Sportive nationalism revisited


Is it appropriate for a blogger yearning for a respectful reception to revisit, and even revise, one’s own musings? Will such a move be met with indifference? If not, could either of my esteemed readers construe honest-to-God self-criticism as an early symptom of mental instability?

I’m not quite sure, but what I do know is that bloggers too ply their trade in haste and under stressful conditions. The lack of a deadline is no guarantee for a judicious outcome.

In my very first forumbloggen post in late 2012 (almost an entire decade ago!) I discussed the Finnish-Swedish runner-cum-historian Janne Holmén’s principled take on sportive nationalism. While Holmén himself wrapped his slender body in a Finnish flag at the pinnacle of his running career, he almost immediately regretted the momentary lapse into banal nationalism. He also recommended all national symbols to be scrapped from sports contests, an advice that I eagerly applauded.

As a blogger-cum-historian I should have known better, and I believe that doctor Holmén too could offer a more nuanced view on the topic. At the very least I should have made a distinction between black and white, i.e. between ugly, unadulterated chauvinism and healthy, non-aggressive, often defensive nationalism. As a general rule, the latter variety can be observed in smallish countries with a somewhat tortuous past. Think about Finland 100 years ago, or Estonia 30 years ago, or Tigray today.

Never heard of Tigray or Tigrayan athletes such as Letesenbet Ghidey? She is the ‘Ethiopian’ runner who last month thoroughly demolished the half-marathon world record but had to undergo the humiliation of being feted by Ethiopian authorities as ‘their’ athlete. Small wonder she dedicated the record-setting race in social media to her homeland: ‘Tigray this is for you.’ (For the uninitiated, Tigray is the northern-most region of the failed state of Ethiopia against which the federal government has been waging a genocidal war since last year).

My modest proposal would be to tolerate vigorous flag-waving and other displays of patriotism when the athlete hails from a preferably oppressed nation with a population not exceeding, say, 10 million.

Other athletes ought to be strictly sanctioned for even the tiniest demonstration of national affiliation – unless, of course, they emulate the 2002 European marathon champion by expressing repentance for their rash action.


P.S. My only misgiving about Tigray’s forthcoming independence is the Soviet style flag. It’s quite odd indeed to observe the (mostly) Christian Tigrayans kissing a flag designed by the Marxist-Leninist leadership of the previous liberation war.


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