rate of growth where it takes only about a week for the membership to increase by another thousand. But only a handful of these new members are really active in the group. Others come in and then forget it.

I’m sure Bodu Bala Sena or other radical groups from any religion will ‘sell’ more than general knowledge, music or films. However, this has not come about only social media. Social media did lay some ground work sometime after the end of the war. But it would have been on the fringe if they had remained on the cyber space. It is only because they came to the streets that the BBS has become an online phenomenon of this magnitude.

The same can be said about radical groups among non-Buddhist groups around the world. Somalia’s Al Shebab and Iraq’s ISIS rebels are very much active on social media. If we take their activity on face value, one might say that they are a huge force. On the contrary, they are relatively small groups. They have given the impression that they are larger due to several reasons, weak government response being one. In Sri Lanka, while we discuss about the BBS, we never hear anything about radical Islamic groups. Research into this has to be carried out as soon as possible. Perhaps they are laying the ground for their activities on social media, just like the BBS (in some form) was doing four years back.

Sanjana’s other argument on comparing the attacks on Tamil Community and the Muslim Community, was made without considering several factors. Five years ago, internet was not a widely available commodity like today. Even I obtained an internet connection for home usage in only 2009. While I was never a tech savvy person, a majority of Sri Lankans are the same. But internet has become such an easy place to access, compared to 2009. Among the privileged crowd that used internet in their homes by 2009, one cannot expect hate speech to the magnitude we see now.

Also, the environment was totally different. Whatever said and done the Sri Lankan armed forces carried out a humanitarian operation, separating the rebel from the civilian whenever possible and saving tens of thousands of them from the clutches of terrorists. The distinction between terrorists and people was always emphasized almost on a daily basis.

No fascist or other radical group cares about numbers because they do not care about democracy. Same goes to radical religious groups in any form. However, the vituperative nature of the language and attitude of these groups is such that saner people who are the majority even on social media just stay away. It is high time they raised their voices and make numbers really count.

(This article first appeared in 'The Nation' on Sunday July 20, 2014).

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Quiz with Chamara Sumanapala. Part 08: Myanmar (Burma)

Myanmar (Burma) gained independence from the British in 1948, exactly a month before Ceylon. Rich in natural resources and a leading producer of rice, Burma had a promising future. However, due to several factors including internal disputes, armed conflict and economic mis-management, Burma remained poor. From 1962 Burma was governed by the military until a nominally civilian government was established in 2010. However, the government comprises of former military officers and for all intents and purposes remains dominated by the military. Recent developments have indicated a considerable change in policy.

General Aung San was just 32 years old when he was assassinated in July 1947
01. Burma is home to many minority communities in addition to the predominant Burman community. Before independence, the father of Burmese independence struggle, General Aung San, signed an agreement with the main minority groups to establish a united country. However, General Aung San was assassinated in July 1947. The agreement was not properly implemented and several minorities took up arms against the government. There was a time when the central government at Rangoon (renamed Yangon in 1989) lost control of much of the land area in Burma. Some of these conflicts are still raging. What was the agreement signed on February 12, 1947?

02. The first Prime Minister of Burma held the position for much of the civilian rule until 1962. He had an international reputation as a non-aligned leader. Before becoming active in politics he was known as a literary person, writing novels and plays. He also translated Dale Carnegie’s best seller “How to win friends and influence people” to Burmese. After the coup of General Ne Win in 1962, he was kept in house arrest. He left the country in 1968 and led opposition to the military rule of General Ne Win. He again became politically active in 1988 protests and was later put on house arrest. In 1992 he was released and died in 1995, aged 87. Who was he?

03. The daughter of Aung San returned to Burma in 1988 to visit her ailing mother and was pulled into the politics of the country. 1988 saw the “8888 Uprising” against the military government. In 1990 elections were held which was won by the party led by Aung Sang Suu Kyi, daughter of Aung San. But the military annulled the election results and put many party leaders behind bars. In 2012, her party was given permission to contest by elections for 45 seats on the parliament and her party won in 41. What is the party led by Aung San Suu Kyi?

