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Jeremy Hunt MP: Sport is a powerful part of national identity and pride

This week ConHome is highlighting some of the big seven themes that will characterise our blogging in the run up to the General Election  One of the themes is patriotic renewal.  Yesterday Frank Field MP wrote about the teaching of British history. Donata Huggins has discussed a 'British Day' and a television focus on great figures from British history. Tomorrow Brandon Lewis will look at promoting British tourism.

HUNT JEREMY OPEN NECKED SHIRTToday Jeremy Hunt MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, looks at the contribution of sport to patriotic renewal.

Last Sunday’s Ashes victory was a feel-good moment that we really needed.  Even the outrage over the release of the Lockerbie bomber was pushed briefly off the front pages as the nation was gripped with excitement. The Today programme gloatingly reported the depressed coverage in Australia –  but when it is the Aussies we are allowed to gloat aren’t we?  Meanwhile our victorious sportsmen, perhaps remembering the post 2005 disappointment, behaved with great dignity and aplomb.

It has not always been easy to be proud of sport in Britain. Last week's violence at Upton Park was an ugly reminder that only a few years back football hooliganism was a massive blight on our sporting reputation. Let's hope swift action by the footballing authorities makes what happened a one-off - as well as a reminder we can never be complacent.

A country’s characteristics are often reflected in the way their play sport. Australian doggedness was perfectly exemplified by their resistance on Sunday. Brazilian flair flows through their football team. For many Andrew Strauss typified British decency in the way he reacted to victory at the Ashes.

If sport defines nations, at its best it also unites them.

You only have to look at the response to our athletes’ stunning success in Beijing last year to see how sport lifts a nation. Sporting glory inspire even those who normally have no interest in sport at all. How else can you explain the cult status accorded to Olympic athletes winning in sports that so few people take part in or even normally watch?

When there is so much economic and political gloom around, politicians should take heed. We have the London 2012 Olympics, the Commonwealth Games in 2014, the Rubgy World Cup in 2015 and possibly the Football World Cup in 2018.

A decade of sport that can potentially bring the country together.

Not if politicians try to exploit for party political purposes – nothing could be more calculated to backfire.

Nor by peddling ill-thought through concepts such as Gordon Brown’s “Britishness.” Sporting values, incidentally, was rarely on any of his lists of “British values” – curious considering this is the country that codified or invented virtually every major sport in existence.

They should have been. Millions of people from across the United Kingdom and from all backgrounds, cultures and religions share a love of sport in one form or another. A common love of football or cricket can do more to create a sense of community than any Government initiative, and more than a national day.

Brown’s hesitance to include sport was probably because England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland compete separately in so many sports. But this misses the wider point. The Six Nations and Rugby and Football World Cups unite us in a shared love of sport and enjoyment of sporting rivalry far more than they divide us. Does anyone seriously think we think less fondly of Australia because we compete for the Ashes every two years?

Understanding the power of sport on a nation’s psychology is a powerful tool in developing both national identity and national pride. Which is why Conservatives want Britain to become a global hub for international sporting events – with policies to achieve this outlined in our recently published sports manifesto. Let’s turn a decade of sport into a permanent national competitive advantage. We want the best of  world sport in Britain – as well as the best of British sport being showcased to the world.


Patriotism2 Click here to see the full events programme for Tory Conference.


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