Last week, a united team of Europeans played under the flag of the European Union and, on Sunday, celebrated to the sound of Beethoven’s breathtaking Ode to Joy – the anthem of the continent. This took place after they had defeated their rivals across the Atlantic in the Ryder Cup at the Le Golf National, a course close to Versailles in France.
Thomas Bjørn, captain of the victorious European team noted, “I felt all along that this was a good group of guys, but I have to say, when we got here on Monday, we got together.”
The European team is renowned for their superior team spirit. During the Ryder Cup week, 12 individual athletes become a team. Players, clad in the blue and yellow of Europe, played to the tune of “Go Europe” chants. Those are rare moments even for the top ranked players, as the Ryder Cup is one of the few team events in golf.
“There’s something about this group of guys. There’s a continuity in our group that maybe the other side don’t quite have,” added Rory McIlroy after winning the trophy. Tommy Fleetwood shared his view: “It’s not about individuals, it’s about the other guys on the team.”
It is not obvious that the Ryder Cup is played in continental Europe and the players from mainland Europe are part of the team; for a long time the event was competed between the USA and Great Britain and Ireland. This changed to a European team in 1979. After that, it took almost 20 years, until 1997, to arrange the first Ryder Cup outside the British Isles.
Two years ago, when Britain voted to leave the EU, very little attention was paid to European athletes living in the UK or UK athletes living outside the British Isles. What does it mean for an athlete to be European? Is European identity more political or geographical? Do the European athletes even have a European identity?
This year half of the European players came from the UK. Will this be possible after next March? Nothing will change according to Darren Clarke, a former captain of the European team: “It makes no difference to us whatsoever because the UK is always going to be part of the European continent.”
Bjørn echoes the sentiment by saying, ”It is such a small continent compared to the others. Together we have so much history and so many great things going for us. I think that is forgotten a little bit in the political picture”.
More than 70,000 European fans cheered on Sunday for the winning team as they lifted the trophy on the 18th green. To get to play in front of the European audience and on European soil is special for the the players who embodied a European identity.
“It means a lot more to us as golfers because we grow up with the European Tour. The backbone of that tour is still our European events. It is part of the life we live. It has a meaning,” emphasises Bjørn.
On Monday morning after the victory, the cover page of L’Équipe, a French nationwide daily newspaper, declared in French: “L’union fait la force,” “Unity is strength”. Sport is an integral part of our national identity. No other sporting event boosts the European identity the way the Ryder Cup does. On Sunday, when Europe won, we as Europeans won.
The Ryder Cup showed us again the power of a team and the power of a united Europe. After securing the victory, Bjørn said, “Leading the team to Ryder Cup victory is the proudest moment of my career.”