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Botham's mission: Rebuilding lives through sports

GALLE, Wednesday - English cricket legend Ian Botham is of the opinion the best way to help people affected by the December 26 tsunami rebuild their lives is through sports.

"Sports teaches you a lot of things in life. It teaches you bonding, to work with people, to control your emotions some of the time or most of the time. There are a lot of things that sports brings together," said Botham at a media briefing held at the Galle International Stadium here today.

"Sri Lanka is rich in cricketing history and it seems a logical progression to me. I for one would rather see kids play sports rather than stand in street corners. We want to take it to that level," he said.

Botham who arrived in Sri Lanka to gather first hand information on the affected areas down South was sent on this mission as an ambassador of the Laureus Sports Award of which he is one of the 42 members.

"I was lucky enough to be an academy member. To be a member one of the 42 is an honour. That's how I got involved with this project," stated the former England all-rounder.

Speaking further Botham said: "At our first inaugural meeting in Monaco, Nelson Mandela (the former South African president) said that sports breaks down barriers and brings people together more than anything else in the world. What we are here for is to see for ourselves and then assess the trauma these kids, the adults and the whole community have gone through. Sports is a good way for getting them out of it." Botham flew to Galle by seaplane and the view he saw from above he described as 'quite eerie'.

"In 2003 when I was last here covering cricket for Sky TV we stayed at a hotel on the beach, which is no longer there. The activity, the fishmongers, the boats, the houses, everything's gone. I have never seen anything like this before. It is scary and seems something out of a disaster movie," said Botham.

"When you look at the cricket ground there was a Test match played here some 18 months ago. You remember it in splendour. Now it looks like the surface of the moon. It's bizarre," he said.

What surprised Botham was the resilience of the people in the area despite the tragedy and trauma they had undergone.

"The resilience of these people is quite amazing. I am a great believer that the sooner we get things up and running sportswise in this area, you will get particularly the younger generation, perhaps even more resilient than the older generation. It would be more devastating for the people of this area not to have sports facilities. I think the effect will be more damaging," said Botham.

"What we are trying to do is to look at the future and see what we can do to help bring stability to this part of the world. It's got a great cricketing history. You only have to spend time in this country to know how keen and how much cricket plays a part in the life of the Sri Lankans.

We want to do something in that direction. We are here to enhance the lives of the children and their parents," Botham continued.

"From what I've seen here I don't think there is enough money in the world to put all this right. There are a lot of people out there doing things for what's happened. We are trying to find a way to take it to the next level, which is to advance forward. I feel that if you do something, you do it properly. I will be very much involved with this project as much as the one I am already involved in Northern Ireland."

"There will be no politics, no ifs and buts. If we see something and feel that work needs to be done we will get a work force down here, people we can rely on and we will ensure it is done the same way as other projects we have done with enormous success," Botham said.

Botham was of the opinion that the Galle International Cricket Stadium should be reconstructed and used to host international matches again.

The history of this ground proves that it is one of the prettiest around. A disaster has happened and this is something that we have no control over. It's the way of the world. It's nature. There is nothing stronger than nature. Why wouldn't we want to keep this ground and its history like what it was before the disaster? he asked.

Associated with the media conference was Kushil Gunasekara of the Muralitharan-Gunasekara-Vaas Foundation, Brad Graspas, CEO of the Shane Warne Foundation, Giles Gibbons of the Laureus Sports Awards and other cricket officials.

Botham also visited the tsunami affected areas of Seenigama and Peraliya.

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