Robin Scott-Elliot: Lions make a killing but lack true national heart and pride

There is a red myth about the Lions. They are rarely any good

Heard the one about the Scotsmen, the Irishmen and the Welshmen? It was ruined by too many Englishmen. Warren Gatland's punchline on how many of Stuart Lancaster's thriving young side he might employ this summer may have got lost in translation – or covered by a backtrack quick enough to haul in any Wallaby line break – but it is indicative of the background music that accompanies the grand old championship every four years.

Which of the four home nations will have the Lions' share of the 30-odd red jerseys handed out later this year is a debate that ebbs and flows around each round of this year's Six Nations. An English hammering of the supposedly hapless French on Saturday will increase the clamour for a near whitewash of Gatland's squad, but then, with Wales suggesting they might be clambering back on their feet and Scotland quietly confident with a couple of winnable home games to come, it may require more of a pick and mix. And don't write off the injury-riddled Irish. They have Bod on their side.

The Six Nations is one of this country's sporting cornerstones. The sheer numbers who turn up in London, Edinburgh and Cardiff as well as Dublin, Paris and Rome are on a scale to make even rugby's sporting elder brother envious. Football does not attract such audiences to the national sides of Scotland, Wales or Ireland, while at Twickenham England compete on an equal footfall with their Wembley neighbours. It is in rare old health off the pitch and on it – the last four years have seen four different winners.

The looming Lions tour, which takes in three Tests in Australia, is supposed to add an extra frisson to the season. There is even more to play for than your country, there is that famous jersey to be earned, the pinnacle for any player. Except it isn't. The pinnacle is the World Cup, after that the Grand Slam. There should be no more incentive required for any player in any sport than to pull on your country's colours. Thousands upon thousands want to, very few enjoy the privilege. And the Lions represent nobody's country.

There is something of a red myth surrounding the Lions. When they do get together they are rarely any good and in this modern sporting world of marginal gains scratch sides are only going to find it ever more difficult to beat national ones. The Lions have won two of their last nine series, lost their last three and their last in Australia, in 2001. Perhaps they should follow golf and look to Europe to bolster numbers; the British and Irish and Italian and French Lions. Or Les (Ros)Biifs.

The Lions remain an oddity and most likely would have disappeared into the history books where it not for one factor. Like the overhyped Ryder Cup, it is a lucrative franchise for those who run it, and those who host it. It is not because Australia can beat them more easily than, say, England that this summer's hosts, as well as New Zealand and South Africa, relish the arrival of the Lions. It's because a healthy boost to the host union's coffers follows – some 30,000 from Britain and Ireland are expected to head to Australia in support of the Lions. Meanwhile, back in the northern hemisphere, the home unions' chief executives will be equally happy in their counting houses. The Lions began more than a century ago as a commercial idea and today it is a lucrative one. This year's £14m tour Down Under is expected to result in a £4m profit divided equally among England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales – for the latter two, in particular, that is a welcome quadrennial bonus.

If it didn't pay its way the carefully selected tour party would not leave these shores but when it does depart this summer it will not be accompanied by any great interest from this quarter. Team sport is about caring about the colour of a shirt, identifying with the men or women wearing it. Support your club and support your country because in sport there is nothing above that.

Britain is not a sporting nation. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are sporting nations. It was impossible to care about the contrived British Olympic football team. Last summer's surge of sporting Britishness was a one off, fuelled by our delight in hosting the Games and the flattering mirror that the genius Danny Boyle held up for us to look into. It will not be back in Rio.

Like the British football team – a labelling that looks odd and sounds odd – the Lions are a sporting contrivance, albeit one with a weighty history. Their identity is not one with which I can identify. I care who wins the Six Nations and that emotional investment is definitive. I cannot care whether Gatland's selection beat Australia no matter how the numbers add up.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Extras
indybest
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
News
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape