Sports will change perceptions about Kashmir, says Namal Rajapaksa, Lankan MP and rugby coach

Sports will change perceptions about Kashmir, says Namal Rajapaksa, Lankan MP and rugby coach

Srinagar, April 25 (Indian Express): Namal Rajapaksa, Sri Lankan member of parliament and the eldest son of former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakdsa, has trained Kashmiri girls in Rugby, a game which he has mastered.

On his maiden visit to Kashmir for a seven-day rugby training workshop, told Express on Monday that sports has the potential to change the “perception and discourse about Kashmir” — just as cricket changed the discourse in his country.

“The discourse around the conflict in Sri Lanka changed with the country winning the 1996 cricket World Cup. Sports will definitely have a huge role to play in changing that perception of Kashmir. In Sri Lanka, we had that experience for the last 30 years, and that changed with cricket,” he told The Indian Express.

The eldest son of former Sri Lanka president Mahinda Rajapaksa, Namal and a team of six coaches from the country has been training more than 60 rugby players from different parts of Jammu and Kashmir for the past week. A former captain of the Lankan under-19 rugby team, Namal said, “Kashmir has a window of opportunity. The kids should be guided and an apolitical willingness should be there to bring that change. Sports is a key alternative in that process.”

Namal said: “We have not done international training until now outside Sri Lanka. This is our first engagement and we are keen to take this forward. We are also looking at the possibility to partner with the state (J&K) government (for a) long term,” he said. However, he said, the state has to take this engagement forward.

A few months ago, Rajapaksa had noticed a news about Kashmiri rugby players on the social media and put out a tweet on it. “Then the sports people and the authorities in the sports council of Kashmir started responding to that tweet…I decided to visit Kashmir along with our coaches as I saw potential here for developing a sports culture,” he said.

(The featured image at the top shows Namal Rajapaksa coaching Kashmiri girls in rugby Srinagar)