Land of Hope and Glory?

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The SNP’s plans for a Scottish Olympic team have come under fire, Suzi Higton reports

Inspired by a summer which showcased the very best of Scottish talent on the International stage of the Olympics, the Scottish Government have voiced calls for a Scottish Olympics and Paralympics team in time for London 2012. These proposals however have been met with opposition and have raised questions of nationalism taking centre stage over sporting talent in Scotland.

Current Scottish Sports Minister Stewart Maxwell told BBC Scotland :
“This is an exceptionally brilliant nation – at the same time a small nation. Scotland can compete on the world stage – we proved that in the Olympics – and a Scottish team at the Olympics is the future.”

“If you look at Jamaica, a small island nation, they won gold, silver and bronze in the women’s sprint, they’ve got world records, they’ve won the men’s, the women’s 100 and 200 metres and the relay.”

Despite Jamaica’s similarities with Scotland in its size and its numerous Olympic achievements, unlike Scotland, it is an independent nation. The issue of Scottish independence has been an ongoing political issue in parliament and the SNP’s sudden renewed calls for a Scottish Olympics team could suggest that the government are merely using the successes of Olympic cycling stars Chris Hoy and Ross Edgar and most recently, Aileen McGlynn at the Paralympics, as another weapon in the bid for Scottish independence from Britain.

These politcal undercurrents were fuelled by The British Olympic Association who told The Guardian: “If Scotland were to put forward its own Olympic team, it would have to be an independent country and recognised by the International Olympic Committee. As long as Scotland remains part of the United Kingdom, there is no possibility for Scotland to have its own team at the Olympic games.”

Stewart Maxwell’s comments also sparked criticism from triple gold medallist Chris Hoy. Met with national adulation and hailed as the most successful Scottish Olympian in history, the cyclist condemned the crossing of the boundary of sport into politics.

The Scot recently told The Herald: “I was annoyed at getting drawn into a political debate when I’m an athlete. I ride a bike, I’m not a politician,” he said. “Politicians want to be involved so that they can get some sort of association with your success and benefit from the positive feeling in your country.

“I was frustrated by the whole debate because I felt like I’d been misrepresented. I wasn’t being anti-Scottish. “If there was a Scottish team in the Olympics, of course I’d want to be part of it, just like I am at the Commonwealth Games. But I felt the politicians were just trying to cash on our success.”

To be Scottish and yet compete for Britain is a label that leading politicians are increasingly urging Scotland’s sporting talents to reconsider.

The positive feeling that Hoy describes the government benefiting from, reflects the centuries’ long historical rivalry between Scotland and England. The glory that Scotland strives for in an attempt to get one up on their old rivals is one that many feel encompasses the Scottish identity itself.

The call to maximise Scotland’s glory rather than a united British success echoes the opinion of the general public. A representative survey carried out on behalf of C-Scot (Campaign for a Scottish Olympics Team) found that 78% of those questioned supported the idea of a Scottish Olympic team, a view backed by 81% of The Daily Record and 80% of The Sun readerships. These figures suggest that the government are merely representing the views of the people of Scotland, but at what cost to sport that has unwittingly become caught up in a politcal storm?

The insistence by both public and government on deeming nationality in sport has also spilled onto the tennis courts. British no.1 Andy Murray has similarly faced media speculation over his nationality.

The Scot who enjoyed a spectacular run of good form over the summer, clawing back victory against Richard Gasquet in one of the most thrilling matches of Wimbledon and most recently reaching the finals of the US Open to face the formidable Roger Federer, identifies himself as Scottish but also British.

This term however is something that many wish to distance themselves from, instead wishing to bask in an individual Scottish success.

This year’s Euro 2008 exemplified British audiences’ ability to enjoy sport without a nationalist slant. Despite being tinged with disappointment by no British team managing to qualify, the tournament still managed to draw in television audiences. Holland’s stunning performance against Italy in the group stages at its peak drew in 7.3million viewers illustrated British interest in the game as well as the talent of its prolific players.

Team GB’s aim to finish third in the medals table at London 2012 promises a games that will rival Beijing with the added advantage of competing on home turf. But the united spirit could easily become undone by the dividing of nations. If Scotland were to compete as an independent team, the sport would stand for a political motif for independence.

Even if Scotland had a repeat performance of this years’ Olympics in their medal haul, it would undermine the sporting ethic of working together. Moreover it would go against those who it affects the most, the athletes themselves.