04. Burma, renamed Myanmar in 1989, has seen significant changes in recent years. Today it has a civilian president and has aligned more towards the Western nations. From 2007 he was the Prime Minister of the military regime in Myanmar. In 2010 he and many senior military officers left the army and formed a political party. He contested the 2010 election and in March 2011 was elected president. Who is the current president of Myanmar?

05. Due to the international isolation, Burma (Myanmar) had not received much attention by many. It was in the news mainly due to the international criticism of the military regime. But the country has a lot of ancient monuments. One important place is the ruins of an ancient city in Mandalay region. Established in the 2nd century, it was a fortified city from the 9th century. From 11th to 13th centuries, it was a capital of an ancient kingdom, until its collapse around 1287. What is this city?

Answers to Quiz 07
1. Luna-2
2. Apollo-8
3. Richard Nixon
4. Japan
5. Indian Space Research Organization

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Quiz with Chamara Sumanapala. Part 07: Destination Moon

A Chinese rover Yutu (Jade Rabbit in English) recently landed on the Moon, becoming the first manmade object to “soft land” on the only satellite of the Earth after 1976. China became only the fifth country to send a manmade craft to the surface of the Moon.

Exploration of the Moon was part of the “space race” between the Soviet Union and the United States from the late 1950s. The Soviets were leading the race initially. After Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space, the then US President John F Kennedy urged his countrymen to accelerate the space race. He said:
I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space.
Sadly, Kennedy did not live to see his dream come true.

Neil Armstrong became the first man on the moon in July 1969, giving USA a commanding victory in the space race. Thereafter the space race died down. USA sent 12 astronauts to the Moon and then gave up because of high costs.
The Earthrise as seen by Borman, Lovell and Anders in 1968 (Question 02)

01. Which Soviet probe became the first manmade object to land on the Moon in September 1959?

02. The far side of the Moon is invisible to us. US astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders orbited the Moon in 1968 and were the first humans to see the far side of the Moon. They were also the first to see an “Earthrise” (Rising of the Earth over the surface of the Moon). Which Apollo mission took them around the Moon?

03. The first Apollo Mission to land people on the Moon was Apollo-11. The last mission was Apollo 17. Each mission took three men out of which two landed. However, only 12 astronauts landed on the Moon as Apollo-13 met with a mal-function and had to return. During all these Apollo landings, the United States had the same President. Therefore, he was the President who oversaw the realization of the dream of President JFK. Ironically, he had been defeated in the 1960 Presidential Election by JFK. Who was he?

04. In 1990, which country became the third country to independently send a probe to the Moon?

05. In 2008, an Indian spacecraft, Chandrayaan-1, was launched by the country’s space agency, ISRO. It launched a Moon Impact Probe which crash landed successfully and sent data back to Earth. This data proved that the soil on Moon contain water particles. What is the full name of ISRO?

Answers to Quiz 06
01. Surgeon of the wilderness
02. Wild Ceylon
03. Where the White Sambhur Roams
04. Brave Island
05. Wycherley

Monday, July 21, 2014

Quiz with Chamara Sumanapala. Part 06: Dr. RL Spittel

Dr. Richard Lionel Spittel was an acclaimed Ceylonese physician and author from the Burgher Community the country. He was one of the foremost experts on the Veddhas of Sri Lanka. Born on December 9, 1881, he died on September 3, 1969.
Dr. RL Spittel (Image from:

1. Dr. RL Spittel was an excellent surgeon and also traveled far and wide through the wilderness of Ceylon. Therefore, he was given an epithet by which he is widely known. What is this famous epithet?

2. Dr Spittel published his first book in 1915. It was a medical book named “A Basis of Surgical Ward Work.” In 1924, he published his first book on Ceylon. He dedicated the book to his father, Dr. Frederick George Spittel. What was his first book on Ceylon?

3. Dr. Spittel’s books won critical acclaim both within Ceylon and overseas. They were based on his knowledge about the history of the island, his travels in the jungle areas and the interactions with the Veddha people. One of the books written in 1951 and published in London was acclaimed by the reviewer on BBC Home Service who said, “The whole story has been beautifully written. It is the best jungle book I've read since the 'Jungle Book' itself.” What was this book?

