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Sport is Great Britain… and Belgium too

12:25 14/05/2013
The head of the political and communications team at the British Embassy to Belgium talks football diplomacy

It’s Saturday afternoon. There is tension but also hope among the spectators. “Can we win? We can’t lose!” And then the players run on to the pitch to the crowd’s roars and cheers. Another match is about to kick off. 

For fans of the beautiful game, the atmosphere of a match day in Britain is a unique experience.  Nearly a million visitors to the UK watched a football game in 2011, and the Premier League remains one of the world’s most closely followed tournaments. There’s even a free National Football Museum in Manchester, which opened last year and is a must for fans, with interactive features ranging from having a go at a penalty shootout to smelling the players’ socks.

This year marks 150 years since the laws of the game were drawn up, reportedly in a London pub. And also this year, a taste of European genius has been added to the competition as the Premier League has been conquered by Belgians. 

We’ve enjoyed following their performances over the season: Eden Hazard at Chelsea, captains Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal) and Vincent Kompany (Manchester City), Romelu Lukaku at West Bromwich Albion, Simon Mignolet at Sunderland… Belgians are making their mark. 

Newcomer and instant attacking sensation Christian Benteke at Aston Villa was recently the first Belgian to score a hat-trick in the Premier League, and he’s played his part in an impressive 66 goals by Belgians this season, with one more round of matches still to be played. These exceptional footballers are true ambassadors for their country in the UK, just as we at the British Embassy are ambassadors for the UK in Belgium. 

As an embassy we are keen to highlight and show our support for sport in all its forms. Last Wednesday I was lucky enough to see the opening ceremony of the national championships for the 32nd Special Olympics in Ghent, with more than 3,000 athletes taking part. 

As we saw at the London 2012 Paralympics, the UK has a proud tradition of Paralympic sport all the way back to the games’ origins in 1948. We need to harness that tradition to bring about a change in the way people think, feel and behave towards disability and disability sport, to create a more open and inclusive society. The games are part of this process.

Belgo-British sporting links and exchanges are also taking place in other fields. Since 2011, under-12 teams from Premier League clubs and from Belgium, France and Germany have competed in an exciting tournament in Ypres, where they learn about the significance of World War One and honour the sacrifice made by previous generations of footballers. 

So while you enjoy watching football broadcasts of Belgian players at work in the UK, if you visit Britain, how about going on a tour of the nation’s major sporting venues to hear the roar of the crowd through the players’ tunnel at Old Trafford, the Emirates and Anfield? You too can walk in the footsteps of Belgium’s great footballing talents in Great Britain, the country that invented football. 

Find out more about how sport is Great Britain

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Written by Christopher Hilton