These days I have been asking my English friends why there is a British team for the Olympic Games , while for the great football championships England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland play separately . No one could answer me. I started to investigate and it turns out that the four nations that make up the United Kingdom already competed with each other long before FIFA or UEFA was created. Scotland and England staged, in fact, the first national team clash in history back in 1872 .
The issue with Boris Johnson is that, in the face of the Scottish sovereign threat and all the problems caused by Brexit in Northern Ireland (which has been left with a different status from the rest of the country), he had been repeating over and over again that he was the Prime Minister of the entire United Kingdom. But the Eurocup has arrived and he has decked Downing Street with the flag of Saint George and has donned the shirt of the English team . Let’s skip the details about what was the result by putting it on top of the shirt and under the suit jacket. The key is that there was no trace of the flag of the cross of Saint Andrew , patron saint of Scotland, or the red dragon.from Wales. And when politicians hijack sport for personal gain, they must accept the consequences.
During the Eurocup , Johnson has been accused of taking advantage of the ‘boom’ created by the ‘ Three Lions’ to exploit English nationalism , presenting the triumphs as one more dividend of Brexit, in short, the potential of England unleashed by the great exit of the EU . The ‘premier’ has never liked football. Beyond tackling a 10-year-old boy during a charity rugby match in Japan, there is no known fondness for any sport. But in recent weeks he had surrendered to Gareth Southgate’s team, even raising a national holiday if they took the cup and the title of ‘Sir’ for the coach.
And that has highly irritated a sector of society and the left – wing press , who pointed out that the national team – with many players from humble origins and of immigrant descent – does not conform “to the English version that the Tories want to impose on the country.” . On the other hand, the ‘premier’ has also been accused of being hypocritical for now condemning the racist attacks and threats that players who missed penalties are receiving, when at the start of the Eurocup he did not firmly show his support when the team received boos to the Get on your knees before kick-off to precisely denounce racism. “Players have to be encouraged, not booed,” he limited himself to saying without delving further into the debate.
Many conservative deputies were against the decision of the players, but, without a doubt, the one who has come out the worst has been the head of the Interior, Pitri Patel . Last June, the minister of Indian origin and now responsible for the strict immigration system that has been imposed in the United Kingdom after Brexit, denounced that those who knelt were leading a “political gesture” associated with the Black Lives Matter movement therefore, he felt that it was ultimately up to the fans whether they wanted to cheer or boo.
After the final, from his Twitter account – where his profile photo now appears with the national team shirt – Patel has condemned the abuses. But player Tyrone Mings has responded with a devastating message: “You cannot fan the fire at the beginning of the tournament by crossing out our message against racism as a ‘political gesture’ and then pretending to be upset when exactly what we were denouncing happens.
Soccer and identity
Let’s be honest. Trying to profit from the triumph of the national team is something that politicians of all stripes have done. And we are not going to be surprised now. Politicians rarely see a train without getting on board, and no train is more enticing than a popular team that attracts more than 30 million viewers. During Euro 1996 , Tony Blair used the emblem “Labor returns home” in the national training congress (a play on English words to refer to winning a trophy). In 1966 , Harold Wilson joked, “Have you noticed that we only win the World Cup when there is a Labor government in Downing Street?”
And with Brexit , there have been few comments on networks that “anyone but England” should win . The newspaper The National – defender of Scottish independence – even carried on its cover a montage in which the Italian coach, Roberto Mancini , appeared , dressed as the protagonist of the film Braveheart under the headline “our last hope.”
Ultimately, international football can become an identity politics reduced to absurdity. Driven into hysteria by the advertising- led media , it is supposed to generate a sense of national euphoria . I myself came to cry with Iniesta’s goal , watching the World Cup from London, away from home. “Iniesta of my life!” It’s remembering it and it makes my hair stand on end. Success offers a rush psychological, it becomes more challenging by the equally hysterical depths of depression in case of defeat.
In this sense, sports nationalism has been exploited by totalitarian regimes throughout the 20th century, from interwar Germany to postwar communism . Although this tournament has been loaded with much more politics than we were used to. Experts debate a lot if there are any long-term benefits. But the consensus is that wins have no lasting impact. Yes, people feel good when things are going well. But after the success of the 2012 London Olympics, the British were supposed to start doing more sport to get in shape . And it was not the case.
Ultimately, elite sport glorifies athletes, not politicians. But at the same time, the relationship between football and Westminster has changed – a lot – over the past few years. In both senses. Because just as politicians have become more eager to associate with success on the field, players have become more politically involved in the decades since England lifted the cup at the 1966 World Cup.