The question of whether Olympic athletes should sing their country’s national anthem has divided opinion among many sports professionals, media commentators, and others, particularly with regards to certain individuals opting not to sing ‘God Save the Queen’.
Some regard it as disrespectful to the country they are representing, and the other athletes in their team, if they choose not to sing the national anthem, whereas others regard it as a matter of personal choice and no big deal.
I think the issue has perhaps become slightly more contentious, certainly in Scotland anyway, given the political debate surrounding the Scottish Government’s planned independence referendum.
But putting the independence debate to one side, I think there would always have been some form of conscientious objection from a few athletes coming from Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, countries which have, often justifiably, felt of secondary importance to the perceived London centric policies and preferences of successive Westminster Governments.
Whilst the athletes will clearly acknowledge that they are representing Great Britain at these Olympic Games, nevertheless there will be a strong sense of nationalistic pride in their distinct countries that means some of them would be unwilling to sing an anthem widely used as an English national anthem, which is lyrically antagonistic to the Scots, and which supports a monarchy that feels utterly alien to their cultural identity, politics and social circumstances.
On the other hand, there is a sense of legitimacy about the criticisms levied against these athletes. They have voluntarily agreed to represent Great Britain; and whether they agree with it or not, the national anthem of Great Britain is ‘God Save the Queen’.
If the organising committees deem it disrespectful not to sing the national anthem, and have instructed the athletes to do so, then arguably it is right to criticise those opting out of this part of their involvement. They had the choice to decline their selection in the first place, regardless of whether this would have left them with no alternative.
But my position is this: I do not agree with the view that choosing not to sing the national anthem is disrespectful; nor do I think that it diminishes an athlete’s sporting commitment to his country or to the rest of his team.
For the athletes, their respect for the team, and for the country financially supporting their opportunity, is displayed in the honest hard work, discipline and training in the years leading up to the event, and in their attitude and performance on the day.
Perhaps if one of them were to stand on the medal podium, scratch their arse with one hand whilst gesticulating randomly to the crowd with the other, then we could say that they were being disrespectful.
Or perhaps if one of them had been guilty of taking performance enhancing drugs, whilst ‘respectfully’ singing along to their national anthem, then we could rightly levy this criticism against them; and let’s face it, there have been many athletes representing many countries who have done that sort of thing in the past.