Ian Monk: The two faces of British sport

Sport has long provided metaphors for life, some apposite, many little more than fanciful.

Ian Monk
Ian Monk

Two recent images, however, provide food for thought for communicators in the field of race relations and equality, in what some of its leaders now consider the post-multicultural age.

First was the glorious spectacle of tens of thousands of Pakistan fans at Lords celebrating their nation’s triumph in last weekend’s Twenty20 Cricket World Cup. It appeared proof that first – and second – generation Britons could demonstrate an allegiance to the land of their forefathers without offence to the nation of which many are now citizens.

Only two decades ago a cabinet minister (Norman Tebbit) suggested that the ‘cricket test’ should be the yardstick of integration. A willingness by immigrants to support England over their native land betokened integration. Clearly that would be as counter to human intuition as English ex-pats on the Costas supporting Spain in the FIFA World Cup. Pakistan’s celebrations provided a welcome snapshot of a new, mature age.

Yet the challenges of the same age were starkly illustrated by the second image linking sport and creed. From Afghanistan emerged the story of the Taliban terrorist, killed fighting British soldiers, whose body was found to bear an Aston Villa tattoo.
The image of the home-grown terrorist carrying his Premier League colours into battle against British soldiers 6,000 miles away illustrated a treacherously warped confusion of loyalties and priorities.

Good communicators know a single, simple image connects more quickly than torrents of words. The images of the Pakistanis celebrating before returning to their lives as British citizens need maximising.

So too do those of Indians, West Indians and New Zealanders all now indigenous to the UK as they enjoyed their cricketing moments of triumph.

Meanwhile those who forsake their new homeland to seek to kill its soldiers deserve unqualified condemnation – whichever sporting team they happen to support.

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