Olympics 2012: Can German athletes learn something from all that US flag-waving?

Even though Americans may get a little carried away at the Olympics, Germans could express a bit more public patriotism. Think Robert Harting, who just won gold in the discus.

The day after Gabby Douglas won the gold medal in the individual all-around gymnastics competition Fox News debated the question whether the 2012 Olympics US athletes were patriotic enough. David Webb, syndicated radio show host and spokesperson for the National Tea Party Federation complained about the lack of publicly expressed patriotism.

I don't think America has anything to worry about. Every day at the Olympics, athletes, viewers, and journalists show plenty of patriotism. Maybe Mr. Webb missed the endless athletes marveling about their country in post-win interviews, Ryan Lochte wearing a stars-and-stripes grill during his medal ceremony, or Serena Williams dancing on the court at Wimbledon.

Complex emotions

Not being an American, waving the flag at basically everything still bewilders me. And it stands in sharp contrast to my home country of Germany, where for historical reasons waving the flag still can engender deeply complex emotions.

The 2006 World Cup, hosted by Germany, changed attitudes in the country about the merits of waving the flag, something that had been considered shameful since the end of World War II. Amid the fervor of the World Cup, people started hanging flags outside their apartment windows or displaying them in their cars to show support for the German team. Lots of discussion followed about whether this was appropriate.

By the time the European Football Championship rolled around, hosted this year in Poland and Ukraine, it was no longer a big deal waving flags for the German team. Nonetheless, German athletes are still hesitant to refer to national pride and “bringing home gold to Germany.”

More patriotism

Which is why Thomas Bach, president of the German Olympic Sports Confederation, called for more German patriotism in an interview ahead of London 2012, stating that athletes should not be ashamed of their successes. Polls back him up, showing that German society might be ready for a little more publicly displayed national pride. In a poll conducted in November 2011 by a monthly Protestant magazine, almost half of respondents, young adults between 14 and 29, said they identify as German, not European or as a global citizen.

A halfway approach may be called for. I wouldn't advocate that a German wear a black, red, and gold grill during the medal ceremony. But athletes shouldn't be ashamed of being a proud part of their nation’s Olympic team and saying so publicly. If that is expressed by female athletes wearing "patriotic" nail designs, in the end, they're just having some fashion fun rather than making a heavy political statement. Or just watch discus champion Robert Harting, who tore off his shirt in celebration of "bringing home the gold" for Germany today.

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