Sunday, 15 July 2012

Tiffany Porter - Plastic Brit?

When Tiffany Porter broke the British record in the 100m hurdles in June 2011, the Daily Mail had a shit-fit. Here was an athlete from abroad, running for Britain under supposedly false pretences, taking the record, the glory and the opportunities from true British athletes. I hate to say it, but for once I think they kinda have a point.

Don't get me wrong. Anyone who knows me knows that I'm big supporter of integration and multi-culturalism in this country. I'm not about to get all anti-immigration on your ass. The fact is that this case has absolutely nothing to do with immigration - in fact, anyone using the issue to make a pro or anti-immigration argument is missing the point.

In today's Observer, Cuban-born triple-jumper and all-around lovely person Yamilé Aldama writes about her pain at being labelled a 'Plastic Brit'. In the run up to this year's Olympics, to be held in London, it's a phrase that has been bandied about to describe several athletes who have changed their nationality to compete for Great Britain, including Aldama, Porter, and others such as 400m runner Shana Cox and wrestler Olga Butkevych. But there's a very big and important difference between Aldama and Porter.

Aldama writes of her pain at being seen as 'not-British', since:
"I have lived in this country for 11 years, I am married to a British man, I have British children, I train under a British coach, at a British club. This is my home."
All of those things are reasons why I'm very happy to see her competing for Britain at the Olympics, most importantly since, as she says, she considers Britain as her home. That's the vital sticking-point here, and the key difference between her and Porter.

Tiffany Porter was born in the USA to a Nigerian father and a British mother. She holds joint American and British nationality, and lives in Michigan. She is married to an American. She trains in America. It's quite clear that, despite her joint nationality, she identifies first and foremost as American.

And that's why I don't support her as I would another British athlete. I believe that part of representing a country at any sport should be living in that country, being a part of that country. For athletes like Aldama, that much is true. It's similarly true for sportsmen like Kevin Pietersen or Mo Farah.

For someone like Porter, who just parachutes into the country to make it into the Olympics and to get funding, it's not true. When watching her on TV and in interviews, you don't get the sense of a British athlete - it's merely an American runner wearing the GBR vest. It's a symbiotic relationship - she gets to go major championships, and UK Athletics gets someone who can potentially win medals. But it's not fair for other British athletes and, ultimately, it's not fair on the fans either.

I'm not normally this patriotic about sport, even in athletics. I just wanted to weigh in here, and clarify why I feel there is a big difference between Yamilé Aldama and Tiffany Porter. I think the point is often missed amid both Daily Mail-style xenophobia and Guardian-esque political correctness/anti-Daily-Mail-ism. Because, despite what may be written, only one of these two athletes is a Plastic Brit. I wish them both the best in the Olympic stadium in Stratford, but only one of them will I be cheering for as a member of Team GB.

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