Monday 15th July 2024
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Unity Through Sports

Every Sunday in London (UK) you will find many Tamil boys and men competiting in the successful Tamil football league. Now, imagine sitting in Wembley Stadium watching a football game – a match between two of the biggest clubs in the UEFA Champions League. On the big screen appears a short documentary about your community and in particular the Tamil football league you play in. How big is that?! The number of people who would get a positive insight into our small community would run into the tens of thousands…maybe more!

This is what has happened in Toronto, Canada – albeit with a different sport. The Toronto Tamil Basketball Association (TTBA) is a youth initiative setup by young community leaders to combat gang crime, and, through sports, bring unity amongst the Tamil community in Toronto. The TTBA – in partnership with the Toronto Raptors, a NBA team – hosted the first ”Tamil Heritage” event on February 13th 2011 at the Air Canada Centre. At a game between the Los Angeles Clippers & the Toronto Raptors, the TTBA hosted a number of programs including a Q&A with one of the NBA players and at half-time, a screening of an interview by NBAtv with the TTBA. This could be seen as a great marketing stunt for all organisations involved, but for a community which has recieved negative press about gang activities, this is an important step in the right direction to promote the many positive aspects of our community.

We speak to Mayuran Rajashivam of the TTBA about the organisation, the heritage event and their contribution to the community.

Who is Mayuran Rajashivam?
He is: Co-Founder/Co-Director of the TTBA and it’s affiliate programs, along with Shankar Balachandran, is one of many leaders and administrators within the organization.

In less than 10 words tell us what the TTBA is?
A Community of Leaders, That Will Become Leaders of the Community.  (- I know, 11 words, but that’s what the focus is of the TTBA…)

Why basketball. and not soccer or baseball?
There were already soccer leagues in full throttle when we wanted to start a basketball league. Initially, I went to many basketball tournaments in the Tamil community, and the vibe was really awesome. Basketball tournaments were driven on passion. and it was always younger people organizing them as the older generations weren’t into it. So the basketball tournaments had a hip feel to them, but as our community was young in Canada, there was a lot of tension between various areas of the city within the Tamil community, and you saw that at the various tournaments. My partner and I wanted to really do something different and bring all these like-minded basketball players who were passionate about the sport together. I personally was in love with basketball growing up and Michael Jordan was a great reason for that. We wanted to re-create the excitement that Michael Jordan brought to the NBA in our own little way and one day build the stage to create the type of athletes in the Tamil community that could perform at an elite level.

In terms of Baseball, we are planning a co-ed softball league for this summer. We have expanded into co-ed beach volleyball. We want to do the hippest coolest sports out there and get young people both male and female involved in positive interaction. Our leagues center on creating a new leadership for future generations and re-brand the way Tamils are perceived by other Canadians.

Do you think what you are doing is benefiting the Tamil youth?
Definitely! The social fabric of our leagues has created a family-like feeling, which creates bridges between like-minded people. Many new friendships have been formed, and we have created a powerful network of athletes that get recognized for their passion for a particular sport. Overall, the TTBA is a place where people can let loose and be themselves, stay young, healthy and share in the positive energy that reflects off of everyone involved!

How can the community help to develop the TTBA?
The community needs to support the athletes as they are leaders in society. Sports builds great values and skills in people. Parents need to funnel and support their kids pursuit of excellence down an athletic path. Business people need to continue coming forward and helping the league. We as a community need to culturally embed sports in our lives and commit ourselves into the development of great athletes almost religiously. Real pragmatic Tamil culture is very health minded and athletically inclined. We need to practice Real Tamil Culture!

How did the Tamil heritage event with the Raptors come about?
The TTBA is a steering committee member of Toronto Sports Council which was formed initially for the 2000 Olympic bid. After we lost the games to Atlanta, the TSC hung around and dedicated itself to building sports within the city of Toronto. We met many large Basketball organizations through TSC’s quarterly meetings, including the Raptor’s community events representative. We spoke about how we can partner with them and requested to do a Tamil Heritage Day just like a Jewish Heritage Day, or a Serbian Heritage Day that were already happening.

One good contact + one good email + one good basketball program paved the way for Tamil Heritage Day @ the Raptors game. Also the raptors sales team had seen the piece NBATV Canada did on the TTBA and were mightily impressed.

Its still early days but looking back at the event, has it helped progress the aims of the TTBA?
It sure has. Everyone who came out enjoyed it. Many had not been to a basketball game previously now have taken a liking into the sport. Parents want to put their kids in our TTBA Jr skills development program. The whole community is very aware of TTBA – the phenomenon it is in young people’s circles. We have been the first Tamil organization to really partner up with a major sports enterprise in this capacity – which is leadership in itself. The Raptors are now very aware of the Tamil community and what we can bring to the table. Tamils aren’t just people who "fight violently" among themselves, are not "terrorists," are not "people who come on boats," nor are they just "protesters" – but hard working Canadians who love life just as much or even more than people of other backgrounds. Tamils know how to have a good time as well! Tamil Heritage Day helped to transject and articulate what the "New Tamil" community is about and especially for us out there who are technically 2nd Generation Tamils within the Diaspora who are as proud to be Canadian as we are proud to be of a Tamil background.

Where does the TTBA see itself in 5 years?
We see ourselves always doing exciting things and every year out doing ourselves and keeping our program hip and cool and very effective in line with our core goals and principles. We want our own facility, plan on expanding our program and to have a very effective Jr basketball program in place for kids 5-17. We hope to be creating more elite athletes and letting our passion drive the essential growth of the TTBA further.

We at Thamarai wish Mayuran and the TTBA team all the very best in the future. Photos courtesy of Kolan Shan. Please click here to view the short documentary on the ttba by NBAtv.