Secularism indeed | Sunday Observer

Secularism indeed

9 April, 2023

After all the arguments about a secular State and whether Sri Lanka should be secular or otherwise, it’s ridiculous to watch what’s happening with regard to borderline religious fanaticism creeping into some sports, at national level. The reader may ask, what has one issue got to do with the other?

What has the idea of secularity got to do with sport at national level and what’s this new fanaticism that’s supposed to be enveloping some sports? Those who had their feet planted firmly on planet earth will know.

Certain high-level sports have been swamped by those who profess to be of certain fringe religious persuasions.

This is not the forum to name names, but let’s put it this way: everyone knows. Some of what has been happening would have been funny if it had not been so ridiculous, nay, farcical. There was a time when certain people frowned on the fact that any kind of religious ceremony was associated with any sport at national level.

This included basic religious ceremonies associated with the nation’s major religious persuasion, Buddhism. Certain observers shall we say, or conscientious objectors, didn’t want so much as a symbolic ‘pirith’ ceremony before a team departed our shores for a major international tournament.

There was some validity to their arguments because religion is private to each individual player, and even though the pre-departure ceremonies were mostly symbolic, they were unnecessary in a strict sense.

Certainly such practices went against the fundamental tenets of secularism, but of course some would have argued that Sri Lanka is no secular State because the constitution stipulates that Buddhism would be given the foremost place among religions, or words to that effect.


Even though this writer personally doesn’t see the need for pre-flight pirith ceremonies, it could be argued persuasively that the ceremonies that were held were largely symbolic. The fuss quickly died down because nobody was holding the team to any particular religious standard, or any yardstick of behaviour on account of the fact that there was a pre-flight pirith ceremony.

But those who objected to pirith, well, what would they be saying about some of the religious fanaticism that’s associated with certain teams at national level these days? It’s true that not all team members of high-level sports affected have been touched by this trend.

But, there are many players that have been affected, and this is an open secret. As if that was not enough, there are certain cult type religious leaders so called, that openly make statements about how their brand of faith is impacting positively on performances of national teams.

To the chagrin of many, the situation has almost become intolerable at certain levels because some key personalities involved in certain key sports at national level are involved with these cult like religious ‘faiths.”

It’s come to a point that it’s rumoured that those who pledge allegiance to ‘the cult’ receive favoured treatment. Now, that may be a rumour and an exaggeration, but certainly there is no smoke without a fire, and it’s known — as stated, it’s an open secret — that this fanatic-fringe enjoys some peripheral level power at least over the sport concerned.

Even those sporting leaders from a particular national level sport — some heroes of yesteryear if you will — that have always spoken eloquently and passionately about national unity and about eschewing religious factionalism in society at large, have been associated with these fringe-cults that go smack against the essentially secular nature of our sports administrations.


Symbolic pirith ceremonies notwithstanding, sports administrations have always been secular and that’s the way they ought to be. Secularism, or secularism for all intents and purposes, has been a fundamental tenet of our national way of life. Though the Constitution may state that Buddhism is accorded the foremost place among religions — or words to that effect — institutions and affairs of Government have been strictly secular in this country, and that’s the way they should be.

But imagine when people that are so secular minded that they are against a symbolic ‘pirith’ ceremony before a tournament, have to face the fact that some national teams have been swamped with cult like influences from fringe religious groups?

Imagine that an entire sub-culture is being spawned of various prominent figures in certain national sports advocating cult like fanaticism for ‘performance enhancement’ in certain key sports?

Imagine certain cultist ‘religious leaders’ making public statements that certain tournaments would basically depend on their prayers and their ‘input’? Of course it’s a free country and anybody can say anything, but the rub is when these ‘prophetic’ statements about sporting outcomes are bought into by certain supporting staff, and other prominent personalities associated with the top levels of the sport itself.

There is nothing secular about that. It’s almost funny that a country that has so many debates about secularism has its essentially secularist nature at least with regard to some endeavours such as sport, being undermined by cult-leader like figures who want to propagate their cultist brand of ‘faith.’ It’s a travesty, and it’s also detrimental to the sports themselves that are concerned.

The other aspect is of course the money that may be involved with these cultish influencers peddling their brand of ‘sport enhancement.’ Some of these cult-leadership figures are known to lead flamboyant lifestyles, and though that’s a matter between them and their followers, when they get involved in influencing sport in one way or another, that’s not quite a wholesome situation.


Those ostensibly upright figures who are renowned worldwide and have made a name for themselves as sporting ambassadors all over the world, should probably do their bit about these negative influences that are non-secular, and impact on their favorite sports.

But alas, these figures are themselves brought under the sway of these so-called ‘religious’ influences. Before anyone takes umbrage, yes of course, any sporting figure is entitled to follow any religion and even proselytise on behalf of any particular religious faith, be it a ‘cultish’ faith or an orthodox faith. That’s their right in any free country.

Sportsmen can use a finger to draw the sign of a cross in the air, before they get onto the sporting arena. That’s free choice and nobody is against that, and nobody should or could be against that. What’s negative and deplorable is when entire sporting teams seem to be negatively impacted by certain cult-figures who have influence among key sporting personalities supporting certain sports. When it has come to a point when it’s said this or the other sport is no longer ‘secular’ and is somewhat beholden to cult-like figures, it’s clear that there must be some reset where things come back to normal and fanatical influences are minimised, or eliminated.

Let’s keep sport strictly secular and that should go for symbolic pirith ceremonies as well. But it’s not the symbolic pirith that’s the problem, but the handiwork of various cult-figures overstepping their bounds.

Cult-figures can have their cults as long as they have followers and are not breaking the law. But when it’s rumoured that it’s better to follow this or that cult figure or their henchmen in certain sports, it’s time ordinary fans sat up and took notice.

What can be done? Have we come to a point where certain by-laws should be written to ensure that sport is kept secular, and very strictly secular? The remedy is unknown because this is still an unusual type of problem, of recent vintage.

But people who love certain sport and are live wires in such sports in administrative or other capacities, should not just sit up and take notice, they must act. If we don’t keep our sports secular we run the risk of certain sports degenerating into a farcical spectacle that’s just not sport. That’s not a prophecy, it’s hard fact; neutral commentators don’t deal in prophecies, that’s the stuff of cult leaders.