Sri Lanka, which is hosting seven matches of the Asia Cup cricket tournament, is banking on the event to boost its struggling economy and bring some relief to its people.
Sri Lanka, which has been facing its worst economic crisis since independence in 1948, is hoping that the Asia Cup cricket tournament will bring some temporary relief to its people and its economy. The island nation, which received the first tranche of its bailout package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) earlier this year, is hosting seven of the 11 matches of the tournament, including two blockbuster India-Pakistan matches and the final.
The tournament, which was originally meant to be held in Pakistan, partially fell in Sri Lanka’s lap as India refused to send its team across the border because of political tensions. Sri Lanka seized the opportunity to showcase its hospitality and tourism potential, as well as to generate some much-needed revenue from ticket sales, broadcasting rights and sponsorship deals.
SMS Senaratne, a sports merchandise seller, told Al Jazeera that the tournament has given him a chance to earn some income after months of hardship. “When the economic crisis struck the country two years ago it took away our savings, our car and our ability to feed our three children,” he said. “Our business of making and selling sports merchandise relies on the demand from sports goods stores, but ever since the economic slump came in 2021, we have not received enough orders.”
Senaratne said he manufactured hundreds of replica team shirts and caps and set off from his hometown of Gampaha, a city 30km (18 miles) west of the capital, Colombo, to sell them outside the R Premadasa Cricket Stadium. “I have been able to sell more than 200 shirts and caps in the last two weeks. This is more than what I earned in the last six months,” he said.
Sri Lanka faces economic and political challenges
Sri Lanka’s economy has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, which caused a slump in tourism, its leading industry, and disrupted global trade. The country also faced fuel and food shortages, as well as alarmingly high inflation over two years. The economic crisis snowballed into a political one as mobs of mostly young Sri Lankans stormed the house of then-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in 2022, forcing him to flee the country and resign.
The new government led by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has been trying to restore stability and confidence in the country, but faces many challenges. The IMF has imposed strict conditions on its bailout package, which include fiscal consolidation, structural reforms and debt sustainability. The government also has to deal with international pressure over human rights issues and allegations of war crimes during the civil war that ended in 2009.
The Asia Cup cricket tournament has provided a rare opportunity for Sri Lanka to project a positive image to the world and to unite its people behind a common passion. Cricket is widely popular in Sri Lanka, which won the World Cup in 1996 and reached two more finals in 2007 and 2011. The sport has also been a source of pride and identity for the country, which has produced some of the world’s best players such as Muttiah Muralitharan, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene.
Sri Lanka reaches Asia Cup final against India
Sri Lanka’s cricket team has also given its fans something to cheer about by reaching the final of the Asia Cup against India on Sunday. The hosts beat Pakistan by five wickets in their first match of the tournament, thanks to a brilliant century by captain Kusal Perera. They then lost to India by eight wickets in their second match, but bounced back to defeat Bangladesh by six wickets in their third match.
In the semi-final against Pakistan on Thursday, Sri Lanka pulled off a thrilling win by two wickets with one ball remaining. Sadeera Samarawickrama scored 81 runs and Chamika Karunaratne hit the winning boundary off Shaheen Afridi’s last delivery. The match was watched by a near-capacity crowd at the R Premadasa Stadium, who roared for the defending champions.
Sri Lanka will face India in the final on Sunday at the same venue. India have been dominant in the tournament so far, winning all their four matches convincingly. They have a strong batting line-up led by captain Virat Kohli, who scored his 50th ODI century against Bangladesh on Wednesday. They also have a potent bowling attack featuring Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Ravindra Jadeja.
Sri Lanka will have to play their best cricket to challenge India, who have not lost an Asia Cup match since 2014. However, Sri Lanka have shown that they can upset any team on their day, especially with their home crowd behind them. They will also hope to end their five-year wait for a title triumph, having last won a major trophy in the 2018 Nidahas Trophy.