August 17

Flags or No Flags?

I thought it was really interesting to see that the typical ubiquity of St George’s Cross and Union Jack flags, which tends to coincide with major sporting events, has not been a significant part of the last few weeks. It got me thinking about both the nature of national pride – a tricky subject under any circumstances – and what is different between the World Cup, the European Cup and, frankly, any other major sporting event.

I’ve never seen such an outpouring of patriotism amongst my friends than the last few weeks. I was one of about 20 mates that watched Mo Farah cross the finish line of the 5,000 meter final, with every single one of us, ranging from 18 months to about 50, putting Denise Lewis to shame in terms of our ability to bounce around the front room in excitement. Yet flags, whether perched on cars or draped from windows, and the paraphernalia from the Euro and other Football events just weren’t on show, at least in my part of the world.

It’s probably fair to assume that a slightly different average demographic watches each type of sporting events, with many football fans disinterested in athletics and vice versa – but is it really as simple as that? And if so, why?

I had a strongly worded but friendly debate with a couple of friends about the nature of patriotism on the night of Mo’s second victory. To be honest, I just don’t get it. Tribal associations – such as getting behind a rugby team, whether it’s local, regional, national or indeed across several countries (such as the Lions) – I understand in a sporting context. But when asked, why do some people say English and some British? Indeed some of my friends said they were from the county of birth and others, the town or city they lived in. Why then the importance and association of the country, which is only one of many potential geographic criteria to choose from?

It’s an interesting subject to me because I’m Welsh (and therefore often the subject of appropriate gags) but my family moved to England almost thirty years ago, so I have been here three times as long as I lived in South Wales. I’m not English, nor do I feel English – but the time that I’m most confused about my feelings on the matter are when England and Wales play rugby. I would usually support England over Wales – although I’m never quite sure why and it’s pretty tough to call.

So, this results in me rejecting the idea of patriotism on a personal level, not least because the border around the area that dictates where one is supposed to feel patriotic about just feels arbitrary and irrelevant with regards to this emotional response.

I don’t pretend to have the answer but the issue of nationalistic pride raises so many questions for me – and I’m just not sure that it makes any sense the deeper one digs in to the concept.