Samir Chopra June 23, 2009

Sing that anthem

my attitude is that if it doesn't cause offence, and it helps to assert the primacy of the international game, then I'm all for it

Yesterday, Mike Holmans found the singing of the national anthems before the Women's Twenty20 final tear-inducing. And a week or so ago, Rob Steen wrote that the singing of the national anthems before the WC T20 games was a "tacky and transparent attempt to assert the primacy of the international game". But Rob is also someone, I think, who would like the primacy of the international game to be maintained (if I'm mistaken, please correct me). As someone who quite likes the national anthem ritual before sporting encounters, I feel obliged to throw in my tuppence.

Perhaps part of the reason Rob does not like the performance of the national anthem is because it is an overtly nationalistic gesture (in a time when a prima facie reaction to nationalism is that it is pretty darn unfashionable). Perhaps the disagreement is just about tactics. Rob might want to assert the primacy of the international game, he just doesn't want it done via the national anthem route. Fair enough. But I'd like to argue that national anthems aren't tacky and transparent and in fact, when it comes to trying to frame the international game in terms of some pomp and circumstance, it's a very good option (compared to the alternatives we have).

Now, I'm in an odd position when it comes to speaking up on behalf of national anthems. I don't live in my country of birth; while I stand for the US anthem at public events where it is played, I don't do the hand-over-the-heart routine; and in general, I dislike sanctimonious patriotic clap-trap as much as anyone else. So what is the deal?

Quite simply, I like national anthems before international sporting encounters, for quasi-aesthetic reasons, if they form part of a relatively simple nod to nationalist sentiment before the game (i.e., I'm not in favour of trotting out war veterans, politicians, screaming jets lighting their afterburners, parades etc). National anthems hush the crowd momentarily, which is always a good thing for getting the atmosphere of tension and anticipation just right; they remind everyone present that this game is played by national representatives; for spectators, national anthems can be marvelously evocative, largely because of childhood memories I suspect, in a way that other nationalist gestures simply aren't; and lastly players get a kick out of the anthems because it sets up the prizefighter-chomping-at-the-bit imagery quite well.

Compared to other nationalist gestures, the national anthem is relatively tasteful: some of them are harmless little ditties about how beautiful the respective countries are, which isn't too far from the truth, really, if you think about it; some are slightly triumphalist but I don't think any of the cricketing nations anthems do too badly on that account. For instance, Jana Mana Gana; Quami Tarana; Advance Australia Fair; God Defend New Zealand; the South African hybrid of Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika and The Call of South Africa etc are relatively harmless and unlikely to cause offence. Indeed, the people most likely to complain about these national anthems are folks from their respective countries themselves because they find them boring or archaic or whatever.

And my attitude is that if it doesn't cause offence, and it helps to assert the primacy of the international game, then I'm all for it. Because one thing we don't have too much of these days are attempts to do just that. And international cricket needs it. Just like it needed this great Twenty20 World Cup.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here