No American in Las Vegas considered Bruno and Tyson patriots. They all saw one guy wanting to beat the hell out of the other

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The Independent Online
A national embarrassment in Las Vegas last week was not the inept performance Frank Bruno gave when losing the World Boxing Council heavyweight championship to Mike Tyson but abuse of the American national anthem by a large contingent of his supporters.

Bruno's defeat, the predictable outcome of serious limitations in technique and mobility, was of far less consequence in conversations with United States citizens than their understandable assumption that British fans are generally a blight on the sporting experience.

"From the sound of things, your soccer stadiums should be safe this weekend," a Boston-based columnist, George Kimble, said.

This was in reference to crass chants - "Tyson is a rapist" led to the closure of bars in the vast MGM entertainment complex - and whistling to drown out a traditional rendition of the US anthem. "What causes your people to act so stupidly, to be so ill-mannered?" another American writer asked.

What else can you expect when arrogance born of colonialism becomes manifest in the xenophobic sloganising of our mass circulation newspapers, the sort of flag-waving rhetoric raised by Bruno's ill-fated adventure in the Nevada desert.

No wonder that American sportswriters of long experience, none of whom saw Tyson as a representative of their flag, were incredulous when shown the "Tank a Yank" urgings of the popular print that had Bruno under contract.

It has not been forgotten in the United States that one of the great modern champions, Marvin Hagler, once came under a bombardment of missiles at Wembley after taking the undisputed middleweight title brutally from Alan Minter.

In the safety of his dressing-room, Hagler joined his handlers in singing "God Bless America" and vowed that he would never return to fight here.

More recently, after the US anthem was jeered before an international match at Wembley, the England football coach, Terry Venables, implored supporters to show greater respect for the opposition. Good manners came into this but Venables might also have emphasised that insult fires up the visitors.

In the belief that an upsurge of patriotism would be beneficial, the boxing promoter Frank Warren issued Union flags to the audience and recruited a Guards band when Bruno challenged Oliver McCall last September for the WBC championship. Bruno entered the ring to the strains of Pomp and Circumstance, popularly "Land of Hope and Glory", a marvellous melody but with a lyric - one that speaks of stealing land ("wider still and wider") - Elgar thought appalling.

Inevitably, you may think, the US anthem, played on McCall's behalf, was booed again as Bulgaria's probably will be next when they play England at Wembley. A view expressed here before is that the policy of playing anthems before sports should be abandoned. This would put paid to the moving sound of my own being sung by a Welsh crowd at Cardiff Arms Park, but no matter.

Not so long ago I took part in a radio programme about the history of anthems, their origins and development.

An interesting thing to discover was that Deutchsland Uber Alles, one anthem of obvious connotations, was first composed by Haydn for the Emperor of Austria and later filched by the Germans.

The lyric did not declare what it came fearfully to represent under the Nazis. The idea was to implant the understanding of separate German states as one nation. Incidentally, the words have not been sung publicly since the Second World War.

You may find all this of little consequence but, personally thinking, anthems cause more trouble than they are worth. A couple of years ago, the former England cricket captain Graham Gooch suggested that it might be an advantage if the British anthem was played before Test matches in this country.

I do not understand fully what he thought this would achieve. Did he imagine this would bring about improvements in batting, bowling and fielding?

On the basis of England's performance in the World Cup and their form generally, perhaps it is the only resort left to them.

Going back to where we came in on this, no American I came across in Las Vegas considered Bruno and Tyson to be patriots. They all saw one guy waiting to beat the hell out of the other.