A black Italian? What makes a national team player?
I AM a very passionate sports fan, and sometimes that means I have to wake up in the wee hours of the morning to catch major sports events happening on the other side of the world – from tennis through boxing to cricket.
While watching some of these events, I have always been intrigued by the question of who is eligible to represent the national teams in various sporting disciplines.
Different sporting disciplines use different criteria as to who qualifies for a national team of a particular country.
Let us take a look at cricket as an example, or rather English cricket whereby in the current national team 33% of their team has South African, including the captain Andrew Strauss and Matt Prior, both of whom were born in this country to English parents. I should also state that they both grew up in England.
Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott, on the other hand, were both born and raised in South Africa and only left for England in their adulthood seeking greener pastures, and both have one English parent.
The question is: what makes someone a certain nationality?
As a sports fan, I think the sooner this topic is visited and a general rule adopted, national sport is slowly getting diluted.
Think about countries like the United Arab Emirates and Qatar giving Kenyan runners passports so as to run under their flag, are those runners really to be considered nationals of those countries?
In football, we also have players from strong football nations adopting other nationalities because competition is tough back home and they want to play international football. Examples are Deco and Pepe from Brazil who ended up playing Portugal.
So the questions I have are the following: what makes a national player? Is it the passport one holds? Is it the country of birth? Is it the country where you grew up, perfecting that particular sporting ability? Or is it the ancestry? I could go on.
Some countries embrace these new national heroes when it suits them, and remind them where they come from once those players are out of form. Kevin Pietersen is very English when he is knocking centuries and a South African when he is on a bad spell.
You also have the extremes whereby the fans reject one totally regardless of their performance. One name comes to mind — Mario Balotelli, the 19-year-old Inter Milan prodigy who was born to Ghanaian parents in Italy.
Balotelli currently plays for the Italian Under 21 team and gets a lot of abuse from the fans, many convinced that there is no such thing as a black Italian.
The other question is are these new national heroes truly transformed, can they really die for their adopted countries?
Trott, the English cricketer, was spotted partying with the Proteas (South African cricktr team) after the Proteas beat England in a test series in 2008. So you wonder is he really English?
On a lighter note, a joke is told that 33% of English cricket team players stay with their parents when touring South Africa.
I guess for me, as long as the national hero wears his heart on his sleeves whenever he is playing for the country I support, the rest is idle chatter.