The men's and women's curling competitions are getting underway today at the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Great Britain are as usual represented by all-Scottish teams, composed of exactly the same players who competed for Scotland at last year's World and European Championships. The women's team skipped by Eve Muirhead are the current world champions (as Team Scotland), and are therefore the slight favourites for the gold medal, although two months ago they were defeated in the European Championship final by the same Swedish rink that they got the better of in the world final last spring. The men's team led by former two-time world champion David Murdoch should have at least a 50/50 chance of a medal, having won a bronze at both the worlds and Europeans last year.
Ever since curling was reintroduced into the Olympic programme for Nagano 1998, I've been a passionate supporter of the Great Britain teams, without reservation. (In spite of the gold medal won by the Rhona Martin-led women's team in 2002, it's actually been more frustration than elation along the way, with a succession of near misses.) But after the grotesque spectacle of the UK government and the anti-independence campaign shamelessly politicising the events of London 2012 (and continuing to do so even just a few days ago with Cameron's speech), I can't deny that I'm struggling against a slight feeling of ambivalence this time. We know precisely what will happen if Muirhead and co win the gold - they'll be wrapped tightly in the Union Jack by the BOA and the London media, their Scottishness will be downplayed or even denied, and they'll be harassed and cajoled into making 'helpful' comments that can be spun in a political way just in time for the referendum. It's worth remembering that Sir Chris Hoy has never explicitly declared himself an opponent of independence (OK, we all suspect that he probably is, but he's kept his position private), and yet that hasn't stopped the anti-independence campaign and the UK government ruthlessly appropriating him as their poster-boy.
It really is a disgrace that we can't all feel 100% comfortable uniting, nationalist and unionist alike, behind our country's finest athletes. The fact that we can't is entirely the responsibility of the unionist media, anti-independence campaigners and the London government. But for me personally, some loyalties run too deep, and I'll find it impossible not to support the same teams that I've cheered on for Scotland in so many previous world and European Championships, so I'm sure my ambivalence will soon clear and I'll get behind them all the way, regardless of which country's name is on their back.
Incidentally, if anyone trots out the old chestnut "they may be Scottish but they couldn't have done it without Britain", just remember that this is one case where that is absolutely, demonstrably untrue. Any medals won by the curlers will be a success made entirely in Scotland - the players are Scottish, the facilities are in Scotland, and curling would inevitably be just as high a funding priority (possibly higher) for a Scottish Olympic Association as it currently is for the BOA. The only difference would be a welcome removal of the BOA's right to interfere in selection policy - if memory serves me right, it was the BOA that insisted on selection by individual player rather than by team from 2006 onwards, which did not work out at all well for the women's team in either 2006 or 2010 as the players failed to gel.
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Yesterday was something of a landmark for this blog, with it receiving its second-highest number of visitors in its six-year history. (The only busier day was a freakish occasion in 2011 when one of my posts went viral on Twitter.) Many thanks to anyone new who dropped by!