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TIGER WOODS THE MAN AND THE LEGEND

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by Vijaya Chandrasoma

I have no pretensions of being a sports writer, but the terrible high speed motor accident that nearly killed Tiger Woods last week saddened me. He was a Superhero who made me, a mediocre golfer, indulge in Walter Mitty type of impossible and fantastic daydreams of playing just one round of golf like he did. A dream as ridiculous as disappearing into a telephone booth and emerging as Superman.

Tiger had emergency surgery “to repair significant damage to his right leg and ankle”. We are thankful he is “awake, responsive and recovering in his hospital room” at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, 11 miles from the scene of his accident.

The accident occurred at 7 a.m. on Tuesday. Foul play, drugs and alcohol were immediately ruled out. Tiger was perhaps driving too fast on a section of a highway which has a reputation for being accident-prone. I have driven along that section of Hawthorne Boulevard, a monotonous grid of a city highway which transforms, as it reaches the environs of the coastal town of Palos Verdes, into a beautifully undulating scenic parkway leading up rolling hills, then dropping dramatically to the coast of the Pacific Ocean. Like all things enchanting, Hawthorne carries a glint of danger if shown disrespect.

I have no intention to make this story about myself, only an effort to describe my addiction for the game. I started playing when I was 28. I played golf just about every weekend in the 70s, usually both Saturdays and Sundays, fourballs with three close friends, legends in the sports they represented nationally. How did a mediocrity ascend to these exalted sporting circles, you may ask? The only answers I could come up with is that we were close friends and I was more than their equal at the 19th hole. Although they were no slouches themselves.

My participation in the game had dwindled by the time I decided to emigrate to the United States in 1990, but my interest had not. I followed, on TV, the feats of legendary golfers like Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo and many others. In Los Angeles, a distant second during the 90s to the enormous pride I savored in the academic achievements of my children, was the PGA Tour, which provided me some relief from a week of working at the most menial and mind-numbing jobs imaginable. The salt mines in Siberia would have made a significant improvement.

In the early 90s, before Tiger had burst in on the golf scene, I saw a TV flashback of a two-year old Tiger in an on-stage putting contest with Bob Hope, with Jimmy Stewart looking on, in the Mike Douglas Show in 1978. I was hooked!

A little history on the transformation of the game Tiger loved and largely wrought. His favorite golf course was the Augusta National, the annual scene of the first of the year’s four Majors, the Masters.

The co-founders of the Club in 1932 were Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts. Roberts famously decreed, “As long as I am alive, all the members will be white and all the caddies will be black”. These black caddies were also required to wear white overalls to make them “look smarter”. This despicable tradition persisted till 1983, when players were “allowed” to use white caddies, and the demeaning white overalls ceased to be mandatory.

The first African American to be elected to the Club in 1990 was Ron Townsend, CEO of the giant marketing network Gannet. African American men can take solace in the fact that women were allowed to join the Club only in 2012, the two initial members being former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Darla Moore, a mover and shaker in America’s financial scene.

Membership lists are kept secret by Augusta, but there are currently around 300 members, of whom five or six are black, two white women and Ms Rice, who has the great good fortune to be both black and a woman.

I dwelt on the history of Augusta’s National Course because the Masters was Tiger’s favorite tournament. When he won for the first time in 1997 by a record 12 shots, Jack Nicklaus, who finished a full 29 shots behind Tiger, predicted that “Woods would win more Green Jackets than him (six) and Arnold Palmer (four) combined”.

Tiger was born Eldrick Tont Woods in December 1975. His father, Earl was a college baseball player, an army veteran who served two tours in Vietnam. Earl started playing golf in 1972 at age 42, and became captivated with the game. He claims he was “close to” being a scratch golfer, but like many of us who become better as we get older, he was probably a single handicapper. Earl Woods was Tiger’s father, coach, mentor, his best friend and biggest fan till his death in 2006. When President Clinton saw Tiger running to his father to hug him after he won the 1997 Masters, he called Tiger and said that picture was “Tiger’s best shot of the day”.

As a nine year-old, Tiger made a bold commitment to his father: I am going to be professionally excellent. As his talent unfolded, this proved to be a remarkable understatement. Tiger achieved a dominance in a sport for over a decade which hasn’t been equaled, and will likely never be equaled.

Bradman and Viv Richards, Federer and Nadal, Michael Jordan and LeBron James, Pele and Ronaldo, Usain Bolt and Carl Lewis were Superstars in their sports. But no one had to change the conditions of the games in which they excelled to blunt their talents. They didn’t doctor the pitch at Lords to stop Bradman; they didn’t wet the tracks to slow Bolt down or alter the areas of the basketball courts and soccer grounds to deter Jordan or Pele; they didn’t mow the grass differently at the Center Court in Wimbledon to contain the grace of Federer.

