Wednesday, 29 June 2016

The Politics of Sport: Brexit Could Spell a Farewell for Team GB

By Jonathan Wilkinson

4th August 2012 – Super Saturday. The greatest day in the history of British Sport. A day when Great Britain would win 6 Gold medals at the London Olympics. In the Olympic Stadium itself, 3 golds were delivered by Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis-Hill and Greg Rutherford. As Shane described it...

    “But it was a day for Britain. A day to cherish and revel in. 24 hours that will be recounted for generations. Whatever positive emotions you felt as a result of British success, remember it, hold onto it. As we'll never see a day as glorious as this one again.”[1]
Here we had a man born in Somalia, a woman from Sheffield, and a lad from Milton Keynes all creating one of the greatest nights in British history. If you were British that night, you could be proud of a nation uniting behind its sporting heroes. I will never forget my mum, who normally isn't the sporting type, cheering just as loudly as me and my dad as Farah sprinted away in the home straight to take his 10,000 metre gold.
After that race, Farah was asked if he would have rather represented the country of his birth. His reply was simple; “Look, mate, this is my country. This is where I grew up, this is where I started my life ... And when I put on my Great Britain vest, I’m proud.”[2] I bring this up because it was undeniably a night when anyone who identified as British could stand up and say, “I’m proud of this nation” and believe in something better for Britain, for one magical summer at least. 

Fast forward 4 years, June 23rd, and we have an election to decide our future in Europe. Most people would agree, whether you were a Brexit or remain supporter, that the months leading up to this referendum were filled with hate and fear politics. The leave side played on the fear of immigrants, reaching its zenith with that Breaking Point poster while David Cameron was threatening World War 3 if we did not vote remain. There were many things I felt during this whole sorry campaign but pride in Britain was not one of them.

The rise of anti-intellectualism during this process has being one of the saddest things about the whole mess. People have grown to distrust anything that looks like it's coming from a source of education or an intellectual background. As Michael Gove said, “people are tired of experts”. This has made it next to impossible to have a debate with someone that goes beyond two sets of voices not listening to each other. Present evidence to back up an argument and you’re a puppet of the regime, which quickly leads to branding your interlocutor as racist or wilfully ignorant, which just further alienates those in the other camp. 

I think my lowest point in this referendum came the morning of the result, on my way to work. Listening to Iron Maiden. I was angry and upset, I had lost any pride I may have once had in my country and county. News clips were showing people of Yorkshire being asked why they had voted leave and they all had one thing in common; fear of immigrants and in a lot of cases outright racism. How can you have pride when this is what the world is seeing? 

Let’s go back in time to July 2014. I was at the Leeds Arena for the team presentations leading into that year's Tour de France. Chants of “Yorkshire, Yorkshire” rocked the Arena that night, I think if Gary Verity had asked us to march on London that night, we would have. That was 2 days in which Yorkshire showed itself off to the world, millions turned out on the street to support all the riders, and the world’s viewers saw us at our very best, welcoming. Now they see us at our worst and it hurts. 

This was always the end game, hate and fear has won and the British people have lost, whether you want to admit it or not. Whereas the Summer of 2014 brought us together, the Spring of 2016 has torn us apart. From households to cities to countries, we are divided. The radical right feels like its racism has being legitimised, the working class feel like they have been belittled, and the youth feel their future has being stolen from them by the old.  

There is a great sporting documentary called From the Ashes that tells the tale of the 1981 Ashes series, and how for one summer it let the country forget the troubles that were going on around them. Let’s hope the Rio 2016 Olympics can do the same, for it could be the last time that Great Britain competes at the Olympics before Scotland goes its own way. It would also be great to have something to talk about that isn't related to Brexit. It would be great to be proud to be British again, if only for a night, and if only for something as ultimately pointless but glorious as sport.

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