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London 2012: No Falklands Talk in Match Between GB And Argentina But Politics Is Never Far Away

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Great Britain's men took on Argentina in the group stage of the hockey on Monday night in a game that had the potential to spill over into something a bit nastier than sport.

However, despite strong words routinely being exchanged between London and Buenos Aires in the build-up to the 2012 Games, the match lacked any of the bluster one might have expected of nations with such well-defined and well-publicised hostility.

team gb

Pushing between GB's Tindall and Argentina's Rey but tempers failed to flare

Sure - there were a few heavy hits, but nothing unusual for a sport that can often be quite brutal. And, more surprisingly, there was absolutely no talk of the sovereignty of a small set of islands perched in the south Atlantic - either before or after the game.

Perhaps any potential flashpoints were doused by the one-sided nature of the contest, with the home side cantering to a 4-1 victory at the River Bank Arena. It was certainly no Melbourne ’56 when the Soviet water polo team took on the Hungarians just weeks after Soviet tanks had rolled into Budapest. That game was so violent that the referee was forced to end the contest early. Monday’s affair ended with a Mexican wave.

After the game, Argentina's Rodrigo Vila explained: "We were just focusing on our sport and we are not thinking about the situation. It's for another moment, not for now."

GB's captain Barry Middleton struck a similarly tone. "There was some needle in the game," he said, "but that's because it's the Olympic Games."

Still, in the months leading up to the Games, several stories had emerged suggesting that Argentina's trip to the UK might not be without political fall-out, including a proposal by one Argentine politician put forward to the National Congress that stated that athletes should be sent to the UK wearing badges highlighting the country's claim to the Islands. Fortunately, the Bill didn't pass, but there was reportedly widespread political support for the move.

More sinister and perhaps even more bizarre, in May Fernando Zylberberg, a hopeful for the Argentine hockey team, starred in a promotional video paid for by the Argentine government, showing the athlete training on famous Falklands landmarks. "To compete on English soil, train on Argentine soil," ran the clever slogan, sparking considerable outrage in the UK, especially when it was revealed that the agency responsible for making the video was head-quartered in London. Thankfully for Zylberberg, he failed to make the cut for the team.

When questioned about the controversial video, Argentina's coach Pablo Lombi, said: "It is a long time ago now," adding: "Today is just a hockey game."

Relations between the two nations have rarely been so conciliatory. A February attack on a British bank in Buenos Aires had already set the tone for April's 30th anniversary of the 1982 conflict, an event used by both sides as a tool for reasserting their own claims over The Falklands/Los Malvinas.

argentina

President Kirchner at the anniversary of the Falklands war ceremony in Ushuaia

Likewise, David Cameron’s verbal skirmish with his Argentine counterpart, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, at the G20 summit in Los Cabos a few months later did little to ease the growing tension.

So what happened to the politics on Monday? These are, after all, the Olympic Games, a long-term and very snug bedfellow of international disputes, where divisions are routinely played out on the court, on the pitch, in the pool or in the stadium

Recall the 1952 the Games, held in Helsinki, which witnessed the return of the Soviet Union to the competition, as well as the reintroduction of Germany following the Second World War. Yet under instruction from Moscow, Eastern bloc athletes were housed away from their western counterparts, no doubt to limit the chance of defections.

In 1980, 60 countries refused to participate in the Moscow Olympics in protest at the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, a move that saw the Soviets likewise boycott the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.

Even the most recent Games in Beijing sparked outrage over human rights abuses by the host nation, though China did win a propaganda coup by topping the medal chart, pipping the US to top spot after two weeks of competition.

soviet

Hungarian player Ervin Zador nurses a gashed eye after being punched by Russia's Prokopov in 1956

That ranking could well happen again in London, handing China another propaganda victory as its developing economic might is mirrored by victories on the sporting field.

Then again, if Monday’s civilised affair is anything to go by, perhaps the only real political intrigue will come from a dancing horse called Rafalca.

The nag in question belongs to the wife of Mitt Romney, who is unlikely to name his vice-presidential running mate for the US election before the dressage medals are handed out.

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