Team Ireland, Team GB, or both?

Eamonn Mallie has posed the question ‘Are you a bigot?‘ on his site after noticing that the political preferences of people in the north have seemed to determine their enthusiasm (or lack thereof) for Olympic competitors representing Team Ireland or Team GB in London.

Mark Devenport has picked up the theme with an opinion piece on the BBC website, which includes a wonderful photo of two children walking side by side whilst draped in the National flags of Ireland and Britain.

When discussing the matter with Eamonn Mallie, William Crawley had barely finished speaking with the proud father of the now two-time Olympic medallist, Paddy Barnes, when an irate unionist caller rang in to complain about boxers representing a “foreign country” on The Nolan Show this morning. 

And on it goes.

I have written about this subject before when I noted how the symmetrical triumph of the local 2008 Olympic medallists, Paddy Barnes and Wendy Houvenaghel, provided a beacon of hope and pointed us towards a future where embracing the right of individuals to determine their own identity is celebrated without reservation or hindrance.

The message from 2012 is surely that we are the rowers of Coleraine and the boxers of Belfast (and, for some, Katie Taylor, Jessica Ennis or both.)

That’s a painful conclusion for some to reach- never mind accept- so it is understandable that many remain in their respective comfort zones.

Yet it remains the logical outworkings of the Good Friday Agreement and the very premise upon which our future society will be constructed.

Unlike Eamonn, I have noted with some optimism how local people have embraced the achievements of Irish and British athletes in the past fortnight without a sense of malice for ‘the other.’

For some (myself included), the achievements of Team Ireland athletes have meant the most, though I was heartily rooting for the Coleraine rowers and adopted several other Team GB athletes (including the men’s basketball team) during the course of the glorious London Olympics that shall be soon a thing of the past.

Indeed, the story of Alan Chambers’ Christmas morning training sessions will form the basis of many motivational talks in my classroom for years to come.

Having said that, I do think it is wrong to suggest that those unionists who exclusively support Team GB or nationalists professing loyalty only to Team Ireland competitors are ‘bigots.’

Short-sighted in a political sense? Yes, but not justifiable grounds for attaching the harsh bigoted label.