Commonwealth Games and the disunited Kingdom

The opening ceremony of the biggest sporting event ever held in Scotland, the Commonwealth Games takes place tomorrow in Glasgow. While we wait and see how it compares with Danny Boyle’s brilliant opening ceremony for London 2012, it is interesting to see the BBC hype what is really a harmless anachronism – the games started in 1930 as the British Empire Games but of course the British Empire doses not exist anymore – and treat it like London 2012. BBC 1 will have coverage all day from 9.00 am to 10.00pm – breaking off only for the news – while BBC 3 will also cover it from 9.00 am to 10.00pm. The BBC are even moving their popular soap opera “EastEnders” to BBC 2 for the duration of the Games. Yet if the BBC think that this event will be as popular as London 2012 they are mistaken.
There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is that these games do not have the once in a lifetime feel that the Olympics did. The UK had not hosted the Olympics since 1948 and I reckon we’ll be all dead when/if they next come here. In contrast the Commonwealth Games were in the UK four times between 1948 and 2012 and even Scotland has hosted them twice before (Edinburgh 1970 and 1986). They were here as recently as 2002 in Manchester (the athletics were held at what is now Manchester City’s stadium). This is no unique event.
However the main reason this event will not be 2012 revisited is the fact there is no team GB to cheer on. Britain will be divided into seven different teams*. Personally I hate the division of the UK in sport and I wish it would stop. I suspect no one reading this will agree with me – only the MP for Tewksbury Laurence Robinson has come out in support for this – but no other country in the world would divide itself this way. Imagine the 50 states of the USA having their own teams or Australia splitting itself into its states. It wouldn’t happen – even though like Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland the states of the USA and Australia have their own governments. The Australians will probably top the medal table at Glasgow 2014 yet I reckon if team GB were in the Games we would beat them – as we did in London 2012 and the Aussies must be laughing at us. Also last week the Daily Telegraph revealed that English athletes are worried they will be booed in Glasgow. While I don’t think that will happen I am certain it would not happen had we all been united as team GB.
In the case of football the division is even more serious as it is an obstacle to gender equality in two ways. English women players Casey Stoney and Kelly Smith have come out in favour of a team GB women’s football team at Rio 2016 (provided England qualify in the World cup next year) but as the (male dominated) FAs of Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland won’t risk it in case it means they have to give up their independent status they would have more chance of being listened to by the speaking clock. Doubtless people will say we don’t have a male team at the Olympics either but that misses the point. Men’s football does not need the Olympics. Women’s football does. That is sexism disguised as equality. Which makes it worse.
Another point is the Laws of the Game. As Jennifer Doyle has pointed out FIFA rules allow children, the disabled, the ‘old’ and WOMEN (her capitals) to play on smaller fields with smaller balls and goals. While Doyle is right to say this is wrong it is not FIFA’s fault it is the UK’s.That is because the laws of football are made by the International Football Association Board (IFAB). This organisation has eight members – four of them from the UK. As law changes have to be approved by a 6-2 majority that gives the UK a veto over the laws of football. You’d think the UK would realise that is a nonsensical anomaly but no. Stewart Reagan of the SFA – an organisation that makes its English equivalent look progressive – has said a GB Olympic team would mean “no seat for Scotland at IFAB” which raises the question “why should they have one”? The UK having a veto over the laws of football would have been out of date in 1924 never mind 2014. What on earth are the UK FAs scared of?
It is clear that both in the case of national unity – a big sporting event should unite a country but the Commonwealth Games and the World Cup both divide the UK – and fairness – that the splitting up of the UK in some sports is an anachronism that unlike the Commonwealth Games is not harmless. A rule should be brought in that to be in a sporting event a country must be a member of the United Nations. With no exceptions.
* The seven British teams in the Commonwealth Games are England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man. To make it more absurd last week a Daily Telegraph letter writer suggested Cornwall should have its own team. Where will it end?


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