Bringing The Smiles Back To Matara
The tsunami that struck Asia in 2004 brought misery and devastation. Huge solidarity was shown by the international community, including the global football family. A youth centre is soon to be opened in Sri Lanka thanks to a donation of 300,000 euros by the German national team.
The tsunami that laid waste to vast areas of south and south-east Asia in 2004 ravaged the holiday island of Sri Lanka, killing some 230,000 people in a matter of minutes, and leaving tens of thousands homeless. The country was in great need, and its football facilities were also destroyed.
The playing fields and pavilions in the south of the country, an area that attracts legions of tourists from all over the globe each year, was quite simply washed away, bringing football to a standstill for months. In Matara, for example, a snapped goalpost in the city’s stadium was for a long time the solitary reminder that this had once been a football pitch. SC Matara, the only top-flight club in this region and the object of great pride among locals, were unable to participate in the Sri Lankan championship following the break-up of the team.
Aid arrived from all over the world, notably from Germany, whose national team played a selection of Bundesliga all-stars in a benefit match for the tsunami relief effort at Gelsenkirchen’s “Auf Schalke” arena on 25 January 2005. However, at the suggestion of then national coach Jurgen Klinsmann, the 300,000 euros raised were allocated to a specific project rather than simply used to top up the relief funds. The city of Matara, which had suffered 4,000 deaths and great devastation, was chosen.
The rebuilding work began with the help of FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and in particular thanks to the generous donation from Germany. The Football Federation of Sri Lanka, led by Honorary President Manilal Fernando and President Dishan Goonasekara, as well as Germany’s ambassador in Sri Lanka, Jurgen Weerth, also lent their active support to the project. A central element of the rebuilt football facility is a new youth centre where young people can attend classroom lessons in the morning and play football in the afternoon.
The Sri Lankan-German Youth Centre, which recently held a topping-out ceremony, is aimed primarily at helping young people whom the tsunami robbed not only of their home but also of many family members.
The whole of Matara turned out for the ceremony, with 400 boys and girls standing in file in recognition of the good deed by Germany’s national team. The event was also attended by the region’s mayor, the President of the Football Federation of Sri Lanka and, as a special guest, the country’s minister of information.
Of course, the media were also out in force, and provided detailed coverage of the youth centre’s topping-out ceremony in the evening and morning newspapers. Fernando was visibly moved: “This gesture by Germany’s professional footballers belies their hardened image and definitely shows that their hearts are in the right place.”
Goonasekara, overwhelmed by this magnificent act of generosity and solidarity by the German national team and football association, added: “German football’s achievement in Matara is more important than any FIFA World Cup win.”