It is always tempting to take lovely sporting tables and apply them as gospel to other walks of life. So it proved with “Team GB” at its “home” Olympics.
The obvious points are well rehearsed:
- several prominent British medallists were in fact teams made up of people from different parts of the UK – golds were won by Anglo-Scottish teams and even an Anglo-Welsh-Manx one; silvers by Anglo-Scottish and Anglo-Northern Irish;
- arguably even individual British medallists would not have been but for influences from elsewhere in the UK (a Welsh Taekwondo gold medallist trains in Manchester; a Manx cyclist world record holder is also based in Manchester; a Northern Irish bronze medallist has done much of his rowing at facilities near London; in return many English medallists needed assistance and advice from team mates and coaches from elsewhere in the UK); and
- no “Team GB” medallist was under any doubt that it was a medal at the “home games”.
Some other less obvious points also apply:
- there was a sense of strong support for any “Team GB” medallist in the vast bulk of households across the UK (assessed by one Scot as essentially an acceptance that “Jessica Ennis is not foreign”);
- notwithstanding some fine individual achievements, the performance of the Irish team deprived of collective facilities was markedly poorer than that of Scottish, Welsh or NI (or arguably even Manx) Olympians even taken alone;
- everyone in the UK and other territories represented by “Team GB” (the Isle of Man provided a medallist and a favourite; Anguilla provided a high jump finalist and so on) was able to enjoy the joint success of the team.
The immediately relevant case is Scotland, which not coincidentally has planned a referendum on separation from the UK for straight after the Commonwealth Games, which it hosts and in which England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the crown dependences and UK Caribbean territories which all fall under “Team GB” then provide separate teams. No doubt Scotland, already a disproportionately strong sporting nation, will enjoy a “host bounce” and enjoy the likes of Sir Chris Hoy winning for Scotland on home turf. It is hard to know, 24 months away, quite how this will play out – but the odds are that it will not be significant at least at a sporting level. Sir Chris was happy to be the British flag bearer and Mr Murray was happy to wear Union Flag sweat bands after all!
I do not think the Olympics will make the slightest difference to the Scottish referendum, but they do serve as a reminder of an instinctive sense across the UK that we are probably better together, at least in large part and at least for now. If, after the referendum, we have a significant vote for the Union, we will at least be in a better position to understand why!
I am always wary of cliches such as “putting the ‘Great’ back into ‘Great Britain’” – but for a fleeting moment at least these games surely put the “United” back into “United Kingdom”.