1st Jul 2012 5:02pm | By Rebecca Kent
Displays of patriotism are easy to spot.
England fans usually belt out God Save The Queen at a footie match. Kiwis may pledge allegiance to the All Blacks with a silver fern tattoo. At Royal Ascot this year, there were many flags waving for Australia’s Black Caviar. When it’s a question of sport, it’s obvious whose side punters are on – but more difficult for followers to decide who to root for. It’s no longer as simple as cheering for the country you were born in. When you consider a third of Londoners are from outside the UK, it’s not as straightforward as rooting for your homeland. With 216 countries to be represented at the Olympics, the big question is: who will you be backing?
Two Nations, an event held in London last week, put that very dilemma to young Londoners. The attendees were from around the world – Zambia, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Jamaica, England, Bangladesh and more. Many were second- generation immigrants, born in London, yet, when pressed on who they’d like to see win gold, only a few declared Team GB.
Writer Jasmine Cooray, a British-born child of Sri Lankan, immigrants, struggles to reconcile her heritage with her national loyalties. “The only thing vaguely Sri Lankan about me is my melanin level and unusually high spice content,” she joked. “If I get the sense an athlete is passionate and focused, I’m behind them. And the female competitors have my support any time.”
And for teacher and poet Hannah Lowe, 35, who was born in Ilford to an English mother and Jamaican-Chinese father, it is a matter of politics.“I don’t feel particularly patriotic, because I don’t agree with UK foreign policy and the domination that is a legacy of colonial history,” Lowe said. ”I want to champion the underdog, see smaller countries do well on a global stage.”
According to Dr Martin Richardson, who has researched national identity at Durham University, the Olympics is a forum where people are comfortable putting aside nationalism. “Interestingly, at the Olympics you see so many symbols of nationhood, and there’s a stirring of nationalist spirit, so there will always be friction,” he said.“But, in recent years, nationhood has been transcended by personality. We want people to do well because of who they are and the difficulties they had getting there, even though they might stand no chance of getting a medal.”
As an example, Richardson references Cathy Freeman, the 400m Aboriginal gold medal winner in Sydney who came to symbolise Australian’s unity, the reconciliation between black and white. He added: “That curious idea of personality, or celebrity, was evident with Freeman. All of Australia was supporting her in Sydney. Yes, they were rooting for the green and gold, but that was by extension. [In this year’s Games] people will find an affinity for Jamaica because of Usain Bolt.”
British-born, second generation Nigerian Michael Ogundare, 24, agreed. “The Olympics is an exhibition of individual talent for me. I’ll be going for Bolt because I believe he is one of the leading lights of athletics, and in the football, it’ll be Argentina for Messi, and in basketball, the US for Lebron James. I relate more to the mentality of an athlete,” the production intern said.