Spirit of London Olympics overcomes Falklands War saber-rattling

Britain and Argentina faced off on the hockey pitch for the second time at the Olympics Wednesday. Fans say the lingering acrimony over the Falklands War isn't an issue, despite rhetoric.  

Mike Munhall/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Adrian Milner (l.) speaks about the Britain-Argentina rivalry as friends Lisa Hurley (c). and Paul Hurley listen after watching a hockey game at Olympic Park in London on July 29. They said the spirit at the hockey venue, Riverbank Arena, as been good.
Suzanne Plunkett/REUTERS
Argentina's players celebrate winning against Great Britain during the women's semifinal hockey match at the Riverbank Arena at the London 2012 Olympic Games Wednesday.

With the 20th anniversary of the Falklands War this April, 2012 has not been the friendliest of years for Britain and Argentina.

First, the Royal Air Force sent Prince William to the Falklands for six weeks in February as part of his search-and-rescue duties as a helicopter pilot, then it announced that it would send one of its most modern warships to the South Atlantic islands – both moves it called "routine."

Then the office of the Argentinian president sent a hockey player to the Falkland Islands to shoot an advertisement that included the athlete doing step drills on a British war monument there. It finished with the line: "To compete on English soil, we train on Argentinian soil" (see below).

Perhaps British Prime Minister David Cameron should just invite Argentinian President Cristina Kirchner to Olympic Park. So far, two hockey games between the rivals have passed without much to talk about anything but the sport. First, the British men won in the preliminary round, 4-1. And on Wednesday in the semifinals the Argentinian women won, 2-1, watched by Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge

To hockey fans of both Britain and Argentina at the venue, however, the Falklands were a nonissue. "Everyone are Olympic fans," said Paul Hurley, who attended a hockey game on the second day of the Games. "No one wants to get involved with that."

To Adrian Milner, who was there with Hurley, it is history long past. "That was 20 years ago," he said. "They believe they are their islands, but you can't just say they are not British."

The islands are set to hold a referendum in 2013 on whether to maintain the status quo, meaning they would remain a British territory. Polls have shown more than 95 percent of residents support continuing the status quo.

The bigger issue between Britain and Argentina these days is soccer, say fans. Diego Maradona's "Hand of God," in which he scored a goal with his hand – unseen by the referees – in a 1986 World Cup match still rankles. As does the 1998 World Cup match in which Diego Simeone admitted to faking an injury when kicked by David Beckham, resulting in the English midfielder being ejected.

"England-Argentina football would be very different," smiled Milner.

But the Falklands stuff "is just saber-rattling," he said.

Experts agree. "Argentine governments make an issue of the Falklands typically when their economy goes south, as it has recently," Heather Conley, a former senior State Department official, told US News & World Report. "As the economy deteriorates, the rhetoric rises." 

Argentinian Diego Vazquez, who lives in London and wore an Argentinian soccer jersey to Olympic Park, echoed that sentiment. "Argentina always finds some country to pick a fight with," he said. "I don't think it's a big deal.

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