But after Tiger, almost all the best courses in the world had to be “Tigerproofed” to make the game more challenging for Tiger. They added yardage, built more and deeper sandtraps and water hazards, they made the greens more undulating and pin placements more demanding. These changes also made the opposition work harder to keep up with Tiger. The entire game of Golf, the courses and players, the purses and TV ratings, all benefited because of Tiger’s genius.

In two years at Stanford University, Tiger won 10 Collegiate events, ending with the NCAA title. He turned professional in 1996, at the age of 20. Within a year, he had won three PGA tour championships, ending in a record 12-shot win in the 1997 Masters. A year that would be a proud career record for most professionals.

From 1996 through 2009, Tiger won 59 PGA tournaments and 14 Majors. He was the dominant player of the decade, of any decade, who exploded spectator participation, both live and on TV. He also encouraged the younger generation, especially those of the African American community, to take up the game at an earlier age.

The popular joke in those golden days of Woods’ dominance was: When a black man was chased by 150 white men in the 1950s, it was the KKK. Today, it’s the PGA tour!

During those halcyon years, Tiger made the headlines whether he won a tournament or missed the cut. I remember when I got home a little late when Tiger was playing, my son greeted me with the words, perhaps with a hint of sarcasm, “Thaathi, your ‘surrogate son’ just made a birdie!”. When I visited Salem, Oregon for the pre-nuptial celebrations of my son in the April of 2005, I had to leave while the final round of the Masters was in progress to catch my plane to Phoenix. Tiger was in contention. I was on the freeway, when my son excitedly called me, exulting about that long, 90-degree break putt Tiger made on the 16th hole to tie for the lead with Chris DiMarco, and then beat him in a playoff. A putt no golfer will ever forget.

Then, from 2009 to 2012, there was a drought. What happened? Tiger had an acrimonious divorce from his wife in 2006. His multiple infidelities became tabloid fodder for the mainly white base of a game accessible to only the rich. These mainly white golf fans resented the dominance of a black man and reveled in his fall from grace. Tiger was booed at tournaments, reviled by the tabloids, rejected by his sponsors, forced to publicly apologize and to admit that he was seeking rehabilitation for sex addiction. This from a country which boasts the greatest number of sexual partners per capita and the highest divorce rates in the world. A country which has double standards for everyone, especially athletes and politicians, depending on skin color.

Shades of President Obama. Only, Obama did not fall from grace. His impeccable, scandal-free two term presidency infuriated even more the white supremacist supporters of the ignorant, immoral crook who succeeded him.

But, to the great glee of these racists, Tiger did fall. He was publicly and devastatingly shamed when his consensual “crimes” (which evoked secret admiration from most of us) became sanctimonious and hypocritical cannon fodder for the most sexually promiscuous nation in the world.

Hypocrisy which now rules the American political scene.

Because of public shaming of his “scandal” and health problems (Tiger has had back and knee surgeries approaching double digits), Tiger has won one Major (his epic Masters comeback in 2019) since 2008. Just one in over a decade, having won 14 in the decade immediately preceding! It’s not as if he didn’t have back and leg surgeries from 1997 to 2008. And golf is not a game which becomes unplayable with age. After all, Jack Nicklaus was 46 when he won his last Major at Augusta in 1986. Tom Watson was nearly 60 when he lost the British Open in a playoff in 2009.

The ridicule heaped on Tiger by the media and the white fans, compounded by health problems, adversely affected his performance and almost certainly robbed him from achieving his stated ambition of beating Nicklaus’ record of winning 18 Majors. Though he does hold the record, jointly with Sam Snead, of 82 PGA Tour victories, nine more than Nicklaus.

Tiger is 45 now. He will never again achieve the domination he enjoyed at the turn of the century. There are outstanding talents, like Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka and Jordon Spieth lurking in the wings, adding a depth of talent the game has probably never seen before. But no one will dominate the game as Tiger did for over a decade.

Tiger is the doting father of two beautiful children, 13-year-old daughter Sam, a soccer player, and son Charlie, 11, an up and coming golfer. Sam’s name is really Sam, not short for anything. Tiger describes why he picked that name for his first-born: “My father had always called me Sam from the day I was born. … I would ask him, ‘Why don’t you ever call me Tiger?’ He says, ‘Well, you look more like a Sam’”. Charlie was named after Charlie Sifford, the first African American to play on the PGA tour.

