Given the specific question in this DCMS ‘Call for Evidence’ on ‘What needs to happen for
major events to successfully bring people from all four nations of the UK together?’, it is
clear that the Department is explicitly acknowledging the political and symbolic importance
of sport and sporting events - a position that we support as academics within the field of the
sociology and politics of sport. To this end, we argue that such refutation of the ‘sport and
politics do not mix’ fallacy is important to shed light on the political and ideological impact
of sporting events, drawing upon our empirical evidence from past sporting events.
In considering whether the hosting of major events can successfully bring people from all
four nations of the UK together, policymakers require a critical appreciation of the doubleedged symbolism of international sporting events in relation to national identity in the UK.
In this vein, we draw upon an extensive body of research that has investigated this element
of national identity politics at the following sporting events: a) London 2012 Olympic
Games; b) Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games; c) Gleneagles 2019 Solheim Cup; and, d)
Portrush 2020 Open Championship.
In light of the above comments regarding the double-edged symbolism of international
sporting events in relation to national identity in the UK, we set out below the ways in which
past sporting events have offered potential for unifying symbolism which responds in the
affirmative (in a caveated manner) to the Call for Evidence proposition of using ‘...major
events to successfully bring people from all four nations of the UK together’.
Equally, we also contend that past sporting events simultaneously offered potential for the
growth of distinctive national identities - and to a lesser degree, political nationalism -
which suggests that the proposition of using ‘...major events to successfully bring people
from all four nations of the UK together’ can potentially be counter-productive. Our
evidence argues that sport can act as an additional marker of difference between the ‘home
nations’, underpinning a sense of distinctiveness within British identity politics.
Notwithstanding these comments, it is also important for politicians and policy-makers to
avoid conflation between sporting nationalism and political nationalism in relation to
sporting events, given the lack of evidence of such correlation. Therefore, the question of
whether major events can successfully bring people from all four nations of the UK together
needs to be considered in a measured and realistic degree - to this end, we specifically draw
upon extensive evidence from the Scottish context.
In order for major sporting events to be successfully used to bring people from all four
nations of the UK together, policymakers need to be wary of the dangers of the conflation
between Britishness and Englishness at international sporting events which can become
evident at international sporting events. Such conflation often leads to the alienation of the
Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish population.
Furthermore, there are risks entailed with regards to the recent increase in symbolism of
the United Kingdom in political communication, such as the recent promotion of the Union
Flag in public communication and government buildings, if this is replicated at international
sporting events. This would potentially undermine the potential to use such events to bring
people from all four nations of the UK together.
Finally, we would like to stress that a sensitive and respectful approach to the use of
sporting events to bring people from all four nations of the UK together, mindful of the
arguments presented above, does indeed possess potential benefits which make the pursuit
of sporting events worthwhile. Thus, we reiterate evidence of the potential for harnessing
intangible ‘legacies’ of sporting events, such as image promotion, diplomatic goodwill,
reconciliation, and ‘feel-good factor’, for achieving broader cultural, social and economic
goals. However, to achieve these goals, acknowledging such negative images of ‘Britishness’
Bairner, AlanBlack, JackBowes, AliWhigham, Stuart
Department of Sport, Health Sciences and Social Work
Year of publication: 2021Date of RADAR deposit: 2021-06-24