It has been argued that communalism cannot be eliminated from a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society as it is very much rooted in people’s minds, in political parties, in socio-religious organisations, etc.
It is particularly so for a society like ours that has been through harrowing moments of political discord and which continues to this day to cultivate subtle – at times insidious – prejudices. It needs an unusually broad mind to say that “à lle Maurice nous cultivons la canne à sucre et les préjugés”. One does not come across such minds everyday at every street corner. Nevertheless Mauritius has made steady progress since Independence on several fronts – very visibly so on the economic front, but also to a noticeable degree on the societal front. The social intercourse of its population has improved considerably over the past 40 years, but we are still groping our way about how to deal with the communal bug. If the scourge of communalism and its attendant ills cannot be eliminated, we ought at least to avoid going back to the road that, taken backwards, will imperil the social fabric of the country — as it nearly did in a not-so-distant past.
The Sports Bill (No. XXV of 2013), which is presently being debated in Parliament, has evoked mixed feelings amongst the interested stakeholders and political parties – especially from the opposition benches. The Bill purports to establish a “modern and appropriate framework”, which has been “rendered necessary with a view to promoting better management and organization of sports in Mauritius, in line with the Olympic Charter”. It also provides for the “promotion of multiculturalism and social cohesion by all sports organizations”. Objections have been raised regarding the powers that the Bill will grant to the Minister of Sports in the recognition and management of sports clubs and federations – as well as their de-recognition in special circumstances. These issues will be addressed by the competent authorities if the need is felt to ascertain the constitutionality of certain specific provisions contained in the Sports Bill. But there is no doubt that the Minister of Sports is well intentioned for we have reasons to believe that he has, like his predecessors, taken full measure of the abuses that have been rampant in certain sports federations and that have plagued the respective disciplines for quite some time.
What is of particular concern however is the idea, mooted by we know not who, to bring back the so-called “traditional” football teams of yesteryears – the earlier communally-based teams – with a view to bringing the crowds back to the stadiums and to give a boost to semi-professional football. Regional football, which was introduced after the ugly – and criminal – incidents of 1999 following a football match opposing the then Fire Brigade and the Scouts Club that culminated in the death of a number of persons at the L’Amicale in Port Louis, has not been able to live up to its promise, and this has been reflected in the poor showing of the national team in successive games against those of neighbouring countries.
Some very disturbing incidents have occurred in the past in and around George V Stadium and elsewhere in the country every time certain football teams faced each other, following which the peace and quiet of this country came under strain but these incidents were fortunately contained by the police authorities. The Sports Bill, the Minister of Sports has assured, makes provision for penalties and corrective measures in case a sports club or a semi-professional club were to discriminate against any person by reason of race, community, caste, creed or colour, or were to conduct its activities in such manner that it creates any ill feeling towards any section of the community, etc.
We would like to think that the Minister and his colleagues in Cabinet are fully conscious of the fact that Mauritius cannot afford the sort of mistakes that have plagued us in the past and have carefully thought things through. We can make conjectures about the maturity of the people of this country and in particular of football fans in 2013. It would be a safer bet however to tread carefully. Semi-professional football teams, which bear the names of erstwhile communally-based teams, might come to be associated again with the community of the bulk of their supporters – very much as happened in the past when both wins and losses gave rise to ugly incidents. Are such incidents, which may easily spill over in a larger context, still likely? We do not know, but nothing happens in a vacuum. One has only to visit the social media platforms online to take cognisance of the disinformation and ill feelings that are being bandied about and the insidious and reprehensible propaganda being spread by some religious men to take full measure of the context we are sadly still living in today.
We trust that the Mauritius Labour Party, which started out as a workers’ party and which has sought since its inception to rally all components of the Mauritian community under its flag, will do justice to its History. Who needs communalism in public life anyway?
* Published in print edition on 13 December 2013