Monday, June 15, 2020

Playing national anthems before sports games makes no sense

I have a lot of respect for the Globe's sports commentator Cathal Kelly, who tends to write witty and nuanced articles on all manner of different sports. So, it was no surprise when he hit the nail on the head yet again the other day with an article about national anthems in sport.
Mr. Kelly's conclusion was that national anthems have no place in professional club sports at all, something I have always believed myself. Anthems only started to be played during (and, only at a later time, before) as a sort of patriotic musical interlude in the aftermath of the First World War. The first time it ever occurred was during the 1918 baseball World Series and, as much as anything, it was an attempt to enthuse a small and distinctly lacklustre crowd. It became an ongoing tradition by default and for no good reason, and has now become almost sacrosanct for a small minority of ardent patriots.
But national anthems are stirring, nationalistic and militaristic dirges originally designed for use in wars and international crises. The lyrics, when used, tend to be along the lines of "Country A is the greatest, and we're coming to decimate your tin-pot state". They don't have much to do with a competitive, but generally reasonably civilized, sports match.
Even greater cognitive dissonance ensues when you consider that, unlike in the 1918 "World Series", modern professional sports teams are composed of players from all over the world. So, the Swedish, Russian and Canadian members of an American city's hockey team are supposed to look engaged and respectful (unless, of course, they are "taking a knee") while the US anthem plays. And the predominantly American and Latino players on the Blue Jays baseball team have to listen to the Canadian anthem AS WELL AS the American one because, well, Toronto's in Canada, right?
And the fans? Most of them use it as a good opportunity to buy a beer or a hot dog, although there are those (mainly Americans) who take it very seriously, who doff their hats and and stand to attention with fist on heart, and cast threatening glances at others who choose to engage more with Twitter or the cute guy next to them.
It's one thing playing a national anthem to celebrate the victory of a certain country's athlete or team in the Olympic Games - at least they are proudly representing that country, and that country alone - but entirely another (and a distinctly lesser) thing to play it BEFORE a club game, where it is not even celebrating a victory. In that context, it is purely a rote thing, following a tradition that is no longer relevant or appropriate.
It's not even appropriate before an international fixture, in my humble opinion: everyone knows which teams are playing and don't need to be reminded. Play the anthem of the winning team afterwards if you must, or preferably after the final. But before the game, it has no relevance or justification.
Hell, even ex-US national team soccer coach Bruce Arena agrees, and he says he's "the most patriotic person you're going to be around".

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