Anyone who saw Tiger win the US Open at Torrey Pines in 2008, battling the excruciating pain of a torn Achilles tendon, will have no doubts about his resilience. He is responding well to his surgery after last Tuesday’s car accident. I have no doubt he will be back, if not for the Masters in April, then sooner rather than later. Whatever awaits him in the future, Tiger’s legend is for the ages.

President Obama said it best: “Sending my prayers to Tiger Woods and his family tonight – here’s to a speedy recovery for the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) of golf. If we’ve learned anything over the years, IT’S TO NEVER COUNT TIGER OUT.



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Rise of Dual Power amidst Covid 

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We had so many kings in our Sinhala Balaya of many centuries. There were many questionable deals on succession by members of this royalty, and others who came to those realms. But we have yet to hear of any brother of a ruling monarch rushing abroad in the midst of what may have been a national crisis, moving to a disaster.This is the stuff of Sinhala Power in the 21st Century. It is a show of the Raja Keliya – the power game, where dual citizenship is the dominant factor. The Sri Lanka, Mawbima home, is of lesser importance than the Videsha mawbima, especially if one’s health has to be handled by foreign medical sources; even if the Videsha Mawbima is the biggest affected by the Covid pandemic.

The appointment of Task Forces to deal with important issues facing the country and the people is the substance of the current Saubhagyaye Dekma – Vision of Prosperity and Splendour. Appointing a brother to head task forces of key importance is the show of dominant family power that prevails in this country today. But brotherly feelings are certainly not important when a dual citizen thinks of the greater importance of the Videsha Mawbima. The tasks of Economic Growth, Eradicating Poverty and Assuring Food Supply, as well as the more recent Green Socio-Economy must all be pushed aside, when the call of the Videsha Mawbima for healthcare is the stuff that matters.

This is the brotherly Vision of Prosperity and Splendour, or the Sahodara Saubhabyaye Dekma.

The Covid pandemic has certainly brought much contradictory thinking, especially in the government, on how the health of the people in this country, non-dual citizens, could be assured. Minister Udaya Gammanpila, a Cabinet spokesman too, is certain that mixed vaccinations of different brands and qualities, is the means to protect the people. 

Dr. Sudarshani Fernandopulle, State Minister on the subject, thinks differently, on the lines of the WHO specialists, who have stressed there is no evidence so far to authorize mixed vaccinations. The other minister of health and vaccination issues is somewhat silent on this confusion in official thinking. Is a new pandemic syrup to be promoted by the power handlers?

Thank heavens that the Cabinet Minister of Health, Pavithra Wanniarachchi, is so far silent on this matter. She could come up with a new Sri Lankan Deshamanya scientific solution, such as throwing some of the Sinopharm and Sputnik (Chinese and Russian) into the nearby river, and using the mixed and river blended vaccine for people of the related province. She is sure to obtain the support of Ministers Udaya Gammanpila and Prasanna Ranatunga for such a crafty thinking of science, just as they shared her belief in the Charmed Pot Game or Mantara Kala Keliya to fight the Covid-19.

  We are now in the midst of what is known as a Lockdown. It is not a “Vasaa thabeema” in Sinhala, but a limit on travel – a ‘Sancharana Seemava’. The Police are very clear that anyone who breaks the lockdown rules will be arrested and brought to justice. We have seen the great joy that policemen showed in carrying non-mask wearers and other violaters of Covid safety guidelines, to be shoved into buses. How much more of such delights would follow when Covid increases its hold on Sri Lanka? What was the related Task Force, and its ceremonial uniformed head doing, when Indians were brought to Sri Lankan hotels for quarantine before travel to some Middle Easter countries? What foreigner from the Covid battered India was carried or courteously conducted to a place where lawbreakers are detained?

As we keep wearing our masks and distancing ourselves from others, there is much cause for concern, even beyond the Covid pandemic, on how persons arrested and detained by the police are killed by or in the presence of the  police. Two suspected and arrested persons have been killed while in police custody this week.  They are Melon Mabula or ‘Uru Juva’ and Tharaka Perera Wijesekera or ‘Kosgoda Tharaka’ These are persons with records of major crimes, possibly with much strong evidence, but not presented in court and any punishment order through the judicial process.

The police spokesperson, a person with a legal background, too, tells the people the details of all the terrible crimes these persons are supposed to be guilty of. It is a contemptible move to get public support for the killings. The Bar Association has raised concerns about these departures from justice. There must be much more protests, even with the Covid dangers.

One gets the impression that the prevailing dangerous situation due to Covid, is being used to carry out increasing violations of the law and the judicial process. This is certainly a major step back to the earlier years of Rajapaksa Power, when many such suspects were killed in Colombo and elsewhere, showing off police escape power. It also brings back memories of the killing and attacks on journalists by similar police and official forces of crooked power.

