Saturday, August 4, 2012

Some more Olympic photos

First of all, congratulations to Andy Murray on reaching his second 'Wimbledon final' in the space of a month.  It's been said that Bradley Wiggins is already a shoo-in for Sports Personality of the Year, and that may well be true, but a Murray gold might yet make things interesting in December.

Secondly, commiserations to the badminton players who were disqualified for deliberately trying to lose their matches.  I for one don't think they did anything wrong.  'Cheating' in my book is drug-taking, bribing officials, tampering with your opponents' food, etc, etc.  There's a fundamental difference between cheating and tactical astuteness.  An obvious comparison can be made with another Olympic sport, curling, in which an accepted and celebrated part of tactical play is that you generally don't attempt to score at all unless you can score more than one, in order to retain last stone advantage.  Pretty much ever curler on the planet would be serving a lifetime ban if the 'not giving of your best efforts' principle had been literally applied to their own sport.

Meanwhile, I've been back to Hampden twice more for the Olympic football - last Saturday for two women's first round matches, and yesterday for the women's quarter-final between Sweden and France, which was the last game in the event to be played in Glasgow.  My abiding memory from last Saturday will be of standing near to the pitch in the run-up to the North Korea v France match, as the rain lashed down rather majestically, and as Set Fire to the Rain by Adele blared out from the loudspeakers.  I briefly made eye contact with a woman who may have been the North Korean assistant coach, and I kept thinking how odd it was to be so close to some real-life North Koreans - they're so rarely allowed to travel, after all.

As for yesterday, two highlights (other than the game itself!) stood out.  The first was the wee girl who spotted that most of the players from one team (Sweden) had blonde hair and that most of the players from the other team (France) had dark hair, and quickly decided that she wanted the blondes to win.  You see, Duncan?  The Olympics isn't about nations, it's about hair colour and nout else.  Then, on the way back to the train station, I could have sworn that I'd got myself stuck behind la famille Baker.  A boy asked his dad if it would be OK to kill an intruder with a bow and arrow, to which the dad basically replied by telling him not to be so silly - simply stabbing the guy with the arrow would get the job done far more efficiently.  The conversation took an even more educational turn as I discovered that skeletal remains from medieval societies have demonstrated that it is highly inadvisable to encourage young children to take up archery, in case one of their arms ends up being overdeveloped in comparison to the other.  You learn something new every day.

As this will be my last batch of Olympic photos, I might as well chuck in a couple of 'bonuses' (I use the word in the loosest sense).  I took some pictures of the Olympic torch relay as it passed through Glasgow and Edinburgh back in June, but I was too embarrassed to post them at the time because, as you'll see, the one thing I seemed utterly incapable of getting a clear picture of was the torch itself!  It went past too quickly in Glasgow, and in Edinburgh the batteries in my camera ran out at the crucial moment.  However, you can just about spot it in the Glasgow photos if you look very, very closely.

There are also some snaps of the free concerts that took place in the Merchant City on match days, to give people the chance to hear some live music either before or after their trip to Hampden.  A good idea in theory, but unfortunately not many people turned up - location was probably the problem.  I felt a bit sorry for the acts, some of whom were very good.  I didn't manage to catch many names, although one I did pick out was La Suite Bizarre, who were brilliant in a barking mad sort of way.

As ever, click on any picture to enlarge.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Duncan Hothersall conundrum

One or two of you may have noticed that my previous post triggered a brief Twitter spat with Scottish Labour's one-man online presence (or so it seems at times) Duncan Hothersall, who decreed that I was guilty of "bitter nationalism". The exchange followed a familiar pattern - I pointed out that he is a British nationalist, he denied it, I challenged him to justify the denial given that he enthusiastically supports the existence of a British state, and he then resorted to some highly entertaining obfuscation and sophistry. The most creative example of the latter was this -

"Ha. The Olympics, despite protestations from your side, is not about nationalism, just nations."

Now that's very interesting. One of the arguments unionists like to make is that the British state is different and morally superior to other states because it isn't a nation state, but rather a "multi-national state". OK, we all know this is bunkum, but let's pursue the point just for a moment. Britishness, the theory goes, transcends nationalism, because Britain isn't a nation at all, it's just a state. The nations belonging to the state are Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales - the UK state, therefore, is supposedly a shining example of Duncan's much-vaunted "internationalism" in action.

