Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dachau an inappropriate choice for sports team bonding

It started with Steve Waugh’s 2001 Aussies who visited Gallipoli on their way to defend The Ashes in England. In his autobiography Waugh made it clear why they went – he described the visit as a “true bonding experience”. I thought at the time that there was something very tacky indeed about using a memorial to the fallen as a prop for the team bonding of a sports team. But Gallipoli sits understandably deep in the Australian psyche and although it seemed wrong to me to that a visit had been factored it into the team’s pre Ashes build up I kept quiet. Then in 2009 the England squad under Andrew Strauss made what seemed to me to be a gratuitous visit to Flanders to attend a specially arranged “...ceremony to commemorate the English cricketers who had died there” – as Strauss put it. As with the Australians eight years earlier team-bonding was the objective. And now, in the build up to another Ashes tour, the England squad has again been to a memorial – this time that at the site of the Dachau Concentration Camp near Munich.

I would argue that learning about The Holocaust is essential to the development of a rounded personality for us all and believe that the subject is rightly taught in schools and that it is important that it features in the Arts in films like “Schindler’s List”. The decision to visit sites like Auschwitz or Dachau is, however, a very personal one and many of us would prefer not to do it. If we do decide that it is appropriate for us to go to such a place my guess is that we would prefer to do so quietly, respectfully and with our very closest family – partners and children. For some such a visit might take place as part of a relevant common interest group - the children of Holocaust survivors for example. But surely nobody could conceive that it would be appropriate to expropriate a concentration camp memorial as a bonding tool for a sports team?

It defies belief that the England and Wales Cricket Board should think that it was right for the England cricketers to visit Dachau as a group. Unlike Gallipoli or Flanders, for which some slightly specious Australian or English cricket connection could be found, Dachau has a personal resonance for only a small number of British citizens. That it has meaning for all of us as a symbol of man’s inhumanity to man is undoubtedly true but that is something that we should explore as individuals – using a visit for a team building experience is crass and offensive.

Andrew Strauss said after his visit to Dachau “Following our trip to Flanders last year, this was an opportunity for the players to spend time away from the cricketing environment, learn more about the wider world and develop ourselves both individually and collectively.” Few would question that it is good preparation for a major sporting contest to strengthen the bonds between members of a team and that non cricketing activities can help do this. However the use of a Holocaust memorial site is grossly inappropriate and thoughtless and the ECB should have had the sensitivity to exclude it from the England team’s Bavarian adventures.

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