Savour the moment

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"Winning has now become a habit," commented Henry Blofeld yesterday as England's cricket team stood on the brink of a seventh consecutive Test victory. For many English people, simply to read such a statement, let alone to say it in company, is to feel the undertow of a peculiar national pessimism. If this is victory, can defeat be far behind?

"Winning has now become a habit," commented Henry Blofeld yesterday as England's cricket team stood on the brink of a seventh consecutive Test victory. For many English people, simply to read such a statement, let alone to say it in company, is to feel the undertow of a peculiar national pessimism. If this is victory, can defeat be far behind?

It is the same with the Olympics. There is a common national assumption that the British do not win medals and, if they do, they are won by mavericks in minority sports that do not really count. What is our problem? Why does this country attach so much importance to British participation in certain sporting events, yet assume the worst? And, if our competitors do well, why are we always waiting for the next disaster instead of savouring the moment? All sporting glory is transient, but why dwell on the transience rather than the glory?

In part, this may be a function of our fragmented and ambivalent national identity. For cricket and football, our teams do not belong to the whole of the UK. For the Olympics, "our" athletes represent Great Britain, or Team GB as it is snappily branded, although this is sometimes expanded to GB and Northern Ireland. (Is a closet anti-monarchist at work?)

But that cannot be the whole story. And, in any case, it hardly matters whether our syndrome is a hangover from empire, part of the old story we tell ourselves of national decline, of a country that invented the games at which it now loses. Sporting success comes and goes, in long phases (as sports become fashionable or not, well-run and well-supported or not) and short cycles, depending on what happens on the day. You win some, you lose some, and some go to appeal.

What matters is that "we" - those who care about sport and identify with a national team from these islands - should learn how to enjoy the simple pleasures of the moment. This weekend is one of those moments.

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