The Olympics and National Pride

So the news came in today. Joseph Schooling of Singapore beat Michael Phelps at the 100m butterfly event at Rio 2016 for Singapore’s first gold medal and Olympic record to boot. Hurray! Majulah Singapura!

Good for him. I’m not too fussed though.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with nationalism and patriotism, per se. National pride in one of our own winning gold at an international competition while beating out legends is perfectly understandable.

But then, what has the country and most of its people have anything to do with Schooling’s talent? If he were born elsewhere, he might be representing some other country and winning gold for them. Celebrating his victory as his accomplishment makes sense, but celebrating it as Singapore’s just feels odd to me.

Taking a glance at table tennis, several countries are represented by Chinese. I understand why countries accept these athletes (to have a chance at actually winning gold), and why these athletes choose to pursue their dreams away from China (where the competition is ridiculous). I’m not upset by it too, because in the end, why should I care?

I’m not personally involved in their development, in their achievements, in their joy or their sorrow. I’m just a person who shares the same citizenship as they do. It doesn’t change my life if they win or lose. There’s nothing for me to be proud of, because it’s not my victory, or the victory of the people close to me.

To be good enough to represent your country at the Olympics, to be good enough to win and be the best in the world…that’s something for Schooling, for his parents, his friends, his coaches to be proud of. Not for me.

National pride beyond sports also eludes me a little. Is there anything to be proud of when you’ve never personally contributed to that success? Does being born in a country automatically make that country’s achievements yours? What happens when you move overseas and change citizenship? Do your allegiances then change?

Is there any value in saying “I am proud to be Singaporean”?

Pride is important to build a sense of national identity. And national identity is critical in a globalising world where more and more borders are blurring. But is a nationalistic ideal something we should pursue? It’s not possible for the world to come together as one. But in my ideal world, national borders shouldn’t exist. Nationalism is in direct opposition to the concept of a united world.

Of course, I realise there’s more than a whiff of hypocrisy here. I love Liverpool F.C., even though I don’t contribute to its success or failures. I like Lewis Hamilton, and wish for him to win. Their success brings me joy; failure sorrow. Is that any different from feeling happy when Schooling won?

Am I conflating personal emotional investment with national pride though? I have no idea. It’s probably a question for smarter people than I to answer. Even if it is hypocritical, I’ll stick to my indifference to the Olympics and my love for football and F1. Being flawed is being human, no?

Well, maybe that’s enough deep thinking for one day.


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