Opinion: The Ryder Cup is symbolic – Europe is stronger together – and it’s more entertaining

The 2012 Ryder Cup involved a classic sporting comeback and a heart-stopping close finish. Team Europe came from kilometres behind to beat the USA 14.5 to 13.5.

The Ryder Cup is one of those sporting events, like football’s World Cup or the Olympic athletics, that interests people who normally take little notice of sport.

I think the interest in such big events is because:

  1. They are often show a sport being played at its best.  We all admire excellence when we see it.  To quote Eddie Jordan, “I can watch anything being done well.”
  2. They are usually close contests between comparably strong teams and the outcome is uncertain.  The suspense is exciting.
  3. There is the fun of rooting for “our” side.  At a rational level, we know our lives remain the same whether or not Europe wins the Ryder Cup or England wins the World Cup, but there is an excitement is wishing a side we identify to win in a friendly contest.

The Ryder Cup is a special sporting event. The players receive no prize-money.  They play purely for the honour of representing Europe or America. The event is usually an economic boost to wherever it is held. Unlike the Olympics, there are generally no loss-making Ryder Cups.

It was not always Europe vs USA. It began in the 1920s as Great Britain v USA.  In 1947 the British team became Britain & Ireland. But in the post-war period the USA became consistently stronger and comfortably won almost every tournament. It ceased to be a close or interesting match or a sport being played at is best.

So, in 1973 (around the time Britain joined what is now the European Union) the British team became the European team. Ever since, the tournaments have been closer and more exciting. The European side has included players from 8 out of 27 member states. I cannot find how many of the 50 American states have been represented in Team USA.

Golf is not, and should not be, a matter of high political importance. But having a sporting chance as Team Europe, being fun to watch, instead of losing repeatedly on our own, is symbolic that in the modern world we are stronger together as Europeans than we are otherwise.

There are other sports where Team Europe would be the basis for massively spectacular events. Imagine a football match Europe v South America, or in rugby Europe v Southern Hemisphere. Both would truly being matches between the greatest in the world.


* Antony Hook was a Liberal Democrat MEP for South East England (2019) and has practised as a barrister since 2003. He is currently Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group on Kent County Council.

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  • Jedibeeftrix.

    Actually I’ve heard Ryder cup crowds chanting “Europe, Europe” (at the Belfry in 2002 for one).

  • Europe is an excellent example of how independent nations can still be “better together” without having to form a unified kingdom or state. It combines the advantages of independence with those of collaboration and co-operation. It is an example that these islands can follow after 2014 by voting yes!

  • Martin Pierce 3rd Oct '12 - 9:12am

    It always strikes me as unfortunate that the only time you see the EU flag being waved enthusiastically by ordinary people, it has nothing to do with the EU.

  • “having a sporting chance as Team Europe…instead of losing repeatedly on our own… There are other sports where Team Europe would be the basis for massively spectacular events. Imagine a football match Europe v South America, or in rugby Europe v Southern Hemisphere. Both would truly being matches between the greatest in the world.”

    But there you both make and then miss your point. Any major Northern European hemisphere national rugby team can already beat a major Southern Hemisphere national team, on its day (though the All Blacks are tough nuts – and they are anational team from a small nation!)). Ditto Europe and South American football.

    The Ryder Cup arrangement was contrived uniquely to make a balanced contest, at which it has succeeded. And I’d argue, too, that golf is not really a ‘team’ sport in the way that rugby and football are; the golf team is an assemblage of high-performing individuals who engage in individual contests in a team context. I think it’s lot easier to get Europeans behind that than it would be to get pan-European support for a pure “ream”sport such as an 11-person football team . Is the real reason that UK support for the European Ryder Cup team not, perhaps, related to the fact that 60%+ of the team since it went European have been from UK & Ireland? How fervent is the interest and support in France? Austria? Poland? Greece? Just askin’? And how fervent would be the support for ‘Europe F.C’ from a UK population represented by (help me here, football fans) 1 or 2 players at most?

    I think the Ryder Cup may be the exception that proves the rule.

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