Being English, British and European


We are a sporting nation. Or are we?

Sport, unlike Christianity (unless the Pope is here – see last post last week), benefits from ubiquitous media coverage. The lives of our sports stars are ruthlessly exposed (unless they can help it).

Today, as if you didn’t know, it is the Ryder Cup – in which ‘we’ are Europe.

On Sunday, it is the Commonwealth Games, in which ‘we’ are – individually – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In 2012, it is the Olympic Games – in which ‘we’ will be Great Britain.

Except we won’t be.

Not in football, anyway.

From what I have gathered from Sky News (a pay-wall free online news channel):

“the Scottish, Welsh and Irish Football Associations have privately agreed to turn a blind eye to a one-off British team for the Olympic Games. In return for their co-operation it is thought that the English FA will not ask players outside England to join the team. The agreement should put an end to an argument which has raged since 2005, when London won the right to stage the Olympics. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have been against the idea for fear it would set a dangerous precedent and jeopardise their independence in future competitions.”

This was published over a year ago, but I cannot find any more recent news, even on the official website.

Anyway, it doesn’t matter because my point is this:

Why don’t we play as Great Britain in the biggest tournament of all – the football World Cup?

Well, having been lucky enough to have witnessed the inside of international sport in my time, I can tell you.

What happens is that each of the four regions that make up Great Britain – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – have a Committee. These Committees are very important with very important people. And they are allocated privileged tickets to World Cups, even if the ‘country’ they represent doesn’t qualify.

So, if we entered the World Cup as Great Britain, only a quarter of the men in suits and their fur-coated wives would get their four-yearly five-star treatment.

What must the other countries, each with their own cultural divisions, think?

Spain – which includes proud Catalans, Basques and Galicians – won the World Cup this year.

CNN reported (

“Many of this morning’s newspapers in Spain have hinted that the victory could herald a new dawn for the country, where a sense of national identity might now take precedence over regional concerns….The transformative power of football, either by promoting national unity or through sparking a long-dormant national pride…. has been known to have huge political significance.”

Wouldn’t it have been great if Ryan Giggs, Kenny Dalglish and George Best had had the opportunity to play more competitively on the world stage?

Sadly, it seems the only way this will happen in football is if, one day, which may be soon upon us, we are so bad that Great Britain will have to unite as one to compete with other nations of the world.

Just as Britain became Europe to compete with the USA in the Ryder Cup.

So, whatever happens this week-end in Wales, or next week in India, we can look forward to our media being as one-eyed as they always are, whoever ‘we’ are.

Just you watch.

About Hugh Salmon

Business leader. Adman. Writer.
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