20 June 2006

Flags and emblems

I once received a complaint that the television weatherman stood, with malice aforethought, in front of the map of Northern Ireland, in order to isolate us from the rest of the Kingdom.

Some months later the same party complained that another weatherman stood too far back, thereby displaying the Republic, whose weather, I was informed, had nothing to do with us.

We have a beady eye for detail when it comes to words, symbols, maps, terminology, pronunciation and even single letters – 'aitch' and 'haitch' have caused trouble in the past.

We certainly could do without painted kerbstones and the tattered flags that mark out our tight little sectarian boundaries. Thankfully, flags and emblems within the workplace are things of the past.

The Equality Commission insists, rightly, that workplaces must be strictly 'neutral'. Most firms ban the wearing of certain football shirts and some managements, tired of determining which shirts may possibly have some tribal affiliation, ban sporting gear altogether. And who can blame them.

Bombardier-Shorts must be credited for putting many ancient wrongs right, but when it decided in its sublime wisdom that the Football World Cup wall-charts were in breach of its neutrality rules, the spirit of the local legislation went clean out of the boardroom window. All postage-stamp-sized national flags were given a red card.

Perhaps it is the top-left-hand corner of the Australian flag, with its hint of a Union Jack, that causes the panic, or the Ivory Coast with its back-to-front Irish Tricolour. Or maybe Holland's orange strip might revive the Williamite cause.

What if Northern Ireland had made it to the finals in Germany? Would Bombardier have been the only Company in the entire Planet not to allow its workforce visible support for the home side?

Does fear of our own emblems mean we must run scared of everybody else's?

What about our Portuguese and Polish workers? Should they be permitted to fly their flags during the competition?

Will Christmas cards be withdrawn lest they offend non-believers?

Bombardier's solution has been to issue a sanitised wall-chart stripped of all logos and emblems.

I doubt if turning the world's most colourful international sporting occasion into monochrome will greatly assist the peace process. Sometimes it's better to ease the foot on the pedal.

At the risk of offending all Caucasians, Asians, Arabs and Eskimos, I would love an Afro team, from anywhere, to do well and send some major nation packing.

I think I should nail my own colours to the mast – in a manner of speaking.

I actually want England to win. They seem a nice bunch of lads and success might hopefully stop the entire English media talking about 1966.

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