As any Brit will know, a match is finished with a handshake and either a drink at the bar or a cup of tea. The winner congratulates the loser on a match hard fought. The loser congratulates the winner on their impressive performance. A few jokes are exchanged and perhaps an apology or two for any bad behaviour that might have occurred in the heat of competition.
For many decades a sense of British fair play has been admired throughout the world. It has even been proven in scientific experiments. Think of British fair play and one thinks of Alistair Brownlee who carried his brother Jonny across the line at the World Triathlon Series final in Mexico in 2016. Or Andrew Flintoff comforting a disconsolate Brett Lee in the 2005 Ashes series. Or Robbie Fowler in 1997 waving to the referee to say his fall in the penalty area against Arsenal was not a penalty. In each case, while the result was important, civility mattered more.
Britain’s reputation abroad is still one of civility. Our country is noted for its faith in Democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance of those of different faiths and beliefs.
Which is why Saturday’s “People’s Vote” march was a mighty embarrassment to Britain. Seeing young children at the event was particularly saddening. At a time when the nation should be healing after letting its democratic voice be heard, the organisers of the march let us all down. They arranged an event after the match to try to undermine it. They personally insulted the referee – Democracy – and dared call their march by the same name as the match they only recently lost. This was the sportsmanship of Luis Suarez not of Jonny Wilkinson.
One might expect this kind of event in a democratically-challenged country like DR Congo or Niger. It is the kind of act that a Maduro or Mugabe might conjure up. An insult to our democracy.
It is a great tragedy that in these days of weak leadership by Theresa May – with the awful Gavin Barwell whispering in her ear – some Brits think that even arranging such an event is necessary.
This week the old notions of fair play and gentlemanly conduct feel as dead as the empire. When real tumult hits, people and institutions find that without them they are denuded before the storm.
Let us now hope that a smooth and successful Brexit is delivered. “By whom?” – that is the question of the week ahead. Meanwhile, these marchers will not be easily forgotten.