When is a Brit not a Brit?

Spot the difference between these three athletes:

Athlete A was born in Sudan but moved to London when his parents were granted political asylum and took up his chosen sport in the UK. Aged 14, he moved to the United States to play that sport and returns now only to visit family, to run training camps and to compete for Great Britain, who he will represent at London 2012.

Athlete B won a world silver medal for her native Cuba in 1999 and moved to the UK with her husband in 2001 but competed for Sudan at the 2004 Olympics having failed to gain a British passport before the Games. She finally got her passport two years ago, came fifth in her event at last year’s Worlds and aims to compete for Great Britain at London 2012.

Athlete C moved to the UK from Ukraine in 2007 to act as a training partner for British athletes. Last year won European silver for GB. She will qualify for a British passport in February and hopes to gain it in time to compete for Great Britain at London 2012.

Actually there is very little difference, save for the welcome each of the three is likely to receive in London.

Athlete A, basketball star Luol Deng, is nothing like as famous on home turf as he is in the US, where he is president Obama’s favourite player, but he will spearhead the Great Britain side as they bid to justify suggestions they could have an outside chance of a medal. He went through a formal naturalisation ceremony in 2006 (but didn’t receive his passport in time to have this photo taken, so a friendly onlooker had to lend him one).

Triple jumper Yamile Aldama, Athlete B, has competed under the radar so far but the story of the challenges she has faced since arriving in the UK are enough to elicit sympathy from all but the most hard-hearted Team GB fan.

Wrestler Yana Stadnik is Athlete C but the hopes she and several other foreign-born British wrestling hopefuls have of competing at 2012 have been less well received, especially by those wrestlers they have overtaken for funding, coaching and support.

The head of the world wrestling governing body hit out at Britain’s reliance on foreign-born athletes during this weekend’s Olympic test event in London, arguing that their presence would hinder attempts at securing a legacy for the sport in the UK.

Although neither she nor any of the rest of the squad were talking to the media this weekend, Stadnik has argued in the past that she is helping to promote the sport, which was only open to women at Olympic level in 2004.

Speaking to my former colleague Nick Hope for a BBC Radio 5 live Investigates programme, British Wrestling chief executive Colin Nicholson said: “At the end of the run-up to London 2012, we will have an established world-class system where we know what it takes to deliver wrestlers of potential.”

Nicholson in effect argued that the disgruntled British wrestlers were simply not good enough to compete at 2012.

Stadnik’s cause is not helped by revelations that her marriage to British wrestler Leon Rattigan was kept quiet until this week, although her application for British citizenship is apparently based on residency rather than marriage.

The argument is nothing new. There were far more opponents to Zola Budd‘s inclusion in the British Olympic team of 1984, when her native South Africa was banned from the event.

And the inclusion of naturalised athletes is more acceptable in other sports – England’s Test cricket squad has five and the latest English rugby union side four.

All of these governing bodies are abiding by the letter of the law in fielding their teams, but interpretation of the spirit seems to differ from sport to sport and athlete to athlete.

Should an athlete who is eligible to compete for Great Britain ever be prevented from doing so?

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2 Responses to When is a Brit not a Brit?

  1. Interested Observer says:

    There is a big difference with athlete C. This athlete was brought in using UK money to develop UK talent. Training partners should be revolved in order to give variety and to avoid the naturalisation issue. Athlete C also does not have a passport but is being funded to compete for UK and spends long periods of time outside the UK at training camps to develop her ability. How can she be utilised as a training partner when she is not here? By her own admission, there is no one at her weight category in UK, so who exactly is she a partner for? The other two athletes have arrived in the UK through their own devices, whereas athlete C has been brought in by the Governing Body, funded full time using tax payers money and then been supported in an attempt to qualify for the Olympics before she has actually got residency. Most of the UK wrestlers recieve no funding and have to work, yet are now competing for spots with imported athletes who train full time, courtesy of the taxes payed for by the athletes the imports where brought here to help. There are massive differences between the three athletes listed above.

  2. Are you having a laugh says:

    I agree whole heartedly with ‘interested observor’. The difference is that this athlete, and others like her, were brought into the country with the sole purpose of competing for GB. The athletes who have been brought over have never assisted british athletes and have been the mainstay of the team while british athletes have been neglected. How is it possible for the british athletes to improve when they are not funded or competing in major championships because the spaces are being taken by people who dont even have a passport. There has been no development of the actually british team who have been left behind while the imports do camps and competitions across the globe on british tax payers money. Yana by her own admission has said if she doesnt get her passport in time for London she will quit……wheres your legacy there!! Its interesting that she will wresltle for Britain, her brother for Ukraine and his ukrainian wife with compete for azerbjan…..clealry they are open to the highest bidder. SHAME on UK sport for allowing this to continue and I truely hope her passport is not fast tracked as there are genuine political asylum seekers desperatly awaiting passports and rightfuly deserve one before these money seeking athletes!

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