332 years ago, Samuel Johnson warned us that "patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel" and the intervening period has borne out his point rather well. So how has sport become the last refuge of the patriot? (Betting without the Eurovision Song Contest, on television as I write!)
If we discount Athens vs Sparta some time ago, England vs Scotland football internationals were possibly the first platforms for flag-waving, but that's more the kind of patriotism we see at the Song Contest, so I'll date the start of scoundrel-patriotism with Leni Riefenstahl's extraordinary "Olympia" created to celebrate the Nazi hijacking of Berlin's 1936 Olympiad, but more accurately described as a love poem to the human body in motion as http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KwmYFz01MxA demonstrates. The character of Great Art is its very otherness and I find myself so transported by the beauty of the subject and the technical command and innovation of the film-makers, that it takes the jarring cutaways to the Nazi elite to remind me of Fraulein Riefenstahl's purpose.
Fast-forward seventy-odd years and millions of deaths in the service of misguided patriotism to the most cliched image in sport:
How I long for an Olympic winner to do a much more modest version of Tommie Smith's raised, gloved fist salute by throwing the flag back into the crowd and grabbing the five rings of the Olympic movement, however tainted that symbol may be. No chance of that! More chance of the winner grabbing a flag displaying the Nike swoosh. Here's a reminder of a more potent use of the platform sport provides:
Finally, the next 10 days in England will be filled with football phone-ins and journalism demanding that us English get behind Liverpool's attempt to win a sixth Big Cup in Athens. Leaving aside the dubious "Englishness" of Liverpool as a club (or, perhaps, even as a city), shouldn't every fan of any other English club be willing Maldini and friends to the victory? Frankly, the money earned by Milan from a Big Cup win would be unlikely to be spent on James Vaughan of Everton, but Liverpool's winnings might. And that's enough for me to wish Hannibal and friends well, but hope that they come home disappointed to a Premiership just a little more competitive next year for their defeat.