4. In 1966, the last book of Dr Spittel published before his death came out in Colombo. It could also be said that this was his first purely historical novel. It was co-authored by his daughter Christine. Based on the last days of the Portuguese rule in the island of Ceylon, what is this book?

5. Some years after his death, an international school was started in the house of Dr. Spittel in Colombo 7. The school however, retained the name of the house. What was the name of the house owned by Dr RL Spittel?

Answers to Quiz 05

1. San Diego
2. 1899
3. Chuichi Nagumo
4. Kazuo Sakamaki
5. USS Arizona

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Sun and the Sunflower

Image from CCTV

Home was far
But not far as this
To not reach forever
In a field of death
Debris, memories strewn apart
Never to be back together
The sun covers itself
In a veil of clouds
Ashamed to see the earth today
A sunflower
Staring towards the star
How long are you going to hide?
The Sun
Opts to be silent

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Challenge the Germans did not Accept

Germany won the World Cup in Brazil for the first time after the country was united in 1990. It was in 1990 that West Germany had won the world cup. The whole nation was jubilant at the return of the coveted FIFA World Cup to the country. Germany was above all and will be for the next four years until they will have to defend the title in Russia in 2018.

However, in this backdrop of the jubilation of victory, Germany forgot a challenge by a small football club in a favela, or a slum, in Sao Paulo. Slums are omnipresent in Brazilian cities but were not visible among the fanfare of the World Cup. If not for the protests that rocked the country, the poor in Brazil would have been even more invisible to the media.

Anita Garibaldi favela is in Sao Paulo, the largest city in Brazil. Youngsters flock to the football ground in the favela for the love of the game. They also have a team, the Anita Futbol Club. Players from Anita FC, wanted to prove to the world that poverty is no obstacle to achieving success in sports. For this, about a week after the Football World Cup kicked off in Brazil, the team issued a challenge to the eventual world champions. Anita FC wanted to see the world champions play against them in their home ground.
Anita FC vs World Champions (Techo Facebook Page)
Anita FC is supported by a Latin American NGO, Techo. The NGO issued a media release which said “We want their reality, and the reality of millions of people living in poverty, to be known by the world.”

Furthermore, it stated that “In every training session, every game, every time the ball moves, they are confronting much more than a rival, they are confronting their adversities.”

However, the young team was positive about their capability. “I’ve embraced this utopian ideal [of challenging the world champions] as I see the boys believe it is going to happen. And if they believe it, then so do I,” said Anita FC coach Alexandre Romao in June as reported by RT.
Anita FC home ground (Techo Facebook Page)
“I would like to play Brazil because that way the majority of players would be returning to their roots, the pitches where they learned to play football in this country,” the coach stated further.

However, Brazil was shot out of contention by Germany, the eventual champions, by a shocking defeat of 7-1 in Belo Horizonte. In the final on July 13, Germany defeated Argentina 1-0.

Germans may never have seen the story about the challenge of Anita FC. Perhaps RT was the only mainstream TV channel that carried the story and therefore, there must have been only limited coverage. Perhaps Germans were basking in jubilation to remember Anita FC. Whatever the reason, the Germans did not go to Anita FC.

The youngsters in Anita Garibaldi may still be waiting for the world champions to come and face their challenge. Even if they did not play a match, it will be a happy day if the world champions visit them to see their plight and the way they face their challenges in life.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


Cry, little one
When you feel lonely
Lost in thoughts
In space and time
Hunt your mind
Find all sorrows
Catch them
Bind them
Let them out with a flood of tears
And then
Smile like a new born baby

Monday, July 14, 2014

Mario Götze’s Gift

I must start with an apology to Mario Götze. In the 88th minute of the 2014 FIFA World Cup final in Maracana Stadium, Rio de Janeiro, Götze was introduced substituting Miroslav Klose, the record holder for the highest number of World Cup goals. It occurred to me that if Götze scores it would be an ideal tribute to Klose, but I never thought he will. Who could imagine that this baby faced youngster would shatter the dreams of the Albiceleste.
Mario Götze, Pic by Michael Kranewitter

However, throwing my apprehensions out of the window, it was Götze who did score the only goal of the match, in the 113th minute. Thereby he entered football history as the only goal scorer in an epic contest, a World Cup football final in Maracana. For the first time in history, a European side had won a football world cup in Latin America.

