The Beautiful Game

We think sports teams are a tribal symbol of national identity. But could they offer a vision of an inclusive and harmonious society?

In the modern world, sport is a crucial part of national identity. A victory over historical rivals can lift a country, a defeat can cast it down. Labour’s loss in the 1970 general election is widely attributed to England’s elimination from the World Cup a few days earlier. Half a million Czechoslovakians thronged the streets when their team beat the Russians in the 1969 World Ice Hockey Championship. When Uruguay upset Brazil in the 1950 World Cup Final, most of the bars and restaurants in Rio closed their shutters.

The make-up of national teams comes to function as a visible symbol of national character. The people representing us on the field show us what kind of country we are. And this means that the rules governing eligibility for national selection assume a critical importance. Who is entitled to play for the national team? The answer is an important marker of attitudes towards immigrants and refugees.

Consider Adnan Januzaj, who has been on Manchester United

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