If it's not our best against your best then what's the point
00:00 GMT, 12 March 2012
01:13 GMT, 12 March 2012
Hypocrites, xenophobes, plastic
patriots, we’ve been called a few names this week for daring to question Great Britain’s competitors of convenience. UK Athletics says
we’re banned. Although they didn’t say it directly to us, at first. They
told the cheerleaders. Almost dropped their pom-poms, some of them.
We’re ranting and raving, according to
one newspaper. We have a right-wing agenda. And all for saying it would
be better if international sport had meaning, and the Great Britain
team reflected the true standards of British athletes and coaches, shorn
of false achievement.
How Martin Samuel coined the phrase on June 11, 2011…
It really isn’t such an extreme idea,
when you think about it. It really isn’t about patriotism, purity or
fear of a foreign invasion as these artificial intellects would have
you believe, either.
The Plastic Brit debate, started on
these pages and pounced on by every other newspaper and, Saturday night,
BBC news, will not go away because it cuts directly to the spirit and
meaning of competitive sport at national level and addresses its
decreasing worth in an age of naked opportunism.
Sand storm: Anguilla-born Shara Proctor wins a World Indoor bronze medal for GB in the long jump
If even international sporting bodies
refuse to embrace the principle that nationality matters, that events
should compose the best of yours against the best of theirs, then what
is the purpose
Many of these enterprises are
government-funded. They are financially supported because international
competition is perceived to have significance, to make a statement
about the sporting strength of a people. Yet if Yamile Aldama can win
medals for three nations — country of birth (Cuba), country of
convenience (Sudan), and country of residency (Great Britain)— then why
bother waving flags Admire the athlete, but don’t claim the reflected
glory. The country is a vessel, no more.
Authenticity differs case to case but
as my colleague Neil Wilson, an athletics correspondent of long
standing, pointed out, distinction should generally be made between
changing nationality for personal reasons and changing purely to gain
Aldama’s settled life in Britain makes
her current state more palatable, for instance, than her six years as a
wholly convenient representative of Sudan.
More from Martin Samuel…
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Those wise monkeys can teach us a lot
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Martin Samuel: Time for FA wise men to speak up in their pursuit of Redknapp
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Martin Samuel: Thanks, Stuart… now can we get down to business and appoint England's next boss
VIEW FULL ARCHIVE
Tiffany Porter, who became British
only after finding her professional ambitions thwarted in America, can
be accused of narrow-eyed resourcefulness in a way that Mo Farah, who
progressed through the British system having arrived in this country
from Somalia at the age of eight, cannot.
Those who believe the Plastic Brit
debate treats them as one and the same are either deliberately
misunderstanding the argument or just not very bright. Don’t rule it
out. Dummies abound.
Far from fearing foreigners, this
column is alone in consistently denouncing the practice of accepting
host-nation berths for inferior British teams at the London Olympics.
Last week, a large number of words
were devoted to Great Britain’s rhythmic gymnasts accepting a place that
should have gone, more deservingly, to Switzerland. No similar
attitudes were noted from Team GB’s fawning band of media loyalists;
maybe they are the ones that don’t like outsiders, or perhaps they enjoy
being fed with a spoon.
Now take the case of Shara Proctor, who is British because her native country, Anguilla, a dependent territory, does not possess an Olympic committee and is not recognised at the Games.
Nobody is saying Proctor should be made unwelcome. Use the facilities of Team GB, train with Team GB, live with Team GB if you like. And, while you are here, Britain will use its influence as hosts, and the status of several of its senior figures within the Olympic movement to lobby for your inclusion as an athlete from Anguilla.
If that fails, then we’ll see.
Is that not preferable to just greedily gobbling up an athlete who says her heart will be with her Caribbean island, even if she is performing a lap of honour wrapped in a Union Flag
Trailing: Michigan-born Tiffany Porter (left) won silver for Great Britain in the 60m hurdles
Much of this extreme pragmatism is the work of administrators.
Since government funding for individual sports was linked to success, the need for medals and elite performances has greatly increased.
