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Dangerous Fever Spreads Across Europe

It takes hold for a minimum of three days, its victims easy to spot. Men and women of all ages, EU flags painted on their cheeks, standing in cold, rain-soaked fields shouting 'Europe!' Thousands of them. Emotional Brits pouring out love for their German, Swedish and Italian heroes. Many of them Tory voting, UKIP sympathisers, now feverishly proud to be European. Ready to stick one up the USA.  Like an insane eurocrat's bedtime fantasy. This is the Ryder Cup.

The Ryder Cup, if you don't already know, is a bi-annual golf match between Europe and the USA. It used to be contested by Great Britain and the USA but the Americans kept on winning. So they changed the British team to 'Great Britain and Ireland' - still no luck - then to 'Great Britain and Europe', which gradually morphed into just ‘Europe'. Bingo! Team Europe started beating the yanks and a strange brand of pan-european sporting nationalism was born.

This year's three-day match tees off on Friday at Celtic Manor, near Newport, South Wales. It'll be beamed live to over 170 countries, with a global TV audience of nearly a billion. That makes the Ryder Cup a huge TV sports event, third only to the Olympics and football World Cup. Of course, this year's audience will include many tuning in to see Tiger Woods continue his impression of a Tibetan monk but the TV numbers are still impressive. They represent a huge unintended coup for supporters of Europe and the great European 'project'. Indeed, they wheeled out the President of the European Commision (his name eludes me) for the opening cermony and golfers stood to attention while the European anthem was played. All it needed were hands across hearts and the transformation from EU to 'US of E' would have been complete.  

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In truth, most of the 46,000 (per day) UK golf fans on view have little interest in continental Europe except as a place where Seve Ballesteros and Justin Langer were born. But that doesn't really matter. It's all about the flag-waving illusion. The European feel-good factor. If we do become willing citizens (or victims, depending on your point of view) of a future European super-state, the Ryder Cup might be one of those events that future historians claim as early proof of an emerging European identity. A testament to the power of TV and the painted cheek flag.

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For the record, Europe are odds-on to win - which probably means they won't. You can catch the Ryder Cup live in bars up and down the coast. We recommend Cannes, where the presence of American MIPCOM delegates making use of their generous 'expense' accounts will make for a lively atmosphere.



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