We brought our family to London this summer to experience the Olympic Games first hand – and unexpectedly our global citizenship has been validated.
While we’re celebrating both elite athletic achievements and the coming together of all nations to compete, there’s a huge focus on “Who do you support?” Are you Team USA, Team GB, Team Australia, or Team Qatar?
That’s an easy question to answer for most, but our son, 11, and daughter, 9, both born in London, spent the first half of their lives there and the second half in Qatar where they attend a British school. Their dad is Australian (and also has British citizenship), and I was born and raised in the US with an American father and Australian mother.
Though we were squeezed in and feeling at one with the global community in the international crowd of 60,000 in Hyde Park for the arrival of the Olympic flame, once the summer Games began we suddenly noticed an intense focus on nationalism. Supporters were draped in their national flag, with faces, eyes, and nails painted in their national colors. Norwegians wear Viking hats, the Dutch stand out in their orange wear, lots of Australians carry kangaroos, and the British sport Union Jack leggings, shirts, jackets, body suits, you name it!
For us, the question “Who do you support?” became “Who are you”?
We have American, Australian, and British flags to wave, and we are also cheering on Qatari athletes.
Our daughter has embraced them all, with transfer tattoos on her face of British flags, an “I love Australia sticker,” a Qatar flag button on her hat, and carrying an American flag.
Our son is more confused. Asked if he wants to wear one of the flags we have at the Olympic Park, he tells us he doesn’t feel very patriotic. He appreciates the skills of the athletes, but feels more of a world citizen than a fan of any one country over another.
I feel for him and know he will sometimes struggle like I have as he switches from country to country. (I have lived on four continents in the past 20 years.) Like me, he will feel at home in the US, Australia, the UK, and Qatar. But he won’t necessarily be accepted by any of them. Are you really one of us if you are also the other?
As we’ve popped through the athletic spectrum – volleyball at Earl’s Court, soccer at Wembley Stadium, archery at Lord’s Cricket Ground, beach volleyball at the Horse Guard’s Parade, weightlifting at ExCel, Equestrian dressage in Greenwich Park, basketball, water polo, and hockey at Olympic Park, and athletics at the main Olympic Stadium – we've also experienced our sense of global citizenship.
We’ve cheered Qatari athletes, especially the women who are here representing their country for the first time. So we’ve been hypersensitive to the story of the female Olympian.
This games has been nicknamed the female games, as it is the first time that all countries have sent female athletes. We were all astonished to hear that women weren’t allowed to run further than 200 meters before the 1960 Rome Olympics. It is also the first time there are more females than males in the American squad. For Team Great Britain, their first medals were won by female athletes. It was an eye opener to realize how much has changed for women in sports in just 50 years, and there is still so far to go – not the least of which is the startling difference in clothing the male and female beach volleyball players wear, which was not lost on our kids.
We all noticed stories about athletes who have “switched” their country allegiance, like Ben Hoskin who represented Britain at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and this year is representing Paraguay. He was born in Columbia, his mother is Paraguayan, and his father is British.
Then there are swimmers like Mihail “Mike” Alexandrov who once competed for his native Bulgaria and now swims for the US; and Olaf Wildeboer who competed for Spain then for the Netherlands, while his brother continues to compete for Spain, and their father coached the Dutch national team.
Our children are legally American, Australian, and British – and, in some less formal ways, a bit Qatari. They live in the Middle East but understand the First Amendment rights they have under the constitution when they are in the US that they don’t yet have under the constitution in Qatar. They know a great deal about the British monarchy and the times of the Tudors and the Celts from their British schooling. They chant “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oi, Oi, Oi!” and love Vegemite on toast.
If they ever are good enough to compete in an Olympics, who will they compete for? Will they be accepted by any of their countries as a “true” American, Australian, or Brit?
It may be a hard concept to grasp, but the global community that is the Olympics is increasingly represented by individuals whose identity is broader than one nationality.