Page last updated at 15:18 GMT, Friday, 4 December 2009

Cricketer Ian Botham visits Sri Lanka tsunami project

By Anbarasan Ethirajan
BBC News

Ian Botham in Seenigama, Sri Lanka (2 December 2009)
Ian Botham visited Sri Lanka weeks after the 2004 tsunami

English cricket legend Ian Botham has visited a Sri Lankan sports project for children affected by the 2004 tsunami.

The facility, near the city of Galle, enables local children to play volleyball, cricket and other games.

Sir Ian's visit came nearly five years after the tsunami, which killed more than 30,000 people in Sri Lanka alone.

The British charity Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, of which Sir Ian is a trustee, sponsored the project.

Botham was one of several high-profile cricketers who travelled to Galle five years ago just weeks after the tsunami devastated the region.

Destroyed cricket stadium in Galle, Sri Lanka (29 Dec 2009)
Galle's cricket stadium was destroyed by the tsunami

The famous cricket stadium in Galle was destroyed.

Sir Ian says he was stunned by what he saw in the aftermath of the disaster.

"The devastation was something that you would not believe," he told the BBC.

"Watch all your disaster movies in the world, put them all together, you won't get close to what happened. So we thought we can help."

Traumatised by the event, many people were not talking to each other. There was hardly any communication between communities.

"Once the immediate relief was over it was clear to me that sport could play an important part in giving people a sense of hope," said Sir Ian.

'Winning teams'

Money was raised for a sports complex, which enabled orphaned local children and others to play various games. They take part in inter-village sports leagues with matches and training sessions.

Ian Botham with a child in Seenigama, Sri Lanka (2 December 2009)
Sir Ian said sport was able to bring people together

The games and training sessions have helped both boys and girls to gradually recover from their shock and grief.

"Today, five years down, the school is up and running," Sir Ian said.

"The communities are united. The teams are winning. So it's all working."

The Seenigama under-15 cricket team won a tournament held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, last month.

The children gave the England cricket hero an enthusiastic welcome during his recent visit.

With the success of the current project, Sir Ian says the foundation is now looking at the possibility of opening a similar sports complex in the eastern part of Sri Lanka, ravaged by both the tsunami and ethnic conflict.

"Sports can bring people together," Sir Ian said.

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