On Tuesday we began Two Nations – our Headstart enquiry into who Londoners want to win at the Olympics and why. The aim of the project is to explore how people in London – a city where a third of people were born in another country – identify with the UK and other nations through sport.
National sporting events are a way of ‘making’ the nation – when our different national identities and loyalties are squashed together. The Olympics is special in this regard as, in contrast to football, cricket and rugby, people in the UK will all be looking at the same team. So the Games isn’t just about the world coming together – it might also be a way of the UK coming together too – and maybe for the last time…
The idea of ‘making the nation’ also applies, quite literally, to some of the athletes in Team GB who have sought citizenship, sports funding and opportunity here. Earlier in the year a debate raged about whether Tiffany Porter – Team GB’s Women’s athletics captain at the World Indoor Athletics Championships – should really be competing for Britain having lived in the US all her life and previously sought selection in the US team. The Daily Mail has lead a campaign to exclude so called ‘Plastic Brits’ from team GB – who are ‘opportunistically choosing’ to compete for Britain. They draw a distinction between other athletes (like Mo Farah) who were born in other countries but came here for other reasons.
But I’m not sure if it’s that simple. A few weeks ago we had a show of hands amongst 30 Headstarters to establish who was either born, or had a parent born outside the UK. Barry, myself and one other person were the only people who didn’t have our hands up. What is and isn’t a ‘plastic’ reason to come to the UK. And how is Tiffany Porter more plastic than people who were born and vote for politicians in this country but choose to live overseas? Hopefully we’ll find out.
Another interesting aspect of this is whether anyone actually cares who wins at the Olympics anyway. Behind the missile batteries, beneath the sponsorship deals and discussions about whether our athletes are making the most of ‘home advantage’, is the Olympic idea of one ‘global nation’ looking together at human stories that go beyond nationality. Would it really matter to us if Team GB didn’t win anything and none of us really cared? Would that really be so bad?
The enquiry will report at the Freeword Centre on Thursday June 21st.