At times, life gifts you with golden opportunities which can make you or break you, the latter in the case when you do not make the best out of it. If the youngster had somehow squandered the golden opportunity to score the winner, it would have broken the morale of not only him but his team. There are times when extreme misfortune does not allow one to make the best out of it. But on this occasion, it was not the case.

This was a good reason not to underestimate a youngster under any circumstances. Legends have to be replaced when they are too old for the competitive game. Klose, who is 36, will have to be replaced someday. If the game is to continue, there must be someone else to step in and take that place. Götze could be the man for the job.

This is where Brazil was not so successful while Colombia was. The Selecao could not find a replacement for Neymar as all other strikers were practically ineffective compared to Neymar. It was the same with the captain Thiago Silva in the defense. Without him, there was no effective defense, as the 7-1 shocker against Germany showed.

Colombia was totally different to Brazil in this aspect. It lost the service of Radamal Falcao for the World Cup through injury. Falaco is thought to be one of the best strikers ever to have graced the football arena. With his loss, only a few believed when Colombia expressed confidence of reaching unprecedented heights. The team rallied around James Fernandez, a 23 year old youngster. He stepped into the boots of Falcao, spearheading an entertaining journey as Colombia reached the last eight. In the process, Rodriguez netted six goals, collecting the Golden Boot for the best scorer of the tournament.

For the second successive tournament, the Germans had one of the youngest squads at a FIFA World Cup. Its 2010 squad was one of the youngest at an average age of 25 years and Klose, then at 32, was comparatively an old man. In 2014, the team is a bit older, for the simple reason that a considerable part of the team is composed of those players who appeared in South Africa four years ago. However, the team also included newcomers, including the first German international players born after reunion, André Schürrle and the hero of the final Götze.

With such a young side and an upcoming bunch of quality footballers Germany is bound to create more legends as the likes of Klose would be taking their leave in due course. "Baby faced" youngsters are never to be underestimated, as Mario Götze showed us a few hours ago.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Loving Further

Sorrow of love lost
Sweeps overboard
Floods in tears
The whole soul
The eyes
Sleepless and tired
The mind
Sad but numb
Cry for sleep
A respite
To forget
That one could love
Still further

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Message

I open the window
To calmness
Brighter and serene
Than the depths and crevices
The nooks and cracks
The turns and paths
In my labyrinthine mind
The mango tree
Now old and fruitless
Bathed in full moon light
There are other mango trees
It says
And other trees
But apart from them all
There is me
It says
I listen
And close the window

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Divert Kelani River to Rajarata

The second week of June should have been an eye opening moment for Sri Lankans. Heavy rains fell on the western slopes of Central Highlands, raising the fear of floods once again. It was just weeks after inclement weather had claimed more than 20 lives. Meanwhile, Rajarata, the agricultural heartland of the island, was still reeling from the effects of a long drought which has dried most tanks and is likely to reduce the rice production significantly this year.
Spilling of Upper Kotmale Dam (Chathuranga Perera,

Sluice gates of the reservoirs in the Kelani River catchment area were opened since water reached spilling levels. However, in stark contrast, water levels were at 20-30 percent of the capacity in the four main reservoirs of the Mahaweli River (Kotmale, Victoria, Randenigala, Rantembe). For example, while the South Western parts of the island were being inundated, power generation was done only for 2 hours in Victoria Hydroelectric Power Plant. (The accompanying table shows the water levels as of June 25).
Water levels in major reservoirs on June 25, 2014.

Furthermore, the Mahaweli Project has been unsuccessful in providing water to the dry zone which is struggling through drought, simply because there is not enough water in the Mahaweli River. The tunnel starting from Polgolla can supply 875 million cubic meters per year to Rajarata. This is equal to four times the capacity of the Kotmale Reservoir. However, only 60 percent of it is supplied due to the lack of water in the Mahaweli River. The months May-September are the dry months in Rajarata. The main objective of the Mahaweli Project was to provide water to Rajarata during this period. However, this year, the said objective has not been achieved.

