This is my first Olympics as an Australian. Yes, I’ve lived here for 15 years, and been a citizen for more than a few, but this is the first Olympics I’ve actually felt Australian in my heart of hearts.
I realised this while watching the swimmers on the first day and desperately wanting the Australian 4 x 100 women’s swim team to win, and being thrilled when they did. In the last couple of Olympics I’ve felt torn between Australia and America. Australia is actually my third nation. I started off Jamaican, but became American in my childhood. I moved to Australia much later, when I was 30. By that point I felt settled into my American identity. And I still feel very American, though an Australianised version.
The Olympics is all about nationalism. Opportunities for expressing nationalistic pride are present throughout, structuring all aspects of the Games from the Opening Ceremony through the events and their medal presentations (think national flags and anthems) and continuing until the Closing Ceremony. To participate in the Olympics as a fan means situating oneself as part of a nation. Without national pride, the Olympics become meaningless.
It was easy to become American. There are so many American athletes and so few Jamaican that it was only during the sprinting that I was ever conflicted. (And Jamaica is so much the underdog that I still support its teams.) National pride is embedded in American sport with the playing of the national anthem at every game, no matter the level or sport. It is constantly reinforced.
It was much harder to become Australian as we were competing against each other, and because I wasn’t indoctrinated into Australianness in the same way. Up until recently even thinking about supporting Australian sport felt like a betrayal of sorts. The team you support is a very personal thing. For me, it has to come from within, it has to be felt rather than thought. So supporting Australia in sport means feeling Australian which in turn means being Australian, and not just on paper.
I suspect many migrants have this split identity that comes out during sport. Even if you live in a place for a long time, it may not feel right to support its sports teams. Barracking for Australia, wanting to barrack for Australia, is a meaningful shift in my identity. I guess it means I’m finally at home.