If Charles van Commenee, Great Britain’s head athletics coach, has the opportunity to adopt several world-class athletes, he will, because their performances make him look better. He is in a symbiotic relationship with sprint hurdler Porter, who was not getting the support to match her ambition in her native America.
She gets the status of an elite British athlete, with all the encouragement and investment that entails, meaning her times improve; Van Commenee gets a nice series of podium finishes to make it appear as if his coaching operation merits continued or additional funding.
His figures are built on a basic falsehood, because the groundwork on Porter was done in the United States, but the system demands it.
That is what British Wrestling was attempting with all those dubious Ukrainian acquisitions: increase their funding through success, increase their slice of the pie.
Yet, take the Plastic Brit phenomenon to its logical conclusion and the wealthiest British sports will become little more than colonialist enterprises.
Results business: Charles van Commenee leaves Istanbul with a World Indoor medals record for Great Britain
When the outstanding Whitgift School in south London has 5million to spend on scholarships and bursaries, what is there to stop scouts of various competing independent educational establishments scouring the Pacific Islands for the best teenage rugby talent, and tempting the boys to Britain with the promise of free private education A whole front row of Manu Tuilagi brick-outhouse types, imported almost to order.
This is not just about rejecting America’s second tier, like Porter; there is also a duty to protect the rights of smaller countries. There is no room for a national equivalent of Manchester City.
Lists of similar instances in other sports or protests that Britain is not alone in taking advantage are more gormless equivocation.
Obviously, as the planet shrinks there will be increasing numbers of children born in one country and growing up or moving to another. More people will have dual citizenship, through parentage or migration. The business of nationality will become more complex generation to generation. Yet that is why it is important to differentiate between cases of human circumstance and commercial or professional opportunism; we risk sacrificing the whole concept of international contest, without proper controls.
Dai Greene, world champion 400 metres hurdler, put this most succinctly. ‘I can understand and sympathise with athletes who are trying to make teams, and all of a sudden they have new people ahead of them,’ he said.
On the money: Dai Greene
Perhaps hinting at the added motivation of association with the home team at an Olympics in London — after all, why didn’t Aldama try to declare for Britain prior to the Beijing Games — he added: ‘It is going to be interesting to see how many switch allegiances in the next few years. I’d like to think we won’t be saturated. It would be nice to turn up to championships with British athletes with British accents.’
If this makes him a xenophobe, a hypocrite or a plastic patriot, so be it.
Actually, I think it makes a few other people sound like dopes or dupes. And not for the first time, either.
Milan in a muddle at 4-0 up
Robin van Persie bristled at the idea that Arsenal’s 3-0 win over AC Milan had been glorious failure. ‘Glorious, yes, failure, no,’ he said. Steady on.
It made for a thrilling occasion, but there was a reason for Arsenal’s magnificent fightback last Tuesday, and why it then ground so frustratingly to a halt. Italian teams do not have a clue what to do with a 4-0 lead. The odd goal, they can handle, but four Nobody in Serie A leads by that margin early on; it frazzles their circuits.
At sixes and sevens: AC Milan begin to feel the fear after Laurent Koscielny's early opener
Remember when Inter Milan raced to 4-0 up in 35 minutes against Tottenham last season They fell apart so badly in the second half, the game almost ended in a draw. The combative spirit of English teams means that, even leading comprehensively at half-time, nothing is taken for granted. In Italy, with that margin separating the teams, the game is over. Inter had no plan for confronting a team that refused to play as if beaten, while four goals down; neither did Milan.
From the start, they were undecided whether to aim for an away goal, or sit back and defend, and ended up playing insipid halfway-house football that invited havoc. Then, at half-time, with Milan up by just a goal on aggregate, the game changed. Defend a 1-0 lead Arsenal had unwittingly blundered into Milan’s field of expertise.
Presented with a simple containing job, the Italians were comfortable once more and Arsenal could not break them down.
AND WHILE WE'RE AT IT… Jumping the Gunner
Oxlade-Chamberlain is ready to gatecrash Euro 2012 finals, stated a recent headline.
Really How Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has never played a full international and England’s caretaker manager, Stuart Pearce, declined to select him against Holland.