During the past few years, a significant change of the rain pattern has been observed. It may have been caused by the climate change or some other reason. It has created the possibility of what happened earlier this month from recurring in the near future. A certain area of the country is flooded while another area dries up for lack of water.

Since the weather pattern of the whole country is affected, and it affects the people as a whole, a holistic approach must be taken to solve this problem. One cannot limit to the Mahaweli River or the project. The country should be taken as one unit and solutions should be sought.

A Kelani-Mahaweli tunnel

Although it could appear as a far-fletched idea, there is a possibility of linking Kelani River and the Mahaweli River by a tunnel. If such a link is established, in a situation where Kelani River has more than enough water, the excess can be diverted to the Mahaweli River. It will help flood control in the Kelani River basin and simultaneously will help irrigate Rajarata. Therefore, the water that will possibly inundate the homes and roads in the Kelani valley will be used to cultivate rice which will feed the country. Effectively, the Kelani River will be diverted to Rajarata.

Diverting water from Kelani River might not be possible continuously. If the water level goes down in the Kelani River, salt water might come up the river and even enter the Ambatale Reservoir. Therefore, the diversion should be done according to the water levels of the rivers.

The best place to establish the Kelani-Mahaweli link could be the Ginigathhena area. Although many of us are unaware of the fact, the two rivers are only a few kilometers apart from each other in this area. It is also a famous fact that the rainwater which falls to the roof of the police station in Ginigathhena reaches two rivers. Water falling on one side of the roof reaches the Kelani River while water falling on the other side reaches the Mahaweli. While this writer is no expert in engineering, simple logic gives the thought that this could be done. A feasibility assessment of such a tunnel should be carried out by relevant experts to determine the possibility of such a project from being undertaken.

Dams above Polgolla

Another drawback in the Mahaweli Project is the fact that there are no reservoirs above the Polgolla dam except in Kotmale. However, the Kotmale Dam is in a branch of the Mahaweli River, the Kotmale Oya. The main river has not been dammed above Polgolla. If the river can be dammed in these upper reaches, it will facilitate the storage of water above Polgolla Dam. Thereby, it could be released when needed to Rajarata through Polgolla.

Several aspects have to be considered in studying the possibility of such a project. One factor will be the possible reduction of the electricity generation at Victoria Power Plant. However, this can be compensated by building power plants associated with the reservoirs upstream. Another more sensitive issue will be resettling people. Displaced people should be compensated adequately, perhaps with both monetary and land compensation.


The coming years will be a time of food scarcity and water scarcity. These two are interrelated with each other. Therefore, any government thinking about the future will have to decide on steps to guarantee water and food security to its people.

There is also a moral obligation for the Mahaweli Authority towards the people who were displaced by earlier projects and were resettled in places such as Mahaweli H Zone. They left lands where there was no scarcity of water. Therefore, the authorities should do their best to supply them water for their agricultural needs. It is a moral obligation of the country to a people who sacrificed for the betterment of all.

Diverting Kelani River could be the best answer to the drought in Rajarata. It might be the best answer to the flooding of the lower reaches of the Kelani River basin. It could be the next irrigation revolution Sri Lanka is waiting for.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Quiz with Chamara Sumanapala. Part 05: Attack on Pearl Harbor

On December 07, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor naval base in Hawaii, bringing the United States of America in to the Second World War. The US Navy personnel in Pearl Harbor did not anticipate such an attack. Japan had not declared war beforehand, which led President Franklin D. Roosevelt to declare that December 7, 1941, will be “a date that will live in infamy.”

01. As tensions intensified in the Pacific, President Franklin D Roosevelt, also known as FDR, ordered the US Pacific Fleet to Pearl Harbor from its former base in the Western coast of the United States. Long associated with the US Navy, this city has a natural deep water harbor. Currently the eighth largest city in the USA, it is also hosts the largest military fleet in the world. From which city did the Pacific Fleet move to Pearl Harbor?

The U.S. battleship in Question 05
02. Pearl Harbor became an important place for Americans during the 19th century when the Hawaiian Kingdom fell increasingly under American influence. It was used as a “coaling and repair station” for US ships. Hawaiian Kingdom was overthrown and the islands were annexed by the United States in 1898. In which year was the naval base in Pearl Harbor established?

