Europe and the Olympics


A surprising medal table, circulated on the Internet in recent days, showed a single podium count for all of the EU countries at the London Olympics. As it stands, if the EU had an Olympic delegation it would far outrank all other competitors, with, at the time of writing, close to twice as many gold medals as China and the United States combined.

Of course, some people will immediately point out that the British, who are the champions of euroscepticism, account for close to a third of Europe’s medals. Nevertheless, they would be hard pressed to disagree with the Die Welt comment that Europe is doing “pretty well for a continent in decline”. As the German conservative daily enthusiastically reports, “the Old Continent continues to set standards” in both “Olympic disciplines, and also in football” — even if this amounts to precious little consolation at a time when Europe is stricken by self-doubt and the euro appears to be in greater danger than ever.

Given the success of EU country delegations, some commentators have taken to daydreaming about what would happen if they all competed under a single European flag: what a sporting superpower Europe would be. And what a wonderful opportunity the Olympics would offer for the promotion of European cohesion.

However, on a more down to earth note it’s worth bearing in mind that if a single EU delegation were to replace those representing individual member states, the Olympics would be a much more boring competition. And that’s not to mention the selection and training of teams, which would be a complete nightmare. In any case, we cannot be sure that Europe’s teams would be any better just because they included the best athletes from across the continent. After all, their performance and the performance of individual European competitors has a great deal to do with the fact that they spend a lot of time competing with each other at European championships. And last but not least, there is no guarantee that Europeans would be able to overcome their current divisions and selfishness just because they are called on to defend — we are talking in terms of sports here — the same colours.

The participation of separate teams for Wales and England at international tournaments does not undermine the integrity of the UK, and the presence of different delegations for EU countries at the Olympic Games can hardly be held to blame for disunity in Europe. Although it may be hard-fought, sporting rivalry between states remains highly civilised, and completely inoffensive in comparison to the more divisive forces of economic competition and other tensions that continue to affect the continent — and this is something that even the most convinced federalists are hardly likely to contest.

At the end of the day, “Unity in diversity” continues to be the motto of the EU.

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