Expats and Olympic Games – Who Are You Rooting For?

The Olympic Games are in full swing.  Rio de Janeiro - Expats and Olympic Games

More than 11,000 athletes coming from 206 countries are competing during 17 days across 306 events featuring 28 sports. Whether it is for soccer, cycling, swimming, rowing, gymnastics, golf or athletics, more than 500 000 people travelled to attend in person while 3.6 billion people are expected to watch online or on TV.

Fans all around the world are passionately supporting their country, waving flags, painting themselves with national colours or simply stopping work to follow their favourite sports. At home or at the office, many huddle in front of their screens. Others are gathering in cafes or public places to experience ‘live’ the most important events.

In this frenzy of cross-cultural sports fever, beyond the exploits, there’s a question of national pride. It’s an opportunity for intense communion, the chance for a country to feel united.

In these moments, we forget the internal political disagreements, the economic crisis, the collapse of the ecosystems, our irascible neighbour and the gossip lady next door.

We’re all behind our athletes representing our country and by extension representing ourselves.
All united behind our country?

Well, in some families like the expat family, it’s a bit more complicated.

Who are you rooting for?
The country you were born in? The country you’re currently living in?
The country you have lived the longest in?
Your passport country? Your parents‘ passport country?

Let’s have a closer look at one family to see what it looks like.

Philippe, the dad, is French. Born and bred in France. The best — in all modesty.
He doesn’t have the slightest doubt in his mind. He’s supporting France. Of course.
He gets goosebumps when he listens to the ‘Marseillaise’.

What about the medals tally? He’s furious to be standing so far behind Great Britain and monitors closely his position with Germany.

Mary, the mum, is Canadian but her parents came from Belgium. They emigrated to Canada 2 years before Mary was born. She went to school to Vancouver and studied in Toronto.
Mary’s first choice is Canada but she also has a soft spot for Belgium. Two countries to cheer for!

What about the medals tally? Canada and Belgium are far behind, prompting some stinging comments from Philippe to Mary’s utter outrage.

Sarah, their daughter, was born in Germany and left when she was 15 years old. The family now lives in Australia. She favours Canada, a tad less France but she definitely supports Australia. She doesn’t want to stand out from her peers at school.
Secretly she also roots for Germany. She has kept contact with some friends over there. It was so hard to leave. But she can’t express herself out loud. Her father would have a fit.

Sarah has a double passport — French and Canadian — but she never lived in those countries.
She doesn’t know what it means to grow up in a place where you’re also a citizen.
While she has a good circle of friends, she always feels a bit weird, special, apart.
Belonging everywhere but belonging nowhere.

What about the medals tally? France and Australia won exactly the same number of gold medals. But most important, she smugly calculates, Germany is ahead of France if you look at the total number of gold medals rather than the total number of medals!

Emilie, the little one, loves gymnastics. None of her family’s countries has a real chance of winning. Besides, she hates conflict and there’s enough arguing already with mum and dad.

So she picked her team: the US women! At least, she’s sure to win something.

After two weeks of tension, Mary is tired. Her family doesn’t need more stress around identity. That’s not what the Olympic Games should be about. But this whole event triggered interesting questions.

So she has an idea. Last evening at the dinner table, she suggested

‘Let’s do something special for the closing ceremony.

We’ll invite a couple of friends and ask them to show up in the colours of an Olympic team and to bring a plate of food from that country.

Girls, can you think of funny games to play?

I’ll prepare a quiz. No doubt that there’ll be questions about athletes that are expatriates themselves representing another country.

We’ll award our winners and distribute our own medals. How does it sound?’

The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.
Pierre de Coubertin – Founder of the International Olympic Committee

So now, over to you: what will your closing ceremony look like?


Big thanks to Carmen and Pamela for their inputs.

Credit music Free Music Archive credit pictures Depositphotos



  1. Hi Anne,
    interesting thought. Having grown up myself in a country where you do not necessarily celebrate nationalism (Germany: Too much historic bagage), at least when I grew up, I mostly go for the underdog or the unexpected competitor suddenly stealing the limelight. It is so much more fun to watch those athletes do well than. So I don’t feel I have to chose one particular country at all.

    My child has dual citizenship and mostly choses her birthcountry but is just as happy to cheer for the other one. She just gets in a bit of a muddle when the two nations face off, but it is not a big deal for her. She has also made a list of countries she would cheer for with her best friend who only holds one nationality. So for that generation it seems easy to support several nations. Maybe that is the much better approach. If more people could see themselves as citizens of the world, maybe the world would be more peaceful place.

    In the end Olympic games are “only” about sport. It shouldn’t be turned into a war.
    It feels like it is a bit in my current host country. And funnily enough I found out that what I grew up with to be the Olympic motto is not an official one and basically unheard of in English speaking countries, which is a very interesting thought.
    The official Olympic motto is: Faster, higher, stronger. It was proposed by Pierre de Coubertin upon the creation of the International Olympic Committee in 1894.
    The one I grew up with is was also suggested by him, but apparently is a lot less well know. Unfortunatley, from my point of view. It is: “The most important thing is not to win but to take part!” Coubertin got this motto from a sermon by the Bishop of Pennsylvania during the 1908 London Games.

    • Thanks so much, Monika, for this historical account and for sharing your experience. It sheds a very interesting light on this topic!

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