03. The Japanese attack force consisted of 414 planes carried by six aircraft carriers, 23 fleet submarines, 9 midget submarines and a few other ships. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was responsible for the plan and the fleet left Japan on November 26 under the Commander of the First Air Fleet, Japan’s main aircraft carrier force. Although opposed to Yamamoto’s plan, he oversaw the attack, but was later criticized for failing to destroy the oil storage and repair facilities. He later led the Japanese Fleet in many battles including the bombing of Ceylon in April 1942. He committed suicide at the last stages of the Battle of Saipan on July 6, 1944, and was posthumously promoted as Admiral. Who was this officer?

The Japanese naval officer in Question 03
04. David Akui, a Hawaiian born US soldier, became famous for capturing the only Japanese Prisoner of War (POW) at Pearl Harbor. (The Japanese navy soldier was unconscious at that time and Akui found him).  This soldier lived in USA as a prisoner until the war ended. Returning to Japan, he worked for Toyota Company for a long period. He died in 1999, aged 81. Who was this soldier, the first Japanese POW in the Second World War?

05. America lost 2402 lives at the attack on Pearl Harbor. Almost half of them (1177) died when a missile hit the ammunition store of a battle ship, resulting in an explosion. While all the other three battle ships which sunk were salvaged, this ship was not salvaged completely. Parts of it still lie under the sea in Pearl Harbor. A war memorial named after the ship has been built in the harbor, straddling the sunken hull of the ship. What is this battle ship?

Answers to quiz 04

01. Jack
02. Abraham Lincoln
03. Solomon Islands
04. John Connally
05. Jack Ruby

Monday, July 7, 2014

Why Religious Fanatics Hate Football

It has now become a sad story. Every four years, FIFA World Cup is held somewhere in the world. In recent years, some fanatic group has found the opportunity to ban watching the world cup on television, or worse still, attack the people who watch the matches.Sports in general were banned in certain regions under the control of fanatic groups. Taliban banned sports in Afghanistan. The Islamic Courts Union, the forerunner of Al-Shabab in Somalia, banned watching football matches some years back. Then in 2010, football fans watching the world cup were attacked in Uganda. Two bomb attacks by the Al-Shabab cold bloodedly murdered 74 people.

Now a repeat of those events is taking place once again. Al Shabab claimed responsibility to an attack on football fans in Kenya several weeks back which killed 48 people. Meanwhile the Nigerian group Boko Haram claimed the lives of some more football fans. An attack on a group of football fans was reported from Nigeria in late May too.

Terror attacks and banning sports are not the same thing. Terrorists take the opportunity to attack any large gathering of people so that they can cause maximum damage. Of course, the attacks on people that watch football games will dissuade them from watching matches at large gatherings. People are joining such places not only to meet friends. In some countries, they come also because they do not have televisions at home to watch matches.

However, the banning of sports including football has been enforced by certain groups citing religious reasons. They have also banned other facets of materialistic, modern lives, such as social media, television and Western clothing. One main reason for this strict enforcement of rules is to keep their hold on the people they rule over. It’s a matter of control.

However, in the case of football and other team sports, there is another reason. One country which can show that reason is Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is essentially a divided country. In the wake of the breakup of Former Yugoslavia, the country was engulfed in a brutal war, which only ended in 1995. The war saw former neighbors, Serbs, Bosniaks and Croats, at each others' throats. The eventual establishment of peace did not however help heal the wounds at once. Football helped a lot in this. Sometimes, football was the only source of unity in a divided country.

Bosnia’s rise to international fame in football is phenomenal, despite the fact that it had a rich tradition in the game before 1992 as part of Yugoslavia. Today they have some star players any club would like to have in their lineup. Except a handful of players, all footballers in the national squad now play for foreign clubs. They include Edin Dzeko, who is their main striker. He has been a star in the English Premier League, playing for Manchester City.
Edin Dzeko

Dzeko, a Bosniak, was just six when the war broke out. “They were hard years. There wasn’t much to eat. I was afraid. We always had to hide when shots were fired and bombs were falling. My house was destroyed, so we went to live with my grandparents. The whole family, maybe 15 people, staying in an apartment of about 35 square metres” he would later recall in an interview with The Independent in the UK.

