The news has just come through that the “visually-impaired skier Kelly Gallagher and her guide Charlotte Evans earned Great Britain their first ever gold medal at the Winter Paralympics.” This news was accompanied by the further announcement that “the gold was Britain’s first on snow at either the Olympics or Paralympics.”
This gives me an opportunity to revisit a topic mentioned in one of my earlier blog articles, that is, the matter of using the name “Great Britain” to refer to athletes competing for the United Kingdom or otherwise using the name as a substitute for the UK in any circumstances.
The issue here is that Kelly Gallagher is from Bangor, just west of Belfast in Northern Ireland (sometimes referred to as Ulster). Now, Ms Gallagher certainly is a citizen of the United Kingdom and her passport to travel to Russia for the Winter Paralympics will have been issued by an office of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. But she neither lives in, nor is a citizen of, “Great Britain”. There is, per se, no such country or nationhood!
“Great” Britain, as the name implies, is the largest island within the British Isles, a collection of islands that also includes the Irish Republic, otherwise known as Eire. The island of Great Britain also happens to form the mainland boundaries for three of the four countries comprising the United Kingdom. These three countries are Wales, Scotland and England, which, together with Northern Ireland, comprise the United Kingdom.
It is not merely a matter of semantics to decline the use of “Great Britain” as a substitute or synonym for the United Kingdom. Similarly it is a mistaken practice, as is increasingly the case, to call sporting teams representing the United Kingdom as “Team GB”. The nation of Great Britain does not exist! To think and act otherwise is to deny persons such as Kelly Gallagher of their rightful citizenship.
Kelly Gallagher is not a resident of the island of Great Britain; neither is she a citizen of such a fictitious nation. Her country, Northern Ireland, is not part of the island geographically known as Great Britain, but it is, nevertheless, as much a constituent part of the UK as any of the other countries comprising the British nation. Why is this not recognised as such? Why are teams representing the UK not known as “Team UK”?
In view of the fact that my late mother’s family background was in Northern Ireland, what mystifies and disappoints me is the fact that there appears not to have been any public outcry about this situation. Surprisingly, there seems to have been nothing but silence from within Ulster itself, never-mind from within the rest of the United Kingdom! This is strange considering the loyalty often shown to the Union flag by the people of Northern Ireland. Has some kind of understanding been reached, or deal done, by those who control such matters – or what?
No doubt it might appeal to some minds, sporting or other, to refer to the United Kingdom as “Great Britain” for the simple and attractive reason that it includes the word “great”. Pictures of empire, power, medals and conquest might accompany the reference. But it is misplaced and should be resisted.
In reflecting on the above, it occurs to me that the United States of America never refers to any of their sporting teams as “Team America”. At all sporting events their teams call themselves for what they are, representatives of their country – the United States of America.
The United States of America shares the continent of North America with the Canadians. There is a continent called South America and a geographical location known as Central America. Often regarded for their brashness, even self-importance, the citizens of the United States may call themselves “Americans” (as UK citizens may refer to themselves as British or Britons), but they never usurp the title, mistake their nationality or wrongly identify their sporting representatives. They are proud of their correct brand.
Congratulations, therefore, to Kelly Gallagher and Charlotte Evans. The latter is the skier from Chatham, Kent, who was the guide to Kelly Gallagher in their gold medal-winning effort on the slopes of Sochi. In the event, Northern Ireland partnered by England – truly a United Kingdom team!
Michael Clarke is the current captain of an Australian cricket team that overwhelmingly defeated England (not “Team GB”) in the recent Ashes series and then went on to defeat the world’s number one team, South Africa, in a series of matches in South Africa. He is also ranked amongst the finest batsmen of his era.
Yet, despite this impressive success, it would seem that, in the eyes of the Australian cricketing public, Michael Clarke has been the least popular captain of Australia’s national cricket team for at least a generation. He is denied the popularity of such recent predecessors as Ponting, Waugh, Taylor and Border – all of whom were superb cricketers and excellent captains of some of the finest teams Australian cricket has produced.
This is the opinion of one journalist who, writing from the northern suburbs of Melbourne, considers that Michael Clarke “has been damned not for what he has done, but for what he looks like and who he is wrongly perceived to be”. The journalist – perhaps an Englishman humbled by Australia’s exploits on the cricket field in recent months (but that is sheer speculation) – further considers that the attitude towards Clarke “reflects an increasingly cosmetically-inclined nation, where it sometimes seems reality no longer aligns with self-perception”.
After an absence of some two years, I will be returning to Australia later this year. It will be interesting to ask the question, or find out from personal experience, whether or not a further observation of this journalist is accurate when he states: “It is a nation that seems ill at ease with itself – where everyone seems to watch reality cooking shows, but hardly anyone cooks at home; where most people say they still believe in tolerance and a fair go for all, but many seem to have little objection to government policies that have allowed at least one asylum seeker in Australia’s care to be beaten to death in an off-shore detention centre.”
Now, the fact that I have enjoyed many a fine, home-cooked meal with family and friends down-under would cause me to seriously question the first part of this statement. However, the observation that the Australian nation “seems ill at ease with itself” in terms of its self-belief in “tolerance and a fair go for all” is one that I cannot so easily dismiss.
The second part of the statement seems to reflect a view of Australia echoed in the recent documentary film on Australia called “UTOPIA”. As mentioned in a previous blog article specifically dealing with this documentary, its content is highly critical of the Australian attitude towards its Indigenous Peoples, the Australian Aboriginals. The film’s maker, the world-acclaimed Australian journalist, John Pilger, reserves his strongest criticism for successive Australian governments.
However, he does not ignore the question of how the once-popular Aussie attitude of “tolerance and a fair go for all” may now be subject to severe scrutiny when it comes to the contemporary issue of Australia’s treatment of its Indigenous Peoples and, by extension, asylum seekers.
In the view of the above-mentioned journalist, Michael Clarke, no matter what his achievements, will never win over the public entirely. He concludes: “That says more about them than him. In such an age, Michael Clarke is perhaps the captain Australia no longer deserves.” In view of the apparently muted response in Australia to “UTOPIA”, perhaps John Pilger is the journalist Australia no longer deserves – a prophet without honour in his own country.
I am looking forward to visiting my home town of Melbourne. Not all of my family and friends down-under are cricket followers, but they are all Aussies (with the occasional Kiwi). I trust that I will once again find that Australia is the lucky country that all Australians – including the Indigenous Peoples, as well as my family and friends – deserve.