Sunday, August 21, 2016

Why is the British Olympic Team Named Team Great Britain Instead of Team United Kingdom?

     I do not pay much attention to the Olympics these days. Since the Cold War ended, much of the drama of competition has been lost. The 2016 games were particularly uninteresting, and would be even if not plagued by Brazil's political, economic, and public health issues. This doe not count the various scandals of Ryan Lochte's false claim of robbery, whether Gabby Douglas should have placed her hand over her heart during the national anthem, and he Egyptian wrestler who refused to shake his Israeli opponent's hand. The games inspired little enthusiasm.
       The games inspired little enthusiasm for me as an American, at any rate. If one is British, there was quite a bit to celebrate. The British enjoyed their bet Olympic performance in history, finishing second in the medal count behind the United States and ahead of China. Considering the country's tough transition out of the European Union after June's successful Brexit referendum, the accomplishment is a source of national. But placing the country in the international spotlight brings up a burning question that may matter only to political scientists: why is the British Olympic team called Team Great Britain and not Team United Kingdom?
      The problem succinctly put is United Kingdom refers to the union of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Britain excludes Northern Ireland. One might assume it is a political matter. Irish unification is a touchy, historically violent issue. Similar occurred at the 2015 Olympics. Taiwan was forced to compete as Chinese Taipei. But athletes from Northern Ireland were part of Team Great Britain, so that is not the case.
       The answer is less dramatic, but no less baffling: inclusivenes. The name Team Great Britain was chosen by the British Olympics Committee in 1999 just ahead of the 2000 games in Sydney, Australia. Elected officials in Northern Ireland objected to the exclusion of its athletic contributions in the abbreviated team name. The British Olympics Committee issues a statement in response declaring Team Great Britain includes Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, Channel Islands, Gibraltar, and the Falklands, among other overseas territories.
       But would Team United Kingdom not include of those as well? One would assume the name would be even more inclusive than Team Great Britain. Truth be told, it may all boil down to the uncooperative International Olympics Committee. The IOC has listed the United Kingdom as GBR since the modern inception of the Olympics, so the name Team Great Britain may a resignation to the country's Olympic designation fate.

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