By Sunder Katwala
The Six Nations is a great tournament, drawing in many of us who don’t pay a great deal of attention to rugby for the rest of the year. And Scotland versus England at Murrayfield on Saturday afternoon probably does not need any additional political spice as context. It is hard to imagine the fans will be discussing devo-max at half-time.
Some always worry that any display of national identity will lapse into jingoism. Even George Orwell, usually so good on the need for a healthy patriotism, uncharacteristically took the kneejerk leftist side of the argument in his dismissal of international sporting competition.
Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.
But I struggle to see the case for condemning the pomp, circumstance and ceremony of the Six of Nations. La Marsellaise, Bread of Heaven, Flower of Scotland, Ireland’s Call and the fantastically tub-thumping Italian march are a great part of the spectacle.
But what about England?
We hear a great deal about the need to give England a voice – and the political debate is finally now emerging.
Yet England will again take the field in Edinburgh and line-up for the British national anthem as their own, making it look for all the world like the Rugby Football Union don’t know the difference between England and Britain at all.
They certainly won’t get on to that contentious “rebellious Scots to crush” verse, but I doubt it does any good to anybody – certainly not to the Union or the Monarchy; nor to – to go to Edinburgh and to appropriate the British anthem for the English.
So let’s now have an English anthem for an English team – and keep the British anthem for Team GB at the London Olympics.
There is a case for playing the British anthem too before all-British fixtures – when Wales play Scotland, or England play the other British nations. After all, the Republic of Ireland’s anthem is played before six nations fixtures in Dublin, while Ireland’s Call represents the broader identity represented in a team selected from across the 32 counties of the island of Ireland.
Perhaps there will be different views about what to choose. Maybe Swing Low, Sweet Chariot could make the transfer from the Twickenham terraces to the official ceremonies. But most people may well think that there is an obvious choice in Jerusalem.
“And did those feet in ancient times …”.
It is finally time to give sporting England its own voice.
This article was first published on the Iain Dale blog, www.iaindale.com. View it here.