Sri Lanka banks on cricket to repair image

COLOMBO, Sept 17, 2012 (AFP) – Sri Lanka is banking on cricket to repair the damage to its blood-stained image after the brutal end to a 37-year ethnic war as it stages the biggest tournament in the nation’s post-independence history. Since declaring an end in 2009 to a conflict that claimed up to 100,000 lives, President Mahinda Rajapakse’s government has had to battle accusations that its troops killed thousands of civilians as they crushed Tamil rebels in the finale.

But as hosts of the World Twenty20, which begins Tuesday in Rajapakse’s hometown of Hambantota, Sri Lanka is looking to rebrand itself as an island of sun-kissed beaches and ancient Buddhist temples rather than as a hotbed of conflict.

“The T20 World Cup programme will provide an excellent platform to endorse the new Sri Lanka brand during the next three weeks,” said Nivard Cabraal, the central bank governor and a key figure in promoting Sri Lanka as a sporting destination.

“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.

Teams from 12 nations, including those from Australia and England — two nations which have been highly cri