This summer could be the greatest yet in English sports. The cricket World Cup came home for the first time ever in the most nerve-clanging of ways, two English clubs played the Champions League final in Madrid and the women’s football team only stumbled in the semis to eventual champions USA. And on Saturday, they could be coronated the rugby champions of the world in Tokyo. A day later, Lewis Hamilton could, rather should, defend his Formula One crown in the US. England is shimmering in unprecedented sporting glory.
Ironically, this has come at a time when England is wading through uncertain times. As the Brexit irresolution drags on, there is an overwhelming sense of disillusionment. Firms are packing up from London, the unemployment rate is increasing, pound sterling is plummeting and anxiety is running high about London’s future as a financial hub. An anonymous poet with a dark sense of humour tweaked TS Eliot’s ‘Journey of the Magi’ to reflect the situation: “A cold shoulder we had of it/ Just the worst time of the year/ For a Brexit, and such a hard Brexit/ Warehouses full, the economy slow/ The 31st of October.”
It’s strange — and spectacular — how political unease often coincides with sporting glory, how sports can be a balm for political chaos. If England overpowers South Africa, it could turn out to be the most cherished of sporting memories this year, bigger arguably than the cricket world cup, which they started as favourites. Here, they fought the odds, muscled and scrapped past gnarled opponents. The team itself is diverse and a triumph could change perceptions of the game, which is still seen to be a white middle-class preoccupation. This is a multicultural team comprising men from diverse backgrounds and classes. There are men of Samoan, Jamaican, Nigerian, Kiwi, Guyanese, Palestinian and Grenadian descent. It will be the ultimate triumph of England’s cultural diversity. It could also be the most stinging metaphor for Brexit’s flawed foundations.
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