HAYES IN THE HOUSE: By MP John Hayes
The founder of the modern Olympic Games, Baron de Coubertin, chose as a motto the Latin phrase “Citius, altius, fortius” – “Faster, higher, stronger.”
Over the last week, speed, height and strength have certainly been evident at the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Many of us have marvelled at the skill – not to mention the courage and endeavour – of athletes from all over the world, and wondered at the many years of dedication with which each of them has trained to prepare.
It is hardly surprising, then, that in choosing his words, Coubertin wanted them to “represent a programme of moral beauty.”
Much of the virtue of sport springs from the values it upholds and the test of character it provides. The physical advantages of health and fitness are the most obvious, but sport engenders many other qualities, too.
From contests in local schools and clubs to the Olympics itself, all who participate learn the value of effort, enjoy friendly competition, and so come to appreciate the importance of humility in victory and dignity in defeat.
But watching the Games – cheering on the British participants – speaks to us on a deeper level. We may never know speed-skater Elise Christie or the members of the British curling teams personally, yet we support them all the same, sharing in each disappointment and achievement, as we recognise these athletes as being from among our own.
From all parts of the country, we stand under the same flag, sing the same anthem, and share the same island story which – though perceived from countless individual perspectives – binds us all in our common life.
There are those who interpret such ideas as, at best, nostalgic. Some might even suggest that the division of the world into nations has done more harm than good.
On the contrary, nationality elevates us beyond individual differences of colour, class or creed, and it is through our shared values that we sustain democracy and the rule of law.
National loyalty has none of the belligerence of nationalism. Instead, it simply empitomises a love of home and a willingness to defend it.
Watching and supporting the Olympians, we see that love vividly played out, as our competing compatriots personify what Sir Roger Scruton has called “an invocation of home and the routines of home, of gentleness, everydayness and enduring settlement.”