This means England’s next permanent manager will need to have already made his mind up about the player remotely, or must fast-track him through two remaining games in time for the tournament, while also keeping abreast of Theo Walcott, Adam Johnson, Stewart Downing, Ashley Young, James Milner, Daniel Sturridge and perhaps even Steven Gerrard in the wide forward roles. Always presuming he is installed in time to name his own squad, of course.
Still, no pressing need for resolution is there Piece of cake, this England lark.
On a fast-track Oxlade-Chamberlain is yet to make a senior appearance for England
A limp apology
Remember last year when Michel Platini, president of UEFA, apologised for the extravagant cost of Champions League tickets
Prices for this year’s final in Munich have now been announced, and do not look so very different. The cheapest admission, available only to fans of the finalists, has dropped from 80 to 60, which is good news, but still carries a 17 booking fee per ticket beyond Germany.
The top price appears to have risen, from 294 to 310. So Platini was sorry, just not quite as sorry as he would like you to think. Let’s see how sorry he is when the match returns to Wembley next year.
Moyes is mistaken
Short memory: Moyes
Did David Moyes, the Everton manager, glean nothing from the furore around the signing of goalkeeper Tim Howard from Manchester United
It is no longer possible to strike a gentleman’s agreement over players — that is third-party interference and illegal. Harry Redknapp was right to say Tottenham would honour no such deal on Louis Saha.
The only reason Everton and Manchester United were not in serious trouble for the Howard arrangement in 2007 — his loan was made permanent in the January transfer window, but on the proviso he did not play against United later in the season — was because it emerged as Sir Alex Ferguson was about to clinch the title and Premier League chairman Sir Dave Richards knew of the agreement.
Maybe Moyes did not fully understand the possible consequences after the Premier League brushed the scandal aside. He needs to have it explained, though.
Redknapp was right to ignore the suggestion on Saha, but it cannot be allowed to happen again.
A desperate measure in desperate times
Confronted by angry fans, Steve Morgan, owner of Wolverhampton Wanderers, told them he would have scored had he been playing against Blackburn Rovers on Saturday. A foolish statement, unproven and irrelevant.
Wolves do not need Morgan to hang around the penalty box looking for knockdowns; they need him to make sensible executive decisions to steer the club through a crisis. This seems beyond him.
The calamitous aftermath of Mick McCarthy’s dismissal now includes defender Roger Johnson turning up drunk for training. This does not happen if there is respect for the manager. Sadly, nobody thinks Terry Connor is a long-term appointment and recent results suggest surrender.
Morgan’s decision to settle for a familiar member of the backroom staff, safe and cheap, was dire stewardship and may prove to have sealed Wolves’ fate as comprehensively as any failure in front of goal.
UEFA must learn
Donetsk’s status as a European 2012 host city is built on a lie. To meet the criteria for the number of hotel rooms needed to host a semi-final — as the city will on June 27 — UEFA had to extend Donetsk’s supposed radius to 155 miles. Hotels are thinking of a number and cubing it, knowing fans have little choice but to pay big or stay home.
And, delightfully, many are doing just that. There is increasing panic in Ukraine that overpriced hotel packages remain unsold. France versus England was the hottest ticket at Euro 2004, played in Lisbon at the accessible Estadio da Luz.
Memento: France coach Laurent Blanc receives a gift from the city of Donetsk, where England will play his side on 11 June
Yet both the Football Association and the French federation have already returned tickets for the rematch in Donetsk. Good. It serves UEFA right. Executives cannot continue this we’re-alright-Jack approach, cosily ensconced in five-star accommodation and stuff the rest of you.
A few banks of empty seats and a few hoteliers crying into their unused pillowcases and maybe they will learn.
The best documentary about football The Four Year Plan wasn’t even the best film made about Queens Park Rangers.
That accolade should go to The Final Score, the composer Michael Nyman’s homage to Stan Bowles and his Saturdays spent at Loftus Road.
The music, naturally, is stunning, but the evocation of a football age long passed is beautiful and moving.
If the Rangers commercial department wants a film their fans can watch without hiding behind the sofa in embarrassment, they should buy the rights to Final Score and have it in the club shop in time for the end of the season.
With Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Sunderland still to play, fans may need a warm memory to cheer them by then.