Long live Team GB

In the build-up to the Scottish Independence Referendum, I found myself torn. Despite wanting the Yes campaign to succeed in peacefully attaining self-determination, when suchaprizeoftencomeswiththecostofblood, I was concerned by the uncertain future such a result would bring and the implications for my own identity that a dissolved union would have.

But one of the biggest considerations in my hypothetical decision – as an Englishman – was the bearing independence would have on sport in the United Kingdom.

Since the turn of the millennium, Team GB has been at the forefront of sporting excellence in international competitions alongside sporting powerhouses China and the US, whose populations considerably dwarf our own. Indeed, with 29 gold medals in the London Olympics in 2012, Great Britain surpassed the Russian Federation to finish third in the medal table, with more golds than European competitors from France and Germany combined. Much of that has relied on developing top athletes from the length and breadth of the United Kingdom via investment from the National Lottery, with Scotland playing a crucial role.

“A ‘Yes’ vote would have lead to a total separation in sporting terms”

In fact, in 2012 Scotsmen and women contributed to one in five of Team GB’s medals, despite making up only a tenth of the team, with Sir Chris Hoy and Andy Murray coming away with individual golds and Michael Jamieson winning a breaststroke silver. Their achievements were followed at the Winter Games in Sochi earlier this year by the all- Scottish curling teams, with Dave Murdoch’s men taking the silver, Eve Muirhead’s women the bronze and a further Paralympic bronze for Aileen Neilson’s wheelchair curlers.

However, a ‘Yes’ vote would have led to a total separation in sporting terms that would reduce the pool from which our athletes could be picked. While England topped the medal table at the recent Glasgow Commonwealth Games with 58 gold medals and 174 in total, matching such a feat against stronger opposition at either European or Olympic level would surely prove highly improbable.

It follows that not only would Team GB be worse off in Scotland’s absence, but that Scottish athletes would suffer from being denied access to the world class sporting facilities based in England, namely those at Loughborough University. Funding equivalent infrastructures in Scotland would take time, leaving many of Scotland’s top athletes, including European 800m silver medallist Lynsey Sharp, at a major disadvantage.

However, the quantitative measure of success is only one side of the story; the question of identity is just as important, if not more so. Murray’s pro-independence tweet on the morning of the referendum was widely slated; had such an outcome materialised, the perception of Murray as a Scot first, and a Brit second – if at all – would have been deeply ingrained.

What would this have meant for Britain? For one, if Murray were to represent an independent Scotland, his adoring public south of the border could no longer adopt him as their hero and biggest Grand-Slam hope. On a wider socio-political level, Scottish independence would have likely entrenched separate national identities once and for all and heightened nationalist sentiment throughout the UK.

The phenomenal success of British Cycling in recent years is possibly the best indicator of what the union has meant for sport in the United Kingdom. Sir Dave Brailsford led Team GB to an impressive haul of eight gold medals in his tenure as British Cycling’s performance director at the Beijing and London Games and unsurprisingly called for Scotland to reject independence, reasoning that “UK sport is one of the best things this country has, and it is all possible because we can share talent, resources and ideas”.

When English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish talents are combined, Great Britain is a force to be reckoned with on the global stage and in sporting terms at the very least, we certainly are ‘better together.’


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November 2021
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