Support for one’s own country will almost certainly bring with it the usual array of digs and jibes at the opposition. Ahead of England’s opening game against France on Saturday, slogans such as ‘Time is nearly here to squash the frogs!’ and ‘Nous sommes prêt à ficeler les Anglais!’ (‘We are ready to tie up the English’) – portraying a cockerel tying up a joint of beef – are flying back and forth across The English Channel. Both of these examples, taken from ‘The Rugby Banter Page’, are examples of exactly that: banter. Despite the use (and abuse) of blatant national stereotypes, however, no one would think to term this racism. So what is it about sport that means we do not bat an eyelid at such comments?
It seems, however, that patriotism is something we should be wary of outside of the world of sport. If we take the English Defence League, for example, patriotism takes a very different form. Few buy into their claimed status as a patriotic human rights group; there is almost a confession of this in the slogan that adorns the EDL website: ‘Not racist, not violent, no longer silent.’ When someone starts with ‘I’m not being racist but…’ it doesn't tend to ooze toleration. It only takes a quick look at edlnews.co.uk (a website that publishes negative news about the EDL) to see what the EDL really stands for; the articles are rife with examples of racial hate, violence and arrests.
Organisations like the EDL have hijacked patriotism. By this, I mean to say that it can be difficult to be pro-England without people linking that the xenophobia or racism. ‘The Telegraph’ published a report in 2010 about how fear of appearing racist has led to England being the ‘least patriotic’ country in Europe, and how many are afraid of flying the St. George cross for this same reason. Loving England or being proud of being English does not – or at least should not – mean that someone is against foreign influences. England is the sum total of its parts, not simply the traditionally English parts. English Muslims are as English as you, my EDL friends. Telling them to ‘go home’ probably means sending them to their nice 4-bedroom, semi-detached house in the suburbs of London, or to the house three doors down from your own. Cultural diversity is one of the things that make England great; the EDL is not.
Where does the Six Nations come into this then? It may be that patriotism has been somewhat corrupted by those who use it as a pretence for racism, but the sporting world is one where we can still shout for our country and cheer for their successes; it is one of the few areas where love of one country has not been tarred with hatred of others. So when it comes to ‘Le Crunch’ on Saturday, put your everything into it. I'm talking flags, kit, face paint, shouting, cheering, screaming, laughing, crying. It’s becoming rare that we get the chance to love our country, so let’s go to town on it.