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By Charles Walmsley
It is inevitable that culture and nationhood are intertwined in sporting achievement, no more so than in the brave new world of 2k12 and Team GB’s inevitable march towards our screens. To crudely appropriate J.M. Coetzee, part of the experience of hosting the Olympics is to have images of ourselves made up by outsiders shoved down our throat; Team GB rings with the hollow sound of enforced patriotic joviality, a catchphrase for the hashtag Olympics where we all must play a part (how dare those trade unions demand better working conditions).
Nowhere was this simulacrum of national feeling more apparent than at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium, where Team GB’s footballers took on free-flowing, samba dancing Brazil, to borrow from Mark Bright’s research. ‘There’s no chanting going on,’ said Gabby Logan after the match, but that was because there is nothing to chant for – Team GB is an empty collective, a symbol without substance, without even a country, unlike those bastions of sporting fandom Team USA. Team GB has no ’30 years of hurt’ or last minute drop goals or final wicket stands on which a history is built, they are just an assortment of individuals who may be good at the sport they’ve worked at for years. There is no past, just a (cycling) gold tinted future.
After all it is the individuals we come to see in the Olympics, those performances which will be repeated, slowed down and set to Elbow/Coldplay/Adele again and again over the year. Even the whole Psycho/Becks ‘will he, won’t he’ drama was just an extension of the public desire to be entertained. We don’t care who is in the team, we just want a show, and who better to deliver a show than that ‘symbol of postmodern society’ Beckham 23. The Olympic motto, to go ‘faster, higher, stronger’, doesn’t care for countries, why should we? Surely the point of hosting the Olympics is to watch the best in the world, not to mindlessly cheer for those guys in the official shade of Dark Blue lycra and buy official merchandise with Team GB emblazoned over every inch.
If we’re to enjoy these Olympics, then, let it be for the sporting achievement, not the whooping jingoism of Team GB. The absurdity of supporting any team under the premise of nationhood has been debated elsewhere (Scott Oliver’s take is particularly recommended) but even if we ignore the wider debate Team GB somehow feels false, a desperate attempt to create the same national feeling that can attract 23 million viewers for a quarter final to rowing, cycling et al. That’s not to denigrate individual achievement, just to place it outside of national posturing and the mode of thought that would have sport as a substitute for war. Let’s move beyond categories and marketing ventures to enjoy the games for what they are.