Team GB? What of Northern Ireland?
According to Reuters, the Prime Minister is hailing the most excellent performance of the UK in the Olympics. He is, of course, doing no such thing. The UK does not feature as a nation in any Olympics literature or performance table, being referred to only as Great Britain or ‘Team GB’. This is curious, given that the official name of the team under the IOC is ‘Great Britain and Northern Ireland’. In addition, the national Olympic committee is the ‘British Olympic Association’, thereby incorporating Northern Ireland, and the national anthem played after each resounding success is that of the United Kingdom – God Save the Queen (with no dispensation for atheists or republicans).
There is no political entity called Great Britain. Within the UK may be found the entities of Scotland, England (,/&) Wales, and Northern Ireland, but ‘Great Britain’ is only part of the UK, and just one of the isles from which members of ‘Team GB’ hail.
In Barcelona and Atlanta, British competitors were always announced as 'representing Great Britain and Northern Ireland'. There seems to have been a change, doubtless to pacify the sensitivities of the Irish, and all mentions of Northern Ireland have disappeared. Interestingly, the official announcement in French for the ‘Team GB’ cycling sprint gold medal was ‘Royaume-Uni’, but possibly only because the French refuse to refer to the island across La Manche as ‘Great’.
According to the International Olympic Committee's existing charter, ‘the Olympic Council of Ireland represents the whole island of Ireland.’ Apparently, it was former Irish IOC member and IOC president Lord Killanin who ensured that the OCI was responsible for all 32 counties on the island of Ireland. The OCI charter giving it full responsibility for all of Ireland ‘was agreed by former IOC president Avery Brundage and then re-enforced by Killanin when he became president’.
Attempts by the BOA to change their charter with the IOC to include the words Northern Ireland have not succeeded. So the OCI sends a team representing Ireland and the BOA sends one representing GB.
Doubtless to the delight of Sinn Féin, Olympic sports are organised on an all Ireland basis. While Northern Ireland athletes can compete for either team, they generally go with the Irish teams as inclusion is less competitive. Thus there are distinct and separate Ireland and GB teams: Ireland uses the tricolour and national anthem of the Republic, and GB flies the Union flag and sings the national anthem of the UK.
Of course, most of ‘Britain’s’ sporting success in Beijing is really that of the English, but one dare not mention that. While the Scottish media hail the occasional medal for the occasional Scot* as a great and victorious triumph for Scotland, when the English win, it is never for 'Harry, England and St George', but for for Britain and the British.
One wonders if by 2012 ‘Team GB’ will exist at all, or will that be the year of the first Olympiad with teams from Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England? Might it just possibly be the year we bid farewell to Great Britain?
*Not at all to detract from truly Olympian accomplishment of Chris Hoy.