Today is the final of Euro 2012. Will Spain win or will it be Italy? As in the World Cup, teams representing different nations are pitted against each other. This is also the case for other team sports as will be seen during the Olympic Games in a few weeks. All manner of teams chosen chosen to represent countries. This, it seems, is a rather tribal – even primitive – approach to modern sport. What is it that perpetuates this type of inter-nation rivalry even during times of peace? Why is it that a nation has got to beat another at sport?
When I was a boy, I once read a newspaper report of a football match that had been played the night before between teams representing the English football league and the Scottish football league [See also]. Players of any nationality were selected to represent the league in which they played – not their country. In the history of this match, Scots have played for the English league against the Scottish league and vice versa. Not to mention those who have played who were neither English nor Scottish.
Sadly, this match is no longer played. I often wonder why more matches – even whole tournaments – are not played on this basis though. It is often said that the English Premier League is the best in the world. However, we have no way of knowing if this is true, unless the best players in that league – regardless of nationality – are chosen to play against players representing the best in other leagues. (What we do know for sure is that, irrespective of whether the English Premier League is the best in the world or not, the English national team is nowhere near the best in the world.)
Pitting league against league does not have the nationalistic or jingoistic overtones that arise when nation plays against nation. This would be more in keeping with peace than war. We cannot tell for sure how the supporters would behave but I suspect that there would be fewer grounds for violence, hooliganism or racism when nationalistic feelings are excluded.