On Sports and National Identity

Wednesday, 8th October 2008 at 15:56 UTC 1 comment

I saw this news story 6 weeks ago, but didn’t time to make a blog post on my feelings about it. It seems some people aren’t too happy about the way certain athletes are registering under different nationalities for the Olympic Games. But what does this say about the event so many are so determined to take part in? And what have national borders got to do with sport?

In theory, the purpose of the Olympics is show case the best in world sports, once every 4 years. This obviously misses the fact that its a corporate love-fest, and the means of legitimacy for some dozen of the world’s worst corporations, including sweatshoppers like, well, most every sportwear firm on the planet, and unionbusters like Coke. It also ignores the enormous amount of politics that takes place around the games, and in the case of some of the people switching flags for the summer’s events, this was obviously under consideration.

I guess as someone who doesn’t have very strong national affiliation (though perhaps if you count Yorkshire as a nation, that changes a little!), I find it quite hard to imagine wanting my (and I hasten to add, highly unlikely) sporting acheivements marked by the hoisting of a flag, the values attached to which I barely ever agree with and the playing of an anthem of which only one of the two characters mentioned do I actually believe in.

To what end does it actually matter whether a good athlete is from one country or another? I guess it helps to identify potential language issues, but thats about it. The olympics are supposed to be somehow connected to peace, and yet they are organised incredibly heavily around the binary concepts of “otherness” (foreigner) and “togetherness” (compatriot) that nation states give rise to.

Of course, there are huge disadvantages with countries often having a set number of places, meaning an athlete from one can attend who is less able than an athlete from another who can’t. To me, this seems completely unfair, and a sign that the games are more about national teams than pitting the best against the best per se. And what has ability got to do with nationality, other than how stinking rich your country is, or how much of its resources it decides to throw at sports at the expense of everything else it should be doing?

At the Athens games there was some controversy over an athlete wanting to take part without a nationality (I believe he was avoiding definition as American) and so he wanted to take part as a neutral-competitor. I wish this was an option for everyone, because, although it would make qualification harder, it would at least let competitors with political views at odds with their supposed country still take part.


Entry filed under: Nationalism, News, Olympics, Politics, Sports.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Froth  |  Thursday, 9th October 2008 at 1:20 UTC

    For a lot of events you have to qualify at lower levels of international sport to compete in the Olympics. No medal at the European Championship, no place at the Olympics, style of thing. Since you have to be up to a certain standards to get in under the current system, it might actually make qualifying simpler to just have international heats.


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