That people disappear is nothing very unusual. But who has ever heard of an entire handball team disappearing? That’s exactly what a Sri Lankan team did when they took part in a sports exchange in Bavaria in 2004.
Players of the handball team TSV Wittislingen in Bavaria are said to have wondered about the poor play of their Sri Lankan opponents two weeks ago during a home match. Many of the Sri Lankans reportedly didn’t even seem familiar with the rules of the game and had difficulty catching the ball. “They were so awful,” the Bavarian players said after the game.
The reasons for the shoddy performance became clear a day later after the Bavarian hosts waited in vain for their Sri Lankan guests for breakfast. The Bavarians earlier thought the guests must have lost their way during a jog in the woods. But a visit to their rooms showed that the 16 alleged top Sri Lankan handball players and their 8 trainers had other plans. The team had bolted. All that was to be found were a couple of sport kits, shoes and sweaty T-shirts. A farewell letter thanked the Bavarians for their hospitality. “We’re going to France,” it said.
More light has now been shed on the team’s mysterious disappearance. A taxi driver in Wittislingen has told Bavarian police that he along with a couple of other taxis were directed to bring the Sri Lankans to Munich’s central railway station.
The alleged handball team is now believed to be living covertly in Italy, home to several thousand Sri Lankan refugees who have built a tight community network in recent years. One of the players, according to the Asian- German Sports Exchange Program group that organized the tournament in Bavaria, has already conveyed to his family in Sri Lanka that he is in Italy and will soon have a job.
While German and Italian authorities scratch their heads about the best way out of the mess, reports say that Sri Lanka officials have confirmed that the country doesn’t even have a national handball team.
In 2008 there was a movie made about the entire incident, “Machan“. The film was shot on locations in Sri Lanka and Germany. Production spent several weeks speaking with people in the less fortunate areas of Colombo and used the people met through that research to create the backgrounds of the main characters. When director Uberto Pasolini heard of the incident, he stated “I fell in love with the story so much that I decided to shoot it myself”. Under the working title of Handball, the film was produced and financed by Redgrave Films (UK), RAI Cinema (Italy), Babelsberg Films (Germany), and Shakthi Films (Sri Lanka), and had its premiere at the Venice Film Festival in August 2008, where it received a 10-minute standing ovation.
After the film completed its rounds of film festivals, it had commercial theatrical debut in Italy in September 2009, and was then picked up by UGC for theatrical distribution in Germany, France, Switzerland, Canada, Belgium, Norway and Sweden, and by Yume Pictures for theatrical release in the United Kingdom October 2009[ and DVD distribution April 2010.