For us Brits, this week has been been a week of uncertainty, a week of division, and a week in which we have seen extreme fragmentation and segregation across our country. Gifted the power to vote on our membership of the European Union – a once in a lifetime decision – as a country, we decided to Vote Leave. Fast forwards fourty eight hours, our Prime Minister has resigned, the pound has collapsed on foreign markets, and the country has gone into uproar.
Post-Brexit Britain: United by Sport
As a 21-year-old Oxford student, I tick all the typical Vote Remain boxes. Young, University educated, ‘privileged’ – as I have been labelled multiple times this week. Many assumptions have been made of me, and quite honestly I have made many assumptions of others. We have judged each other for the box we crossed on our ballot paper, and we have voted based on a whole host of expectations that were placed upon us by our neighbours.
True to form, I did vote Remain, and I have made little secret of that. I have my reasons, and if you disagree, I am sure you have yours. Remain or Leave, however, I don’t think any of us can call this week a ‘victory‘. To me, what this week has exposed is the extent of the division across our country. It has exposed the legions of people, myself included, who have judged others for their views and criticised others for a decision they made. It has exposed the great anger, unrest and bitterness that has been brewing amongst our people.
The great sadness that has come out of our European referendum is therefore not the result. It is the fact that we, as a nation, were 48:52 split on such an important matter. It is the fact that we, as a nation, voted according to our region, class or age. And it is the fact that we, as a nation, are now attacking each other for the choices we each made for our own equally valid reasons.
The result may not have gone my way, but it is a fair result; a fair representation of democracy, and as such I, like the rest of the 48%, must move forwards with the same love of our country and the people who surround us as the day we entered into these discussions. But I’m not here to write a sob story about the referendum. That has been done elsewhere, by enough other people. I want to remind you that there is a light that shines out of this time of British darkness. And that is the unifying power of sport.
Yesterday, the England Cricket team dismissed their Sri Lankan opponents in what could only be described as a whitewash. With Alex Hales and Jason Roy each contributing centuries, England did not lose a single wicket in their chase to 255 runs. The record breaking performance was, in short, incredible to watch. And watch it we did, together. Twenty five thousand of you watched from the towering stands of Edgbaston. Many more of us watched on a screen from the comfort of our homes. In person, in the pub, from your homes, we watched together, we supported together, and we celebrated together. Together, we were proud of our boys.
This morning, yet more history was made as England Rugby enjoyed another record breaking feat; a three – nil series victory down under on Australian turf. As I congratulated the grace and virtue with which the much criticised Dylan Hartley conducted the speech of a true England captain, so many of you joined me. Whatever your age, gender, class, sexuality or background, we saw a man who was proud to lead his country, a man who was proud to emerge victorious, and a man proud of every single teammate who had worn the rose on his chest. And we too, were proud.
Tonight, we have the pleasure of two spectacles. At the AJ Bell, England Rugby and Ireland Rugby will meet in the World Rugby U20 Championship Final. The bright stars of the future of British rugby will be on show as the rival nations fight to lift the prestigious title. And, at the 02 Arena in London, Anthony Joshua will take on Dominic Breazeale for the IBF World Heavyweight belt. Whichever sport we choose, tonight, we’ll watch in awe, urging on our national champions. Tonight, whatever the result, we’ll be filled with national pride.
And on Monday, we will again gather together: this time to watch England Football take on Iceland in the last sixteen of the European Championships. Thousands of us clad in England shirts will ram ourselves into our great British pubs, English memorabilia will be brought out of hiding to be paraded around proudly, and together we will urge on our country in the hope that we can make the quarter finals.
There is this incredible unifying quality about sport which rarely fails to bring people together. So many friendships have stemmed from a mutual display of team spirit. So many conversations have started between strangers who have voiced their thoughts in a crowded pub. So many hugs have been shared in response to a result; good or bad.
As a sports writer, I’m often asked about my favourite sporting memory. For me, it’s easy: Harlequins vs Toulouse at the Stoop, December 2011. I was a sixteen year old girl sat with her Dad, and we were surrounded by French fans. It was a close fought game – if I remember correctly we were outclassed for the first time that season. But it wasn’t the result that was important. I was a GCSE student, six months away from sitting my first paper in French, and my entire match was spent hurling insults and compliments alike at my French neighbours, in a form of broken Franglais which switched rapidly between the two languages as we tried to overcome the speech barrier. Eighty minutes of laughter would later end in a round of handshakes, and that would be that; we would probably never cross paths again. But the comradeship that we shared on that day will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Whether it’s national pride, whether its team spirit, or whether it’s simply a love of the game, something about sport brings people together. Whatever our backgrounds, whatever our political views, sometimes even whatever our nationalities, sport unites strangers, friends and loved ones alike.
This week, we British may feel that there is reason to lament. We may label our country ‘broken’ or ‘divided’. The press will undoubtedly criticise our reactions in the wake of the referendum, and we will be made to feel ashamed of our country. What we must not forget, however, is that there is also so much to celebrate.
So, over the next weeks and months as the implications of Thursday’s decision begin to make themselves clear, I beg of you this. Do not forget the feeling of pride you had for the four ‘Home Nations’, when England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland all qualified for the last sixteen of the Euros. Do not forget celebrating England’s record breaking victories at Edgbaston and on Australian soil with whoever happened to surround you at the time ; age, class, race, gender and any other prejudice aside. And do not forget that even in the darkest of times, sport can always bring us together.
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