Should our Athletes Sing the National Anthem?
“Freedom of speech means the freedom to remain silent. If our Scottish and Welsh athletes wish to forgo singing the National Anthem it’s their right as Britons”
While popular opinion of the Royal Family following the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee & the Royal wedding might be at an all time high (where “all time” here means the period since Diana’s death), there is a significant minority who are less than “loyal” subjects. These heretics aren’t found in London’s sewers wearing V for Vendetta masks, plotting to finish what Guy Fawkes started, nor are they charging up to Buckingham Palace with torches and pitchforks; the so called dissenters can be found in our football stadiums, on our athletics tracks and in our velodromes. Their supposed treason? Refusing to sing our national anthem – a crime so severe that some have suggested the athletes should not be allowed to compete.
Before I go on, it must be said that people choose not to sing the anthem for a variety of different reasons. As we saw with Jessica Ennis, some are simply overcome with emotion to the point that they can barely breathe, let alone sing. For others, such as Welsh footballers Ryan Giggs and Craig Bellamy, the decision is a little more premeditated. Whilst some have managed to circumvent the question of why they didn’t sing, others have been more vocal: Footballer Kim Little said she made a “personal choice” not to sing the anthem because she is Scottish. The fifth verse of the anthem, though rarely sung, includes the controversial line “Rebellious Scots to crush”. I think Ms Little can be forgiven for refusing to sing a song that prays for her own demise.
The athletes’ silence bothers chat show host Piers Morgan so much so that he has promised to donate £1,000 to Great Ormond St Hospital for each Team GB gold-winning athlete who sings God Save The Queen. From one vantage point it may seem like a harmless little incentive, however Morgan’s (albeit very generous) ‘offer’ is tantamount to bribery, if not emotional blackmail.
Suggesting that those who don’t agree with the anthem don’t feel proud to be British or to compete under our flag is an insidious approach to take. A distinction must be made between representing Britain and pledging allegiance to an elitist, unelected monarchy. Though officially a head of state, Queen Elizabeth’s power is largely symbolic – but by creating this fuss Piers Morgan et al are allowing a symbol to wield more power over us than she really should.
There is often a debate about what it means to be British, but one of the most important and universally agreed upon principles is freedom of speech. This must also include the freedom to remain silent, lest the lyrics “God Save the Queen, the fascist regime” become prophetic.
“A charitable incentive and some influential concessions by our Scottish and Welsh athletes might be all it needs to inspire Team GB to sing their hearts out.”
With all the Team GB gold medal fever about, you might think athletes would be feeling patriotic enough to bawl the national anthem while they have the chance – be that before competing or, particularly, when they win.
Apparently not. Scottish and Welsh footballers have been criticised for standing in silence amongst their singing team mates before matches, as well as cyclist Chris Hoy and Britain’s new Olympics hero Jessica Ennis for being oddly quiet after winning gold while the crowd roared the anthem. Piers Morgan became so incensed by this that he caused a twitter storm by offering £1000 to Great Ormond Street hospital for every winning athlete who dares to sing ‘God Save the Queen’.
It is a little embarrassing that Mr. Morgan feels he needs to interfere in something that you hope should come natural to competitors who have had the privilege to not only compete for their country, but also win. There has been no other time when the world’s lenses have been so focused on London and Great Britain as a nation. Athletes should want the world to come away with a good impression of British pride in sport, but should we force them? Do we risk becoming like Serbia, who infamously dropped forward Adem Ljajic for not singing the national anthem ahead of the football team’s friendly with Spain in May?
Considering the fifth verse of the anthem contains the lyric “Rebellious Scots to crush” and the various nationality blunders in Olympic football it is understandable why Scottish and Welsh athletes might refuse to sing what is arguably a very English song. The liberal values of our country mean that this is a personal freedom that we must respect. Still, there was something touching in the way that Andy Murray (quoted for saying that he would support “anyone but England” in the 2006 World Cup) embraced his dual nationality and his massive British fanbase by joining in with the anthem in his own choked up way following his victory in the Men’s Singles last Sunday. It displayed a powerful message of Olympic unity to the world and a sense of GB as a real team. Murray was certainly feeling it when he admitted to taking inspiration from the British gold medal winner Mo Farah while preparing for his final against long-time rival Roger Federer.
This is something I believe English athletes in Team GB can draw on without us forcing them to. If Scottish Andy Murray can do it, then surely they can? Especially in the knowledge that the spotlight is on them as representatives of their nation. They do not need a coercive hand like that of Serbia’s, but an inspiring, encouraging one that is fitting to our intrinsic British values of personal liberty. There has to be a way inspire our athletes with a sense of honour so they can stand up in victory and enjoy it on behalf of the country, the crowd and themselves. After all, they may only get one or two chances to do it considering the brevity of an athlete’s career. A charitable incentive (even if it is from Piers Morgan) that so far has raised £22k and Andy Murray’s example might just be it.