Qualification for Brazil 2014 FIFA World Cup is the zenith of Bosnia and Herzegovina's international football history as an independent nation. The team did not progress from the preliminary round. However, to a country still living with the scars of war, even this is a great achievement.

Afghanistan has been another exceptional case in international arena. The national cricket team has been extraordinary, to say the least. So has been the football team. Team sports such as these are uniting factors. It has given an avenue of escape from destruction, and a sense achievement as well as national pride to the Afghans.

In both Bosnia and Afghanistan, sports have proved to be a uniting factor when almost everything else failed. Football takes a special place in such societies as it is a game of poor people as well. It is a great agent of social mobility too. To various fanatic groups, such unity and hope is a debilitating factor. They strive to annihilate current systems and impose their own. Sports are challenges to their aspirations. Therefore, it is no wonder that fanatics hate sports, such as football. Its not just about religion. Its about power.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Costa Rica Reached Success through Sticking to Basics

“In the pantheon of World Cup upsets, it always comes down to these two: the U.S. stunning England 1-0 at the 1950 World Cup and North Korea beating Italy in 1966. For 2014 to deliver anything close to those, Costa Rica, say, would have to eliminate Spain.”
-Joshua Robinson, Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Robinson perhaps would not have believed if one was to say that 2014 FIFA World Cup would see similar upsets unfolding. Spain was not eliminated by Costa Rica for the simple fact that they did not meet each other in Brazil. However, the tiny Central American nation of 4.6 million people turned out some shocking surprises in this world cup. One wonders if Robinson did have some sixth sense of what was to happen since he mentions Costa Rica specifically, out of all so called “minnows” in Brazil 2014.

Costa Rica is a football crazy small nation of just 4.6 million people. It is more famous for its biodiversity than its football. Nevertheless the Costa Rica team, nicknamed Los Ticos, has been the best football team from Central America for the better part of the game’s history. It has qualified for four FIFA World Cups. However, the small nation was never fancied to enter the last eight. It has no football super stars and many of the team members play for unglamorous clubs. Only Bryan Ruiz at Fulham and Joel Campbell of Arsenal play for the English Premier League and nine out of the 23 member FIFA World Cup squad are playing for local clubs. Nevertheless they humbled several more glamorous teams in the tournament, which must equal to the upsets of 1950 and 1966 Robinson mentions.

Costa Rica opened the tournament with a 3-1 demolition of Uruguay at Fortaleza. But their best performance came in Recife on June 20, when they shocked the Italians 1-0. If not for some poor decisions from the referee, things might have gone even worse for the Azzurri. It was shock and awe of the first order. Next they forced England to a goalless draw. However, one could say that England forced Costa Rica to a goalless draw, given the manner in which the two teams had performed during the world cup.
Bryan Ruiz scores against Italy

In the next two rounds, it came to penalties, where Costa Rica prevailed in the Round of 16 against the Greeks but went down in the Quarterfinal against the Dutch.

Some commentators, especially from Europe, have tried to attribute this success to external factors such as climate and fans support in Brazil for the Latin American team. While these factors do play a part, they do not explain the real story behind the amazing drive by Los Ticos.

“For us, it wasn't a surprise because we know the great talent that we have. We will keep working and keep surprising the world," assistant coach Paulo Wanchope told AFP. However, the talent does not necessarily come through a star studded team.

Speaking to AFP, Costa Rica Head Coach Jorge Luis Pinto has said that his team “owes a lot to the coaching philosophy of Portugal’s ‘Special One’ Jose Mourinho.” He makes clear that he gives training the priority. “I agree with Mourinho who says football is first about training methods: the conception, the practice and of course the strategy” Pinto states.

The head coach makes his team study the strengths and weaknesses of their opponents and the philosophy and training methods of successful teams in football history. Therefore, it is obvious that the success of Los Ticos has come through a thorough understanding of the game. Pinto also stresses the importance of positive thinking and drive to success against heavier odds.

