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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on June 27, 2009, 9:04 GMT

    I think Gizza said it best up there. Perfect. Succinct. And unless someone feels India just retained the T20 World Cup, i think it's clear India is NOT Pakistan.

  • testli5504537 on June 25, 2009, 13:53 GMT

    @Pranav: Please check his article about:Posted by Samir Chopra on 09/23/2008 Why India is not Pakistan. Thanks

  • testli5504537 on June 25, 2009, 11:22 GMT

    The problem wth national anthems is that they are generally dire dirges or just too long. Rally Round the West Indies is an obvious exception but that's not a national anthem! On top of that we have the embarassment of the England team (an odd collection of South Africans and Irishmen) hijacking the British anthem while the Scottish team sing their anti English dirge. Just get on with the cricket or before we know where we are the New Zealanders will be wanting to dance a haka before they start as well singing their song.

  • testli5504537 on June 25, 2009, 8:53 GMT

    @ Rob, Mohan, and Bingo Haley: tell me what is bad about national anthems. Do you honestly want to see cricket to become completely commercialised so that IPL and similar T20 dominate the headlines 24/7. International cricket, like all international sport, is built on nationalism. If you prefer greedy, hungry CEOs to flag-wavers (being proud of your country and its culture doesn't mean you hate others) then you should switch your allegiances to other sports which have already seen the full effect of the market.

    To Kamran, you must be referring

    Samir isn't being anti-Pakistani or anything else like what you claim. He says international matches should be banned *in Pakistan*, not the team because of the security problems in the nation. Unfortunately, Pakistan may have won the T20 WC but it is still significantly more unsafe than other countries, including its subcontinental neighbours.

  • testli5504537 on June 25, 2009, 4:57 GMT

    To get back to the topic at hand (with an aside to Kamran saab: Mate, I have read past blogs and again, I don't know which one of Samir's posts on flexible batting orders, the IPL, Kim Hughes, India's tour of NZ -- going back two months, not just one -- you construed as 'anti-Pakistan', but peace, okay?) I concur with Dave, absolutely. I don't think any national anthem sets out to revile other nations, just to celebrate one's own. Yes, it's about an 'us' to the exclusion of 'them' mentality, but face it, that's why international sport is popular!

  • testli5504537 on June 25, 2009, 4:23 GMT

    im lucky enough to be in adelaide for the australia day match year in year out. hearing/singing the national anthem before the match makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up! makes the occasion more surreal. nothing disrespectful about the ritual at all!

  • testli5504537 on June 25, 2009, 4:10 GMT

    Dave, except the singing of national anthem is also done for money. For the eyeballs/ratings etc. May be it is just me, but the greed is more pronounced in this case because it is hypocritical. At least in the IPL they are forthright about promoting the sponsors. Here they use nationalism to garner eyeballs.

    F K, they are employed by their boards which are private bodies. I could go to a customer meeting wearing a jersey with India written on it, that doesn't mean I am representing the country there.

  • testli5504537 on June 24, 2009, 18:28 GMT

    @Parnav- I suggest you read past blogs, may I remind you few months back where he was suggesting Pakistan should be ban altogether, what better time to ask Samir to eat some humble pie....

  • testli5504537 on June 24, 2009, 17:38 GMT

    Ha Ha Mohan! Re the story about Prasad belting out the National Anthem! Fully in agreement with Rob and the Mohans.

  • testli5504537 on June 24, 2009, 17:03 GMT

    The Windies got it right. Rally Round The West Indies is an excellent tune to play before their mathces.

    "Pretty soon the runs are going to flow like water Bringing so much joy to every son and daughter Say we're going to rise again like a raging fire As the sun shines you know we gonna take it higher Rally, rally round the West Indies"

    What we need is equivalent verse for all the other teams. None of this God defend that, save the other and this country is awesome despite everything they say on the news.

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