With the recent debate concerning ‘foreign’ sports people representing a different country to that of their birth, Platform’s Dominic Simms has his say.
On Saturday 4th October, the premier league found possibly its next rising star in Adnan Januzaj for Manchester United, as he single-handedly earned them three valuable points against Sunderland. Less than 24 hours after that game, there was huge speculation about offers from top European sides for him but most poignantly, there were questions asked about his eligibility to play for England.
As it happens, there are several countries he could decide to play for, most likely Belgium, but for many people getting an England call up wouldn’t be right in their eyes as the England football team is predominantly made up of home-grown talent who were born in England. Of course, there are exceptions, notably Wilfred Zaha and Raheem Sterling who were born in the Ivory Coast and Jamaica respectively, but they are few and far between.
When the Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshire was asked whether he thought Januzaj, amongst other foreign-born players, should be allowed to play for England he replied: “No, for me if you are English you are English and you play for England…If you lived in England for five years for me it doesn’t make you English.” He makes a fair point saying that you are English if you were born in England or have English parents but living in England for five years doesn’t automatically make you English. Wayne Rooney added: “I think England has a lot of different nationalities playing for other sport teams where the football team has been quite traditional and stayed with English players.”
He is right and it is clear to see in sports like athletics and cricket where the team has a significant amount of foreign players. This is why Kevin Pieterson got involved as he is a South-African born English cricketer who, like other England cricketers, chose to change allegiances. He replied to Jack Wilshire on Twitter saying, “…interested to know how you define foreigner…? Would that include me, Strauss, Trott, Prior, Justin Rose, Froome, Mo Farah?…It’s about representing your country!” As you can tell, there are a lot of people that this relates to, all of whom have been successful and we consider being English now.
In athletics, they seem to be more lenient with foreign-born athletes and it doesn’t seem to bother the authorities too much. Tiffany Porter, the 100m hurdler, represented the USA at junior level but when she failed to achieve USA selection for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, she switched allegiance to Britain in 2010 to become our No. 1 female hurdler at the present time. Another athlete, Yamilé Aldama, is currently our No. 1 female triple jumper but only gained citizenship in 2010. Born in Cuba in 1972, she represented her country of birth until 2003. In 2004, after failing to gain British citizenship, she represented Sudan from 2004 to 2010. After finally managing to receive British status, she has represented Great Britain since 2010 in a career spanning about 25 years with three different nations. Some people would say this is wrong and you should just represent the country of your birth and be grateful for that, whereas others would welcome foreign-born sportspeople if it meant that their national team was stronger and better. Of course, you could make the point that Mo Farah was born in Somalia, but after his amazing success in international athletics representing Great Britain we class him as one of our own and a national hero.
On the other hand, I wouldn’t say I’m proud to be British for something an American in a British vest has done. I wouldn’t turn these people away necessarily but I would prioritise the young English-born players and athletes as they are the ones who are the losers in this situation and they don’t get the chance to progress. It is a hard decision to make as many foreign sportspeople have good reasons why they chose to change allegiances. Kevin Pieterson, for example, moved to England after voicing his displeasure at the racial quota system in place in South Africa.
Back to the situation with Adnan Januzaj, it would be almost an act of desperation for me in the hope that we make our team better just because of one young player. But, at the end of the day, we want our football team to be the best it can be in the hope that we can beat that German football team who are full foreign players, but I won’t go there now.