Speaking further to AFP, Pinto also mentioned a valid point for any sport. “Football evolves like the world, cars, computers. We must also evolve, in order to keep up with the constant changes in our sport,” he said. This is true for tactics and the general overview. One cannot complain about the climate and the other drawbacks when one encounters playing outside their home turf. One must evolve. Also, factors like climate do not explain the appalling football played by teams like England and Portugal. For example, Portugal was unsuccessful partly because they forgot that football is a team sport. Costa Rica succeeded by remembering it.

It is this team effort, not only from the players in the middle but the whole squad and coaching staff which transformed Los Ticos to the legendary “Giant Killers” of 2014 FIFA World Cup.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Argentina breaks Swiss Defense to Reach Quarterfinals in Brazil 2014

An angel can break hearts. If you are not sure, ask the Swiss and they will tell you. At this moment, the Swiss football team must be contemplating on that small mistake in the 118 th minute which allowed Lionel Messi to steal the ball and pass it to Angel di Maria, who sent a left footed volley past the goal keeper’s reach to score the only goal of the match.
Angel di Maria

As the two teams met at Sao Paulo, their intents were clear. The Swiss, lacking the attacking power, depended on defense, which nearly took them to a penalty shootout. Argentina on the other hand, relentlessly pushed on attacking. There were lapses on both sides, with some weak defending by Argentina in the early stages of the match. When the game went to extra time, Argentina was repeatedly frustrated by Swiss defense. Nevertheless the South Americans survived to fight another day.

The risk with too much defensive play is that even one small mistake might allow the opponent to exploit the opportunity. This especially happens if the defensive team is looking forward to slow down the game, as the Swiss were trying to do so. Argentina was quick to grab the opportunity when it was offered.

Thus the Swiss side bows out of Brazil2014, a world cup of mixed fortunes for them. They squeezed through the match against Ecuador with a last minute goal, got hammered by the French and eased over Honduras. They nearly forced Argentina to a penalty shootout, which, if it came to that, they might have won. But it was not to be. As Swiss players leave Brazil will broken hearts, Messi and Co will travel to the Brazilian capital, to face the next challenge in their epic journey in Brazil2014.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Divock Origi, an unlikely hero

Divock Origi, the 19 year old Belgian forward, hails from a sporting family. He is the son of the retired Kenyan footballer Mike Origi, who was known as a very calm character. Divock, was a surprise inclusion in the Belgian squad for FIFA World Cup 2014 in Brazil. However, he has thus far justified his inclusion in the team, making lasting contribution to the advance of the Red Devils to the Round of 16.

It was Divock Origi, coming as a substitute, who broke the deadlock against the defiant Russians in the 88th minute, to score the only goal in the game between the two teams at the legendary Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.

Perhaps the grandeur of the stadium added pressure to both sides in this match which was crucial for both teams and especially Russia. While Belgium could assure a berth in the Round of 16 if they won the game, Russia would have been in a difficult state if they lost it. Both sides played a fast game, especially in the first half, but lacked the killer punch to deliver the final blow. There were a few bookings but rarely was a free kick given at a dangerous place. Russia had the best of the game initially, but could not convert their chances. In the heat, both teams were tired until the latter by mid second half and it seemed to be that both sides were going for a draw.

But in the last few minutes, the Belgians increased the tempo of the game, launching several attacks through the Russian defense. However, chances still remained unconverted until a pass from Eden Hazard from the left side reached the 19 year old Origi, who sent it to the net comfortably. It was Origi’s first international goal for the Red Devils. Also, at 19 years, 2 months and 4 days, he became the youngest goal scorer of FIFA World Cup 2014 and the youngest goal scorer for Belgium in its World Cup history.

The goal transformed Origi, a virtually unknown player in the international arena, into a world famous footballer. “It was a bit of a surprise since he was an unknown before I selected him. Now everyone knows who he is” Belgian manager Marc Wilmot said.

By scoring the goal, Origi not only took his team to the next round of the World Cup, but simultaneously put Russia in trouble too. Due to this last minute defeat Russia had to win the last game to be in a position to qualify for the next round, which they ultimately failed to do.

Origi remains a serious contender for the Best Young Player of 2014 FIFA World Cup as Belgium awaits their match in Round of 16 against the USA. A victory there will see the Belgians reaching the last eight for the first time since 1986. It would turn Brazil 2014 a memorable World Cup for both Belgium and especially young Divock Origi.