By Dinouk Colombage
The memories of the 1996 win in the final of the World Cup is being re-etched into our memories. Scenes of jubilation on the part of the players are once again fresh in our minds, and on the side is the famous duo Percy Abeysekera and Lionel Nawaragodagedera.
These two were the unofficial flag bearers of the Sri Lanka team; at every match they were there leading the local cheer squads.
Fifteen years have passed since that victory and only two members who were part of it remain, Muttiah Muralitharan and Percy Abeysekera. Murali’s career will be coming to a close at the end of the ongoing World Cup, and many believe that Percy’s career should also end. No longer possessing the aura of a cheerleader, Percy now presents the picture of a drunk man staggering around on the boundary line.
Last week IGP Mahinda Balasuriya took an unwelcome decision to ban musical instruments and posters from all World Cup venues. Four days later amidst howls of protest, the ban was lifted. When The Sunday Leader contacted Balasuriya he explained that such items are a hindrance to the spectators and players. Having attended Sri Lanka’s opening game against Canada, I saw the effect the band had. However, on the sideline was Percy carrying a Sri Lankan flag and stumbling around. On passing me I got the smell of alcohol in his breath and his speech was slurred. At the match he had been given a highly coveted vantage point — right on the boundary next to the photographers and the players themselves.
However, Percy Abeysekera has taken this position for granted. Gone are the days of proudly carrying the flag and cheering the team on, instead he has resorted to walking around drunk, yelling insults at players on the field. Many have complimented him on his wit and rhymes. However I am still to witness this humour, the only laughter he has got from the crowds in recent times is that which is directed at him.
Players who choose to sit on the boundary line do so with the hope of being closer to the action. Not many of them planned on having an elderly man approach them, insulting them and asking them to ‘go home’. This is one of his cleaner comments. On Sunday he resorted to insulting the Canadian team in Sinhalese.
Sri Lankan spectators have prided themselves on being good sports, the idea that such a man will be labelled as the head cheerleader of Sri Lanka is upsetting. The supposed wit of Percy has deserted him and in its place has come raw filth. His insults directed at the foreign teams is often in Sinhalese and as such cannot be understood by them. However, for those in the crowds who do understand, they have found it to be in poor taste. The question that must be asked is why an individual who has no official ties with Sri Lanka Cricket is allowed access to the grounds. Furthermore they must question why, if he is the flag bearer, allowed to carry the national flag while drunk.
Countries all around the world have adopted the idea of an unofficial team cheerleader. However, nowhere else in the world are these individuals allowed access to the grounds itself. They are expected to cheer and celebrate in the stands along with the rest of the public. As the World Cup gains momentum it is an issue that Sri Lanka Cricket must address before it causes a great deal of embarrassment.