Are we moving to a new sense of Dual Power — where the judiciary is ignored and official power is the Rule of the Day? Is the power of Dual Citizenry to be the dominant force once Covid puts down the people’s power?

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Should ASEAN Free Trade Area be considered model for SAFTA?

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By Dr. Srimal Fernando

Economic integration is more important today than it has ever been for South Asia’s development. When comparing the impact of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)s South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN ) Free Trade Area (AFTA) in promoting trade amongst its member states, AFTA has been more effective in integrating the economies of its member states. SAFTA , on the other hand, has yet to make significant contributions to the integration of the economies of SAARC member states. The Success of ASEAN’s economic integration can be attributed to the willingness of Southeast Asian countries to embrace the tenets of regional integration. In contrast, SAARC’s model has failed to create a secure regional environment that is conducive for economic growth since its formation.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN ) member states signed the AFTA agreement on 28 January 1992. After the establishment of AFTA, the member states of ASEAN succeeded in signing trading protocols within the organization. The ASEAN model succeeded in creating one of the most successful free trade areas in Asia as well as globally. The establishment of AFTA has been an important milestone in Southeast Asia as a factor that facilitated the economic integration of ASEAN member states.

In the case of the SAARC, the signing of free trade protocols under the SAFTA agreement has been faced with several tariff and non-tariff barriers. Although both SASRC and ASEAN member states face unique challenges that affect trading within these organizations, it can be said that, unlike the SAARC, the ASEAN economic integration model has been far successful in promoting trade amongst its member states. For the SAARC, the liberalization of the economies of SAFTA signatories has been a crucial challenge. On the other hand, ASEAN has made notable progress with regards to trade liberalization, policy alignments, and intra-regional trade among Southeast Asian nations.

The specific trade liberalization challenges faced by the SAARC member states include concerns over SAFTA revenue allocation from member states, restrictive rules of origin, and negative sensitive lists. The sensitive lists adopted by SAARC member states have proven to be a significant hurdle to exportation amongst SAARC member states. This has particularly made it difficult for exports from small member states of the SAARC to enter into large markets such as India and Pakistan. Having failed to grant the application of  most favored nation (MFN) status that would have seen a significant reduction in the sensitive lists maintained by both countries, trade between these two regional powers has been problematic over the years. Notably, the trading commodities that are in the sensitive lists of a majority of the SAFTA member states have high export potential. Despite the various commitments made by SAFTA member states, countries continue to maintain long sensitive lists hence the dismal performance of SAFTA. 

In the case of ASEAN, the establishment of the AFTA agreement has provided ASEAN member states with a platform to exploit their export potential. The AFTA agreement has boosted the economies of ASEAN countries through its trade liberalization policies. AFTA has also entered into several free trade agreements with regional powers such as Australia, China, South Korea, India, and Japan. The ASEAN countries are now focused on creating an Economic Community for their member states. Notably, several countries have shown interest in being a part of the proposed ASEAN Economic Community.

It should however be noted that the massive success achieved by ASEAN’S AFTA as opposed to SAARC’s SAFTA is not flawless. For example, although ASEAN has made significant steps in eliminating tariff barriers amongst AFTA member states, Non-tariff barriers are still a key challenge to the AFTA agreement. However, when analyzing the progress made by ASEAN’s AFTA since its formation, the achievements and evolution are undeniable. ASEAN was formed in an era when interstate relations amongst Southeast Asian countries were characterized by political mistrust and strained interstate relations. Years later, the organization has succeeded in unifying its member states for a common course, an aspect that the SAARC still struggles with. 

Way Forward

If SAFTA is to become more effective and emulate AFTA’s success, the myriad of issues mentioned above needs to be addressed. First, downsizing the sensitive lists of countries in a time-bound manner will be necessary. Secondly, the issue of para tariffs needs to be squarely addressed. A starting point could be to reduce and accelerate the elimination of para tariffs on items not on sensitive lists and include para tariffs in SAFTA negotiations. Also, the non-tariff barriers to trade facing SAFTA member states need to be equally addressed like the tariff barriers. Finally, strengthening economic relations can be used to reinforce improving political relations in the region, particularly between India and Pakistan. To an extent, the success of ASEAN in achieving effective economic integration and its experience can be used as an external driver of SAARC and its SAFTA agreement.

