Brexit, a sporting analogy

The Glasgow Commonwealth Games 2014, Flickr, Graham Campbell

The ability to recognise the right moment for quitting is a rare gift for professional athletes, especially those who were tremendously successful. Some legends departed from their sports at their peak: Bjorn Borg left tennis at the age of 25 with 11 Grand Slam titles, boxer Rocky Marciano retired at 32 as undefeated heavyweight boxing champion. But many could not resist lingering: Michael Jordan went back to NBA with Washington Wizards and simply was not the GOAT anymore; Roger Federer is still running around the tennis courts despite constantly being second best under Novak Djokovic, chasing his elusive 18th Grand Slam title. Perhaps it is not difficult to sympathise with these giants’ feeling. They all redefined their own sport with their names engraved in the Hall of Fame, they were so dominant, powerful and untouchable in their heyday that a reality check does not apply to them; it was precisely because they defied reality and found immortality. Quitting was never an option.

Being at the pinnacle of what you do has that incredible power to detach you from the ground. When the British Empire was at its pinnacle, it was Federer at his best on a tennis court, who compiled a 315-24 record over 4 years span and played 18 out of 19 Grand Slam finals; it was Michael Jordan who won two separate three-peats in 7 years time, with a year in between when Jordan was enjoying retirement and playing golf. The British Empire that ruled over 458 million people and nearly 25% of earth’s land is now history, but its idea lives on in the modern times like a wraith, and some just can’t let it go.

In the face of uncertainty, the Leave campaign brags that the U.K. will continue to enjoy every benefit

Some politicians, businessmen and citizens continue to feel that the U.K. is being held hostage by the European Union, and should say ‘adios’ to the EU once and for all. Arguments normally start with clarifying that the U.K. is a economically strong and will continue to do well outside of the EU. But of course, they would truly reveal the impact of the EU on Britain’s economy, that 44.6% of UK exports and 53.2% of UK imports are linked to the EU. In the face of uncertainty, the Leave campaign brags that the U.K. will continue to enjoy every benefit brought by the EU laws and regulations without being part of it, which is the basic requirement of being entitled to those benefits, such as tariff-free on imports and exports, as well as the newly reduced roaming charges for mobile phone users. In short, they believe the U.K. is special enough, likely based on historical reasons, to receive special treatment.

But politics is not sport. What’s at stake is not a Grand Slam titles nor the NBA Championship Rings, but people’s wellbeing, for generations to come. Legendary athletes can afford to skip the reality check, but a nation does not enjoy such luxury. Europe and the rest of the world is getting closer, more tightly connected ever since WWII, and it will continue to do so under globalisation. The mutual need between the U.K. and the EU might not be a pleasing reality to the Little Englanders, but failure to see it could bring catastrophic consequences. Domination and isolation are in the history books; cooperation and collaboration are the reality. Don’t turn your back from it.