Sri Lankan President set not to attend Glasgow 2014 after fears presence will overshadow Games

By Nick Butler

The possible presence of Mahinda Rajapaksa, pictured with British Prime Minister David Cameron last year, at Glasgow 2014 has provoked multiple concerns ©Getty ImagesA potentially harmful diplomatic challenge for Glasgow 2014 is likely to be avoided due to the fact Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa is not planning to attend the Commonwealth Games this summer, insidethegames has learned. 

This comes after two letters were sent to British Foreign Secretary William Hague voicing concerns the presence of the controversial leader would mean the Games are overshadowed by questions relating to genocide and human rights abuse.

The first was sent by Hague’s opposition counterpart in the Labour Party, shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander last Friday (May 9), demanding to know exactly how the Government plans to ensure the event is not hit by controversy.

It cites how police have already warned there could be protests on the streets of Glasgow if he does attend, before expressing further concerns about the possible role Rajapaksa would play in other events planned around the Games.

This was followed by a second letter, sent yesterday, by the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam requesting that Hague “supports and formally advises” the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) over the issue.

It highlights the “continued arrogance of the Rajapaksa regime to the international community and their non-conformance to the values and principles of the Commonwealth”, as well as their “continued structural genocide on the Tamil Homeland and the use of the Sri Lankan army to colonise and seize land belonging to the Tamil population”.

These concerns were also prevalent during Sri Lanka's ultimately unsuccessful bid for the Commonwealth Games in 2018 ©AFP/Getty ImagesThese concerns were also prevalent during Sri Lanka’s ultimately unsuccessful bid for the Commonwealth Games in 2018 ©AFP/Getty Images

As President since 2005, Rajapaksa is also head of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces and in this role, it is claimed he is responsible for the massacres of Tamil civilians and captured opposition fighters at the end of a three-decades-long Civil War ending in 2009.

These allegations caused much controversy during the Sri Lankan city of Hambantota’s bid for the 2018 Commonwealth Games, where they ultimately finished runner-up behind the Gold Coast by 43 votes to 27.

Similar concerns also overshadowed a Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Sri Lanka last November, with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper choosing not to attend in protest of Rajapaksa, and British Prime Minister David Cameron criticised for making the trip despite domestic pressure not to.

A CGF spokesman reiterated to insidethegames that “each national association can extend an accreditation to their Head of Government, Sports Minister and High Commissioner, and the deadline for named team accreditations isn’t until June”.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is yet to respond to either letter.

But if, as expected, Rajapaksa chooses not to visit, it would surely be a relief to both organisations, and would be one thing less to worry about ahead of the Games, set to begin on July 23.

There has also been concern over the possible presence of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni after he signed an anti-gay rights law strengthening existing legislation against homosexuality in the central African country.

Scottish cyclist Graham Obree has begun a petition, entitled “No Hate at the Games”, calling for a ban on Ugandan politicians attending Glasgow 2014, which currently has nearly 4,000 signatures.

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