But wait just a moment - if that's the case, and if the Olympics is "just about nations" rather than about nationalist politics, why is the Scottish nation barred from taking part? Why are Scottish athletes banned - literally banned - from displaying the flag of their own nation? And why the attempts to browbeat Scottish and Welsh athletes into singing an anthem they clearly regard as foreign, and which they don't want to sing?

I'm confused, Duncan.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Dispelling a couple of "Team GB is universally loved" logical fallacies

Paul Fletcher has been indulging in some more political propagandising about the supposedly overwhelming popularity of the BOA's decision to force the four nations of the UK to "unite" for the Olympic football tournament -

"And yet the numbers that have turned out to support GB suggest there is an appetite to see a united football team at the Olympics. An impressive 227,751 supporters have attended GB's three group games in Manchester, London and Cardiff."

Hmmm. Well, those numbers certainly show there's an appetite for something. Unfortunately for Fletcher, there are a number of possibilities for the source of that enthusiasm, of which his preferred explanation is only one. Other more likely possibilities include the desire to watch an Olympic event of any type, and a desire to see English and Welsh players compete on home soil at a major event, regardless of the team they are required to play for. The most likely explanation of the lot, however, is that many English supporters simply make little or no distinction between Great Britain and England (Great Britain is seen as Greater England), and for them, supporting Great Britain is an extension of supporting England. Which, of course, is the Celtic objection to the whole enterprise in a nutshell - loss of identity, a fear which is hardly allayed by the righteous indignation over Welsh and Scottish players failing to sing the English anthem. And on that subject...

"It had been said that many of the Welsh fans inside the stadium in Cardiff would boo God Save the Queen. Nonsense. The crowd belted it out and backed their team with a passion that any fanbase would be happy to claim."

It's a brave man who uses the word "nonsense" before embarking on the patently absurd claim that he 'knows' that the 'home' supporters belting out God Save the Queen were all - or even predominantly - Welsh. By my rough calculation, the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff is approximately 25 miles from the English border. And there was absolutely no distinction made on intra-UK nationality in the selling of tickets. Whisper it gently, but it's just possible that rather a lot of the Greater England Patriots belting out 'their' national anthem in Cardiff were, in fact, English.

But other than that, what a truly fabulous point, Paul.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Rebellious Scots to crush

When I first heard a suggestion that Scottish footballers playing for Great Britain had refused to sing God Save the Queen as a matter of principle, I thought it sounded like wishful thinking. But of course the story was perfectly true, so all credit to Kim Little and Ifeoma Dieke. I'm sure most of us wish they hadn't ignored the SFA's pleas not to take part in the GB Olympic team in the first place, but they've certainly restored some Scottish pride by their actions on Wednesday. I haven't heard whether they stuck to their guns in the second game, but let's hope they weren't browbeaten into singing what Little clearly regards as a foreign anthem.

According to the Daily Mail, the BOA are outraged by the duo's actions. Well, that's a remarkable coincidence, because "outraged" is exactly what most Scottish football supporters are with the British Uniformity Fascists at the BOA for playing fast and loose with Scotland's status as an independent footballing nation. So now we're all united in feeling precisely the same emotion - isn't the Olympics wonderful?

Prize for the most absurd on-the-record reaction, however, goes to Fatima Whitbread -

"I think it’s a poor show if you are competing under a British flag and you don’t feel proud to be British.

It’s fine for you to believe in Scottish independence and to have your own beliefs – there has always been a bit of a rivalry – but if you are competing under a British flag you need to feel British."

So it's "fine" for athletes to have their own political beliefs - just so long as they give up any hope of competing in the Olympics. That's what she means, make no mistake about it - there's no option for Scots to compete at the Games under any other flag than the British one, so the Fatima Principle means that at least 30-40% of the entire Scottish population would be rendered ineligible at a stroke.

But of course it's even worse than that, because there's no indication at all that Kim Little is actually pro-independence. If anything, her decision to participate in Team GB suggests she might be a unionist. Question : if the BOA's version of Britishness isn't even inclusive enough to accommodate the instincts of mainstream, moderate Scottish unionism, isn't it the case that they are only interested in a Team GB that represents an imaginary Britain, rather than the one we actually live in?

A Team GB that truly aspires to represent all Britons would by definition be consciously and full-bloodedly representing a large number of people who want to end the United Kingdom, who are left cold by the Union Jack, and who regard God Save the Queen as an alien anthem. That's how big the tent needs to be - and that's the distance by which the BOA are utterly failing in their duty to the territory they purport to serve.