David Owen

Names – and, by extension, traditions – are a very big deal for many sports fans.

A quick glance at the range of replies dispatched to the Washington Redskins Twitter account after the American football team announced this week that it would be "retiring the Redskins name and logo" provides graphic confirmation of this.

"I've been a fan for over 40 years and this is the last straw," reads one Tweet.

"I was just getting over the kneeling fiasco and then ownership drops this shocking act of cowardice on the fan base.

"Attendance was already collapsing and this will only accelerate it."

"So the NFL is spineless," reads another.

"No backbone. I am officially done with it."

A third starts off compassionately, before veering off into murkier waters.

"What a shame to change!" it begins.

"My heart goes out to all the players that gave it there [sic] all, became hall of fame players, have there [sic] number retired as part of the Redskins it's sad to erase all that!

"What's next change the name of the @MiamiDolphins because it offends the fishs [sic]."

And quite a number sought to assert that the name should not be construed as offensive, on various grounds.

"Lifelong fan, no longer…Redskins was the term 18th century Indian chiefs used to refer to their best warriors when talking to the European settler 'whiteskins'".

Or: "I'm full blooded Native American. This is ridiculousness! Find your backbone."

Or: "Am I the only one who thought the name was due to the beauty of the Indian people and their strength and courage? Never once did I think the name was done to shame, like a team would choose a name to reflect weakness or anything deragatory [sic] & unmotivating".

Finally, there were a few seemingly baffled onlookers: "The amount of grown men crying over this is comical".

My view? While normally a firm advocate of sports traditions, it is plain that retiring the name is the correct thing to do.

It just cannot be right in an age when a small but significant part of the population, including many impressionable youngsters, takes sport so seriously that it is almost a form of worship, for a group of men, who by and large are not native North Americans, to assume this racially-charged "identity" when engaged in an aggressive sport that stylizes combat and has no grounding whatsoever in indigenous culture.

The Washington Redskins have opted to change their name ©Getty Images
The Washington Redskins have opted to change their name ©Getty Images

One person of native North American heritage whom I have known particularly well for more than 30 years told me she finds the name "very offensive" and drew a comparison with "blacking up".

Turning the tables, it is as if native North American colonists had crossed the Atlantic, gradually taken over Europe while wiping out much of the indigenous population and eventually started a lacrosse franchise called the Paris Palefaces.

It is also true that, while traditions are important in sport, few are genuinely carved in stone tablets.

It might seem unthinkable, for example, that Manchester United football club could ever be called anything else.

Except that they were formed in 1878 as Newton Heath, and did not adopt their present name until 1902, nearly a quarter of a century later.

Their initial club colours, incidentally, were not red, but green and gold.

And, now that I come to look it up, I find that the Washington Redskins have had three different names in their 88-year existence, though all have had native North American connotations.

They started life in 1932 as the Boston Braves, changing to the Boston Redskins the following year, and then to the Washington Redskins when the team moved to the United States capital in 1937.

However painful for some, then, I have no doubt that changing the team's name for a fourth time is the right thing to do.

True fans can be thankful that this nettle has finally been grasped and view the decision as an additional reason to take pride in the organisation.

The coronavirus crisis has seen passenger numbers thin out on Tokyo's public transport ©Getty Images
The coronavirus crisis has seen passenger numbers thin out on Tokyo's public transport ©Getty Images

• COVID-19 has caused the International Olympic Committee and local organisers of Tokyo 2020 all manner of problems, as we will no doubt hear once again this week with both an Executive Board meeting and a "Session by videoconference" scheduled.

But there is one issue at least which may have been eased considerably by the societal changes implemented in response to the pandemic, whether or not the Games can ultimately be staged in full venues.

This issue is transport/congestion.

From what I hear, inhabitants of the Japanese metropolis have adapted very well to the home-working regimes that COVID has imposed on so many of us, not least because it has meant they no longer have to endure the hellish, protracted, twice-a-day commutes they used to take for granted as part and parcel of their working lives.

So much so that, even if the pandemic were definitively conquered, it is speculated, a proportion of them would be extremely reluctant to revert to old ways; some of them, indeed, might never do so.

Ultra-modern public transport was a theme of the last Tokyo Olympics in 1964, with the first shinkansen, or bullet train, starting to run between Tokyo and Osaka just over a week before the Opening Ceremony.

It would be ironic if the smooth running of the second Tokyo Summer Games was facilitated by the beginning of the end of the era of long-distance mass daily commuting.