Sunday, 5 August 2012

Positive patriotism at the Olympics

As one of those who was annoyed by the authoritarian build-up to the Olympics, I’ll happily admit that the Games have themselves have been a terrific experience. It’s brought out something good in us Brits that shows that we can put on a show and celebrate the good things when the time is right.

One of the best things has been the expressions of patriotism that have taken pleasure in our competitors’ achievement while not playing down those from overseas. It’s inevitable that our broadcasters will focus on the British team – any country in the world will make a fuss of its own – and we’re entitled to the flag waving when our men and women bring home a medal. But it’s they have also been ready to wave it for the others who come out on top.

When Rebecca Adlington picked up bronze instead of the expected gold in the 800 metres freestyle, the BBC commentators shared the disappointment but were still in awe of the winning performance by Katie Ledecky. It shared the heartbreak of Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter when they lost the double skulls on the last few strokes, but paid credit to a storming finish by the Danish pair of Mads Rasmussen and Rasmus Quist.

The crowds have also got into the right spirit. You’ve only got to look at how they applauded Michael Phelps in the pool, or the roar they gave Tirunesh Dibaba when she stormed the last 500 metres in the women’s 10,000. They’ve been ready to cheer great performances wherever they come from. And this morning I was part of the crowd watching the women’s marathon as they cheered every runner from every country on all three laps.

Britain’s prone to mixing up patriotism with a mean minded nationalism that takes the attitude that we’re a cut above most foreigners, but thankfully it hasn’t been like at these Olympics. We’re seeing a good patriotism.

Mark Say's collection of fiction, Perversities of Faith, is available on and Also check out

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