Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Send Away the Tigers

I've already ranted here about the Olympics. But the IOC makes me so sad that I had to write about them again.

They want to progress the ideals of the Olympic movement to "contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practised without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play."

Then they awarded the Games to China.

They have a daft rule that doesn't allow flags of non-IOC member states to be flown at the Olympics - thereby robbing individuals of the opportunity to make a political point by flying the flag of their home nation/ regions/ province/ state/ imagined homeland.

But what if (I can't believe I'm saying this) Mr Scottish Unionist is correct - that flying the flag of your nation is not a political act, merely an act of patriotism? I don't quite think that's what he said - but that's the way I see it, and that's what I think flying your flag is. Certainly flying the Saltire for me is indeed an act of patriotism.

Anyway, another strike against the IOC is that they only police the rule sporadically. Anyone else remember Australian athlete Cathy Freeman when she won gold in Sydney? Running round the track with - shock horror, not an Aussie flag, but an Aborigine one. I wonder if the reason they are being a wee bit more strict this time has anything to do with the flag above - the flag of Tibet.

The Chinese Government are anxious that the Games do not turn into a political statement and so are keen to avoid any chance Tibet is on the agenda.
I wonder what part of the "spirit of friendship" this falls under?


Anonymous,  5 August 2008 at 21:26  


Unsurprisingly, perhaps, that's not quite what I said!

Flying the flag of a non-independent nation such as Scotland may have a political motive, and clearly for some people it does. Here are two such examples.

You tip a fairly broad nod to that way of thinking yourself when you refer to the IOC's rule as "robbing individuals of the opportunity to make a political point".

This apparent contradiction leads me to wonder how exactly you define patriotism and whether it really is as distinct from your political position as you like to imagine.

Malc 5 August 2008 at 22:14  

Scottish Unionist,

I knew I'd get you with that. But I assure you that's the only reason I referred to it in that way. Other than, you know, it is that as well.

The Olympic Games are an event well known for trying to avoid politics but always managing to get imbroiled in it some way shape or form.

I don't argue that flying the flag of a non-independent nation may have political connotations (or a motive as you put it). But surely one of these 2 comments can be true: Either -
1) Flying a flag will ALWAYS have political connotations.
2) A flag can be flown without political connotations.

If its the first, and the Olympics want to avoid politics then they shouldn't fly any flags. If its the second, then it shouldn't matter what the flag represents it should be allowed to be flown.

What I want to ask is this - do you think they are correct in banning all non-member flags from being flown? As I don't think you really do - I think you agree with me that it's crazy. And we're really arguing about semantics.

Incidentally, had a wee read of your blog. I was going to say "for a unionist, you're not too union-y..." but I'd be lying. We disagree on core politics - but that's what these forums are for!

Malc 5 August 2008 at 22:18  

Forgot to define patriotism. I guess, because I've grown up with sport, I always associate patriotism more with that context - as Jim Sillars would say, a "90 minute patriot." Except that it goes beyond that - in very basic terms standing up for your country, supporting it, wanting it to succeed etc. I expect it is no different to yours - except where we draw the boundaries to our nation.

Anonymous,  5 August 2008 at 23:49  

It’s not going to be easy to keep this as brief. I’ll try…

1. Your question about political connotations. If we’re talking about the Scottish Saltire, then it is sometimes flown for political reasons. In such cases, I expect that would almost invariably be because the flag-waver is a nationalist. Example: Andy Murray at the Olympics. Some unionists would fly a Saltire simply because he’s a Scot, as indeed would some nationalists, for the same reason. But other nationalists might be doing so because of an active rejection of the Union Flag, or to indicate that they would prefer that there was a separate Scottish team, or to protest – within the context of the IOC rule – that they want Scotland to be independent, or suchlike.

2. Yes, I agree that the IOC rule is crazy, as I said in this blog entry (click). The rule seems to display an ignorance of or disregard for the constitutional make-up of nations like the United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, Yemen and various others which were formed not as a result of fragmentation of predecessor states but due to incorporation, confederation or unification.

3. Your “except where we draw the boundaries to our nation” seems to suggest a misconception. I simply don’t accept the SNP’s “doctrine” that the UK isn’t a nation. I see no absolutely no contradiction between recognition of the nationhood of Scotland and the nationhood of Britain. Some nations (eg. France, Norway) are independent states. Others (eg. Scotland, Brittany) are contained within larger nation states. Yet others, such as the island of Ireland or the Basque Country (Euskadi) span more than one state. I’m not at all hung up on boundaries. If someone wants to self-define as Irish, Scottish, English and British – all at once – on the basis of ancestry, birthplace, residence or various other factors, then that’s fine with me!

I failed on the brevity target. No great surprise!

Malc 6 August 2008 at 09:28  

I was, perhaps unfairly, using the term "nation" rather unaccurately (in answer to 3). All I meant was that while you accept the UK as a nation, others, myself included, do not, and our concept of patriotic pride is thus affected. It is difficult to find patriotism in something that you do not identify with. But on the other side of that, I don't see any reason why being patriotic (on a UK level) would stop you from being patriotic (on a Scottish, English, Welsh, N. Irish level) as well. That's fine with me too (at last, some agreement!).

And we agree on point 2) as well. As you say - it displays an ignorance of constitutional make up of states.

As for 1). I'm pretty sure Andy Murrary isn't a nationalist. Or rather, he sees himself as both Scottish and British, and proudly waves both flags. But you never really answered the question. You say "sometimes flown for political reasons". I'd argue that all flags are political as they represent geo-political areas on a map (at least, the flags we're talking about). I think its an interesting point though - how do you define political in the sense that the IOC do?!

Sam 6 August 2008 at 21:04  

The IOC seems to defines politics as the supremacy of order over justice. In other words, keeping to the rules of the international community. So its not really that its the IOC which ignores or disregards nationality, so much as the entire world! Sovereignty is far more important a concept to countries like China than it is to us. For them, flying a nationalist flag, even as a display of "90 minute" patriotism, is an expression of a belief which threatens the security of the Chinese state. Similar fears affect many countries with minorities they have oppressed.

The tragedy of the situation is, as Malc & Scottish Unionist have said, that the IOC bows to this pressure by hiding behind the notion of a "non-political" games. As you wrote before Malc, that's a fallacy, and while the Olympics is and should always primarily be a celebration of athletic achievement and sporting ideals, politics touches everything, and China's politics taints those ideals.

By the way, Rule 42 Byelaw 3 of the Olympic Charter states that if a country or region becomes independent, "a competitor may continue to represent the country to which he belongs or belonged. However, he may, if he prefers, elect to represent his [new] country".

So if the SNP do ever put it to the vote, both you & your Unionist friend can represent whoever you like!

Anonymous,  6 August 2008 at 22:01  


Sorry for the delay in replying. Glad that we could find some degree of consensus, and grateful that Sam answered your question by thinking in broader cultural terms than I probably would have.


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