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Action Replay: Pass the Port

If war is the continuation of politics by other means, then international sport can be a form of politics too. National sports teams are often used to increase a country’s prestige and influence or to make some political point.

Probably the most notorious example was the ‘cricket test’ proposed by Norman Tebbit in 1990, and supposedly failed by many British people of Asian descent. So someone whose family was from Pakistan might support Pakistan against England (even if they supported England when they played, say, Australia). It was never quite clear what this was meant to show, apart from Tebbit's own nastiness.

In fact, a closer look at the concept of a national team can tell us quite a bit about the notions of nationalism and patriotism. Bahrain, for instance, has acquired a set of Olympic-class athletes by granting citizenship (and plenty of money too, no doubt) to established stars from elsewhere (such as Morocco and Ethiopia). Switching national allegiance for sporting reasons is not exactly rare, and even the current England cricket team (strictly, England and Wales) contains a number of players who started out as South Africans.

Even when the country was split between East and West, a combined German team competed at some Olympic Games. Ireland is represented on a thirty-two county basis in hockey and rugby union, but Northern Ireland and the Republic go their separate ways in other sports. The North competes alongside England, Scotland and Wales in football, for instance, and at the Commonwealth Games, but not at the Olympics, where a combined Great Britain team takes part.  

So the concept of ‘nation’ in international sport is pretty fluid. Not that any of this stops nationalists claiming that sporting success for ‘their’ country shows how superior its people are.

PB