About the author:

Dr. Srimal Fernando received his PhD in the area of International Affairs. He was the recipient of the prestigious O.P. Jindal Doctoral Fellowship and SAU Scholarship under the SAARC umbrella. He is also an Advisor/Global Editor of Diplomatic Society for South Africa in partnership with Diplomatic World Institute (Brussels). He has received accolades such as 2018/2019 ‘Best Journalist of the Year’ in South Africa, (GCA) Media Award for 2016 and the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) accolade. He is the author of ‘Politics, Economics and Connectivity: In Search of South Asian Union’

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Ramazan spirit endures amid pandemic

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This will be a sombre Ramazan, indeed, with the country under a lockdown. But the spirit of Ramazan lives on in all Muslims. Ramadan, also referred to as Ramazan, Ramzan, or Ramadhan, in some countries, is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and Muslims the world over dedicate this holy month for fasting, prayer, reflection and community.

Although most non-Muslims associate Ramazan, solely with fasting, it is believed to bring Muslims closer to God and inculcate in them qualities such as patience, spirituality, and humility. Those of the Islamic faith believe that fasting redirects one away from worldly activities, cleanses the inner soul and free it from harm. It also teaches self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate and encourage actions of generosity and charity. It is a time of self-examination and increased religious devotion.

Ramazan is a commemoration of Prophet Muhammad’s first revelation, and the annual observance of Ramazan is regarded as one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The Five Pillars are basic acts, considered mandatory by Muslims, namely Muslim life, prayer, concern for the needy, self-purification, and the pilgrimage. Prophet Muhammad’s first revelation is believed to have taken place in 610 AD, in a cave called Hira, located near Mecca, where Muhammad was visited by the angel Jibrīl, who revealed to him the beginnings of what would later become the Qur’an. The visitation occurred on Ramazan.

Ramazan lasts from one sighting of the crescent moon to the next and the local religious authority is tasked with announcing the date. The Colombo Grand Mosque announced on Wednesday (12) that Sri Lankan Muslims will celebrate Ramazan on Friday (14). Because the Muslims follow a lunar calendar, the start of Ramazan moves backwards by about 11 days, each year, in the Gregorian calendar. Fasting from dawn to sunset is considered fard (obligatory) for all adult Muslims who are not acutely, or chronically, ill, travelling, elderly, breastfeeding, diabetic, or menstruating.

During this month, Muslims refrain not only from partaking of meals, but also tobacco products, sexual relations, and sinful behaviour, devoting themselves to prayer or salat and recitation of the Quran. The pre-dawn meal is referred to as suhur, and the nightly feast that breaks fast is referred to as iftar. During Ramazan, Muslims wake up well before dawn to eat the pre-dawn meal. This is considered the most important meal, during Ramazan, since it has to sustain one until sunset. This means eating lots of high-protein food and drinking as much water as possible, right up until dawn, after which one cannot eat or drink anything. The day of fasting ends at sunset, the exact minute of which is signalled by the fourth call to prayer, at dusk.

It is believed that spiritual rewards, or thawab, of fasting multiply during Ramazan. Muslims do not Fast on Eid, but Sri Lankan Muslims believe that observing the six days of optional fasting, that follows Eid, multiplies spiritual rewards.

Eid-Ul-Fitr is the Festival of Breaking the Fast, also simply referred to as Eid, and marks the end of the month-long dawn-to-sunset fasting of Ramadan, as well as the return to a more natural disposition of eating, drinking, and marital intimacy. In Sri Lanka, this Festival of Breaking the Fast is also referred to, colloquially, as Ramazan. Eid begins at sunset, on the night of the first sighting of the crescent moon. Muslims hand out money, to the poor and needy, as an obligatory act of charity, before performing the Eid prayer.

Globally, the Eid prayer is generally performed in open areas, like fields, community centres, or mosques in congregation. In Sri Lanka, the prayer is performed annually in Galle Face Green and mosques. The Eid prayer is followed by the sermon and then a supplication asking for Allah’s forgiveness, mercy, peace and blessings for all living beings across the world. The sermon encourages Muslims to engage in the rituals of Eid, such as zakat, almsgiving to other fellow Muslims. After the prayers, Muslims visit relatives, friends, and acquaintances, or hold large communal celebrations.

After prayer, Muslims celebrate Eid, with food being the central theme. Sri Lankans celebrate Ramazan with watalappam, falooda, samosa, gulab jamun and other national and regional dishes. The festivals were said to have initiated in Medina, after the migration of Muhammad from Mecca.

This year, as well as last year, Sri Lankan Muslims will have to forgo the custom of communal prayers, and celebrations, due to the ongoing pandemic, and will have to settle for private prayers and celebrations of Ramazan during this period of curfew. While these preventive measures are in place, during this year’s Ramazan, the principles of this holy month remain the same. Devout Muslims all over the world, will still be honouring this pillar of Islam, albeit from the security of their homes.

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