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Thursday, 2 August 2012

Team GB or not Team GB: that is the question.

For some IP practitioners the Olympic Games presents a great opportunity to impress others with their knowledge of political geography [who exactly? - Merpel].  Nauru?  Oh yes, South Pacific; filed there last week.  Eritrea?  North-eastern Africa, observer of ARIPO (the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization) [those long summer nights must just fly by…].

Team-gb-logo.svg
However, there is a riveting debate about national identity in the IPKat's home jurisdiction: some believe that the term 'Team GB', used to represent athletes from the United Kingdom, is inappropriate and alienates significant sectors of the country, that is, to give it its full title, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.  Those campaigning for change, including the two previous sports ministers for Northern Ireland, want to see a rebrand to what they deem to be a more appropriate 'Team UK'.

The Team GB mark is controversial because it refers to Great Britain, that is, the physical land mass occupied by the countries of England, Scotland and Wales (the term Great, far from being an ironic satire of the island's prowess at sport, was adopted in the middle ages to distinguish it from Brittany, France).  Northern Ireland, the Crown dependencies and British Overseas Territories which are also represented by the British Olympic Association (BOA) therefore appear to be unrepresented by the term 'Team GB'. 

To further complicate matters, the United Kingdom included the Republic of Ireland when the BOA was set up in 1905.  The legacy of this, at least from a sporting perspective, is that certain Olympic sports, such as boxing, rowing and swimming are organised on an all-Ireland basis with participants for Northern Ireland usually expected to compete for the Republic of Ireland team.  Others sports, such as athletics, gymnastics and judo are operated by the British governing body in Northern Ireland so these sports men and women tend to compete for the British team.

The IPKat doubts very much that the BOA is surreptitiously pursuing an imperialism agenda - the adoption of the Team GB moniker in 1999 was intended to unify the athletes and "cement the Team GB brand in the minds of the British public" [don't forget making it easier to flog a bit of merchandise].  So the marketing seems simply to be a natural extension of the team's history [is that a good enough reason to resist Team UK?].

But it's not just the BOA which refers to the UK as GB.  The OHIM and the WIPO do too.  That is inconsistent with the European Commission, which uses UK and the country's top-level domain which is .uk (.gb did exist and has now been phased out).  All of which makes this Kat wonder just what is going on?  And is there any better reason than history for the prevailing use of GB over UK? 

After a bit of digging, the reason for the OHIM and the WIPO's use of GB appears to stem from their reliance on "ISO 3166-1 alpha 2 code" [catchy title].  Introduced in 1974, ISO 3166 is a standard published by the International Organization for Standardization also known as "Codes for the representation of names of countries and their subdivisions – Part 1: Country codes". 

According to the agency which maintains ISO 3166, the 'Alpha-2' codes are chosen "to reflect the significant, unique component of the country name in order to allow a visual association between country name and country code".  As a consequence, non-distinctive components of country names, such as "United" and "Kingdom" are not used.  Aha.

All of this means that GB is actually the two letter form of the prima facie distinctive component of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.  Importantly, it means GB incorporates Northern Ireland after all (from an objective international standards perspective anyway).  Nevertheless, on first impressions [and to just about everyone in the world] the two letter code GB still gives the impression that Northern Ireland et al have been unceremoniously truncated [can't we apply for it to be changed to UK on grounds of acquired distinctiveness?]. 

This Kat is unclear whether the BOA's director of marketing, Marzena Bogdanowicz, appreciated the technical aegis offered by ISO 3166 when she introduced the Team GB concept.  Or whether it has been used to rebuke calls for a rebrand to Team UK – it's not a very snappy explanation for those media interviews and press releases which discuss the branding.  But hopefully it will offer some solace to those who complain that the Team GB flag doesn't match the Team GB name.  Now, let's get on with winning some medals.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

According to the agency which maintains ISO 3166, the 'Alpha-2' codes are chosen "to reflect the significant, unique component of the country name in order to allow a visual association between country name and country code". As a consequence, non-distinctive components of country names, such as "United" and "Kingdom" are not used. Aha.

And yet, the United States of America receive the code "US", despite the existence (and close neighbourhood) of the United Mexican States...

Anonymous said...

Also, if "United" and "Kingdom" are non-distinctive components, can't the same be said of "Great" (most countries see themselves as great) and "Britain" (which in many languages is the same as Brittany), or even both "Northern" and "Ireland" (there's another country having the latter word in its name)?

Anonymous said...

Can we not simply call them the British competitors, and leave it at that? British archers, British divers, and then the British Olympic Team if we really need to refer to them collectively? We don't have Team FR, Team DE or Team CZ, after all. The "Team GB" moniker for some reason really grates on my nerves. But then I dislike the verbs "to medal" and "to podium", to, which seem prevalent in media coverage.

Daniel Smart said...

Having lived in Germany, German people would often use "Großbritannien" to refer to the whole country so I don't think it is necessarily true that "the two letter code GB gives the impression that Northern Ireland et al have been unceremoniously truncated". There must be some historical reason this is still used which is not just based on ignorance - and I don't think the Germans are alone - but most would be aware that (the Republic of) Ireland is an independent country.

Technically, "Team UK" would still be inappropriate for the likes of Mark Cavendish, from the Isle of Man being neither a part of Great Britain or the United Kingdom.

Francis Davey said...

One wonders how "US" for "United States" passes must since neither "United" nor "States" seems particularly distinctive. Some inconsistency there perhaps?

Anonymous said...

And it won't surprise readers that 'TEAM GB' (word only) is registered with the UKIPO for,inter alia, jewellery. No doubt this would include "medals", (in quantity, and hopefully of the gold type).
http://www.ipo.gov.uk/domestic?domesticnum=2423654

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