independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

England's pirates of the Caribbean

Remember the furore across the water when Jack Charlton started to make full use of FIFA's parentage rule? Hardly a week went by without some English pundit complaining that some of the Irish team hadn't been born here.

In vain did we point out that: (a) This is a small country so we had to make the most of our scarce resources; and (b) That emigration was a big part of Irish life so that there were guys born abroad who thought of themselves as having a profound connection with this country.

They weren't having a bit of it. Jokes about FAI standing for Find Another Irishman abounded. Our neighbours weren't taking any excuses from us. Including foreign-born players in your national team, well it just wasn't cricket.

And speaking of cricket, what's this we see in the England World Cup squad? Not one, not two, not three but four South Africans; Kevin Pietersen, Jonathan Trott, Andrew Strauss and Matt Prior. And when Pietersen was forced to drop out, who replaced him? Dublin's Eoin Morgan.

Maybe our excuses during the Charlton era weren't wholly convincing but there seems to be no ethical justification at all for a country with England's population to be poaching players from other countries. They do it all the same. Who's that playing centre on their rugby team? Shontayne Hape from New Zealand, following in the steps of his fellow countryman Riki Flutey and Tonga's Lesley Vainikolo.

The approach of the London Olympics has seen the net cast wide in athletics. Last year Michael Bingham, from North Carolina, won a European silver medal in the 400m. A couple of weeks back, Tiffany Ofili, from Michigan, took silver in the European indoor 100m hurdles. Ofili had previously represented her native country at junior level. In 2004, Germaine Mason won a world indoor bronze medal for his native Jamaica in the high jump. Two years later, Mason, whose father was born in Britain, was persuaded to switch to Team GB and went on to win a silver medal in the Beijing Olympics.

Now Britain have nabbed long jumper Shara Proctor, who finished sixth in the last World Championships and will be a medal contender in the Olympics. And there's something pretty awful about this latest act of poaching. Proctor comes from the Caribbean island of Anguilla which is 35 square miles in area and has a population of 13,500. It's unlikely that Anguilla will ever again have an athlete with a chance to make the Olympic podium. Had she won a medal in the colours of her home country, Proctor would have been one of the fairytale successes of the games. But now she's just another British import.

Incidentally, the long jumper qualifies for Britain because Anguilla is a British Overseas Territory, one of the remaining fragments of the empire on which the sun never set. The Proctor affair shows our former overlords are not averse to a bit of sporting colonialism.

One of the many hilarious lines which used to appear in the English papers about the Charlton team was that if you drank a pint of Guinness you could qualify for Ireland. Well, these days you'd love to be the guy who has the contract for supplying British sporting organisations with fish and chips. He must be making a fortune.

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