I admire this young athlete, not just for her athletic prowess, which is probably considerable, but for her courage and integrity.
Kim Little has been severely criticized by British Olympic officials, her team mates, and the press, for making what surely ought to be a personal decision. She refused to sing God Save The Queen! Several other athletes have experienced the same censure along with peer and media pressure to conform.
From the Daily Mail: Miss Little’s family said the 22-year-old footballer had chosen not to sing the anthem ‘because she is Scottish’.
The rarely sung fifth verse of the anthem, written in the 1740s, includes the controversial words: ‘Rebellious Scots to crush.’
The British Olympic Association was said to be furious about her decision. A spokesman for the association – which has previously stated that all athletes should learn the National Anthem – gave a terse statement saying: ‘It’s an individual choice (as to whether or not to sing), but the most important thing is to show respect.’
Other British athletes openly criticised her stance.
Former javelin thrower and Olympic silver medallist Fatima Whitbread said: ‘I think it’s a poor show if you are competing under a British flag and you don’t feel proud to be British.
Feeling, thinking, speaking, singing, shouting… these are degrees of self-expression. Each requires its own measure of courage and commitment. How can it be healthy to feel one thing and force yourself to deny it in your thinking; or to think one thing and force yourself to say the opposite? Singing is even more difficult, because it involves emotional and physical responses on a deeper level… that may be why hymns and anthems and love songs can move us to tears. Music is used to manipulate and enhance our emotional responses… think of film scores, military marches, and liturgical music. This occurs even when we are merely listening. Singing or playing an instrument involves an active and deliberate physical response that concentrates and intensifies the experience!
I understand Kim’s experience and respect her courage. She may be one of the few really honest and courageous people participating in the whole Olympic charade.
If you have been reading my blog for very long, you know that I am a lapsed Catholic and reluctant atheist… lapsed because I reached the point where I could no longer either convince myself or continue pretending… reluctant because the decision was emotionally and socially devastating, placing me outside the comfortable mainstream of my culture.
Raised in a Catholic family and attending a convent school, I found the process of disengaging myself from emotional manipulation and peer pressure incredibly difficult. Prayer was frequent and public. Prayer without sincere belief was dishonest, was lying, to yourself, to those around you, to God. By then the Latin mass had been changed to English… plain English words, and the mystery and poetry were gone. When I could no longer pretend, I could no longer lie. The Apostle’s Creed is recited at every mass… and I could not say it any more.
At first, like Kim, I would stand with the congregation, but refuse to speak. Then, even that began to feel like too much. As Thomas More argues in A Man For All Seasons, “silence is consent”. For months, I struggled with the decision whether or not to stand. The morning I decided not to do so was incredibly difficult, in more ways than one. Aunt Edith was sitting behind me. She accosted me outside the church; then she phoned my mother to report my impudence and give Mother a piece… whatever that was worth… of her totally brainwashed Catholic mind.
My mother sided with me, absolutely and unwaveringly. I think it was from conviction as well as maternal love. She replied that my faith and my prayer life were absolutely no one else’s concern! Period. End of discussion. Everyone had the right… and obligation… to work through these difficulties without interference. She said I was a clever and honest young person, and she was sure I would find my way through this challenge to become a better Catholic.., a better person! Did she say Either/or? or Both/and? I hope it was the former because by that time for me there was no other way.
I found my way through the challenge, and I don’t think I ever disappointed my mother. Sleeping in on Sunday morning was very nice. We missed Aunt Edith for a while, but came to recognize that her “moral standards” and carping criticism had released a dark cloud over the family gatherings she now chose not to attend. Then things appeared to change in Catholicism, and I went back to the church. I had high hopes. My wedding in 1964 was a High Mass. My children were baptised. I was nominally back in the fold… for a while.
It was exciting to be a young adult Catholic at that time. The Church seemed to be on the brink of wonderful, liberating changes… changes that would permit us to live without moral bargaining and hypocrisy, to make love without guilt, to value our faith and intelligence side by side. Humanae Vitae, an encyclical written by Pope Paul VI and issued on 25 July 1968, changed all that. Like so many others, I’d had enough! It is a decision I do not regret… worse things, much worse things, have happened since…
But back to the Olympics.
Refusing to sing God Save the Queen is not the only thing that can get you into deep trouble. Doping and drugging are not the only un-Olympic activities that can get you disqualified from the Games.
Read this about the Greek triple jumper Voula Papachristou who was dropped from her team after posting a joke on twitter. The response of the Greek committee spokesperson is particularly interesting… “We are not here just to get medals, but to promote the Olympic ideals, to show our character.”
SURE! Coercion and censorship!