Ask any athlete who has represented their nation at the highest level and they will tell you that one of the most special moments is standing hearing your national anthem played.
I have been fortunate to work with, and stand next to many such athletes as they take in the action from the next generation fortunate to experience such an honour, and some have openly wept, while others have had a glassy look come to their eyes. All have stood taller once the anthem has started.
It used to be the world over, despite any animosity between rival nations, that all that pent up feeling would be shelved when the national anthems were played. It was a sign of respect. It also gave the event context, that it was in fact just a sporting event.
Sadly in recent times the respect of a nation’s national anthem is a long way from what it used to be. Now some fans inside the stadia do not even stand for the anthems, they simply remain seated and continue chatting. Certainly many in the corporate boxes pay no attention whatsoever.
Back in 2005 when the Socceroos played their play off World Cup Qualifying game in Uruguay the home fans drowned out the Australian national anthem. When the second leg was played in Sydney on that memorable night in November, the Australian fans reciprocated. So loud was the booing that the gentleman singing the national anthem took out his ear plugs. Right or wrong, I knew at that moment that this was a night that Australia would never forget. Australians at that time never did such things. One thing they did was respect the formalities of the national anthems, because they expected other nations to do the same to theirs.
Last week China played Hong Kong in a World Cup qualifier in the Chinese territory. The Hong Kong Fans booed during the playing of “The March of the Volunteers,” an anthem both nations share. Some fans turned their backs to the pitch and others held up signs which read “Boo.” this was a response to the controversy resulting from the Hong Kong crowd booing during the playing of the Chinese national anthem before the Hong Kong/Bhutan match held at Mong Kok Stadium in June this year. Hong Kong is not happy with Chinese rule and the protests were guaranteed to garner global attention.
In this case Sport once again is being used for Political purposes, but the booing is not just happening when a political statement is trying to be made.
Now some sporting bodies are concerned that the playing of a national anthem and a crowds reaction to it could result in an unsavoury incident, due to nationalistic passions being inflamed.
Germany for many years were very cautious about having their fans wear the football shirts of their national team or carry the German flag to international games, for they were very aware of what had happened when their country had been stirred up on the back of a Nationalistic fervour. They are to be applauded for being conscious of such a thing, as for most of the world’s fans it never crossed their minds.
Back in the National Soccer League, a league built on the history of clubs created by migrants to Australia, the league had many rivalries based on the roots of those clubs. Many believed that these country of origin roots restricted the clubs fan bases. NicK Tana when he created Perth Glory made the decision to have the National Anthem played prior to every home game, to bring all migrant ethnicities together. Singing the National Anthem reminded them that they were all Australian.
Nationalism is a word that in the current global climate scares many. No longer is it necessarily simply about a nation’s identity and history, it is becoming about so much more. Yet the National Anthems must stay. The Administrators must not knee-jerk and remove a moment that lives long in the hearts and minds of those privileged enough to represent their nation on the sporting field. It is unimaginable to have an Olympic Games medal ceremony where the victor receives his medal but is robbed of the chance to see his flag raised as his National anthem plays.
It is therefore crucial that the world over fans respect the Anthems of their opponents and do not sink to the level of others who choose to abuse.Is it really too much to ask?