Friday, March 8, 2013

Royal-Thomian 134th Battle of the Blues: A Matter of Tribes

It's that time of the year again! Yes, it's the Big Match event, otherwise known as the "Battle of the Blues", the annual 3-day cricket match between Royal College and St Thomas' College (i.e. Roy-Tho). 


It has a long and illustrious history that began with its inaugural match in 1879 surpassing even The Ashes Test Cricket Series, which has been played between Australia and England since 1882. This year will be the 134th year the match has been continuously played in Colombo by the two boys schools. The match is traditionally held on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday. 
Both schools have produced a swag of distinguished cricketers who have gone on to play for their country.

While I enjoy a good game of cricket like any loyal cricket fan, it's the boisterous atmosphere with flags, decorated tents, and baila singing and dancing, that also contributes to this particular event. Parades take place around the city before the start of the event and also on match days where current students from each school take part to show support to their team. There's also the sight of cars showing banners that are packed with supporters who are shouting support for their school, waving flags and blaring loud music along the Colombo streets. This year I've heard reports of unruly and possibly harmful behavior by "truckers" when visiting neighborhood schools. It's been reported that police have been involved in some situations, which is alarming.
The friends who invited me to the Big Match are "old boys" of one of the colleges. They have been attending continuously since they were at school, and its become a huge tradition to attend the annual event even after leaving school. They've informed me it's one of the significant highlights of their year where they all get together to reminisce of the old days at school, catch up with friends and enjoy the atmosphere of the match. 

There appears to be an incredible allegiance to both schools by their past and present students. It is almost tribal in the way their schools colors are recognised, how they come together, behave and communicate. For example, you are known as a Royalist if you attended Royal College; Thomian if you attended St Thomas' College, and so on. and so forth. Seth Godin in his book Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us defines “A tribe as a group of people connected to one another... A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.”

Outside of these two schools they are also easily recognised amongst other girls and boys schools, and wider society as a tribe. Status and recognition  is very much identified by what school you went to, and there is relative prestige in the school/tribe you are aligned to. This is much alike attendance at one of the prestigious public schools in England, such a Eton or Harrow. A commonly asked question is "Where did you go to school?"

The networks that are created by these schools have the ability and potential to influence and contribute to society on a multitude of levels that goes beyond events such as the Big Match. At the same time, belonging to a particular tribe can be limiting if you are constrained to set views, parameters and dysfunctional attitudes. The question of what you do with this network becomes an important question.

Do you leverage it to do something positive (via business, education, politics, sport etc.)? 
Do you use it as a power base for influencing or lobbying important ideas or agendas? 
Are you only concerned with securing a place for your son(s) at the college you attended? 
Is it primarily a status attribute to complement your social identity or position?
Do you choose to ignore your tribe no longer wishing to be associated with the tribe? 
Do you follow what your friends do, without ever really considering this question for yourself? 

I wonder at some of the answers I would receive to my question. Looking around at the crowd of past and present students and their friends and family at the Big Match, I know my question and the answers would definitely surprise the heck out of people.

In any event, it was a fun day at the Big Match, even with the rain, rain, rain!!!

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