HAMBANTOTA, Sri Lanka - Hosts Sri Lanka opened cricket's World Twenty20 against Zimbabwe last night, kicking off the country's biggest ever sports event just three years after the end of a bloody civil war.
Mahela Jayawardene's men took the field in Hambantota, the southeastern home town of President Mahinda Rajapakse with high hopes. The match starts a three-week cricket fiesta involving 12 teams in coastal Hambantota, hill town Pallekele and the capital Colombo, where the fourth World Twenty20 champions will be crowned on October 7. The tournament offers the "Teardrop Island" the chance to showcase its lush landscapes, beaches and temples, and turn the page on the 37-year ethnic conflict that claimed up to 100,000 lives.
In 2009, Rajapakse's government declared victory over the Tamil Tiger rebels, a group notorious for suicide bombings. The brutal final offensive prompted a UN Human Rights Council resolution against Sri Lanka earlier this year.
"The T20 World Cup program will provide an excellent platform to endorse the new Sri Lanka brand during the next three weeks," said Nivard Cabraal, the central bank governor.
"I am confident that this trend will continue in the future, and those so-called international calls for (war crimes) investigation will fade away," he told AFP.