August 12, 2016 by apaubxl
International sports competitions such as world championships or the ongoing summer Olympics are always a combination of “collective party” and “peaceful competition”, but at the same time a moment of enforcing patriotic and nationalistic feelings. The reason for this is that persons identify themselves with sports(wo)men from their home state which leads to a “we won” and “you lost” argumentation and consequently to a “we are better than you” (or “we are jealous about your victory”) feeling.
While on the one hand side being a the heart of its idea a peaceful event which it definitely is (and this is also confirmed by athletes) it on the other hand also risks to strengthen the divisions between people. This is particularly visible in Europe where on the one hand side we are working on a common project of uniting the continent in one European Union and on the other compete against each other at international sports events.
When for the first time in history at Olympic Games an athlete showed the EU flag after having won a silver medal, reactions couldn’t have been more diverse. Some see it as a great symbolic gesture while others complained that she should not have identified herself with the EU being an athlete nominated by Italy.
This seems symbolic for European behaviour as even though the final ranking of medals at summer Olympic games is usually dominated by the USA (and the main country contesting this leading position is China), if adding up all EU medals, we would easily be first. It shows that in sport as well as all other disciplines, Europe is making itself always weaker than it actually is.
I am not advocating that the EU should go into international sports tournaments with one single team (even thought this could be an interesting experiment), but I believe gestures like the one of the Italian athlete are very welcome and very important. When England dropped out at the Euro in 2016 I heard not few voices from England supporting Wales as the remaining British team. A similar spirit would help the EU to generate a stronger collective identity.