Friday, 6 January 2012

National Pride or Personal Glory?

The questions of allegiance, patriotism and national pride are never more evident than in international sporting contests and the fervour of those that follow them. But professional sports people are exactly that, professional. In order to become a pro you have to have a certain level of selfishness, or you just won't get there, you won't make the sacrifices. And in the end, choosing to represent one country or another will come down to a career choice, as recent history shows.

 To start things off, lets consider the position of Ben Morgan, the Scarlets number 8, who has finally chosen to (try and) play for England at the age of 22. There had been much media debate about his possible selection for Wales after qualifying for selection on residency - Morgan added fuel to this fire by declining an invitation to play for the Saxons, England's 'A' side.

 This is how I see it, Morgan finds himself in a situation where the country of his birth are in need of a player of his age and ability, in his position. Easter isn't getting any younger, and thanks to James Haskell's rather flippant nature, there is no heir-apparent. Toby Faletau, born in Tonga but moved to Wales at aged 3 is the bright young thing at No 8 for Wales and is (undoubtedly to my mind) an even greater talent. So whilst Morgan's decision may be the most "patriotic" option - it also seems to be the best personal opportunity.

Meanwhile in soccer, Gareth Bale, Adam Matthews and Wales captain Aaron Ramsey all wish to represent Team GB at the London Olympics. All are under 23. This has been seen as many in Wales as some sort of treachery.

 The sad truth is that Bale, Matthews and Ramsey may never get the chance to play in another international football tournament as long as they live, and lets not forget that they are young players of substantial talent. It makes sense for them to test themselves against the best in the business (all be it in an age-restricted tournament). Who would deny them that?

 In a more extreme example, Lesley Vainakolo chose to swap sports and countries at 28 and at 32 has decided to move to France to see out his playing days in La Rochelle. Vainakolo wa a fantastic RL winger, quick, powerful and brutal in defence. He scored try after try for Bradford Bulls and represented New Zealand with real distinction.

 What cannot be ignored however is the financial disparity between RL and RU in the UK, Vainakolo was arguably just passed his best and looking for a payday when the RFU came calling. Would he have displaced Rico Gear, Rokococo or Sivivatu for the All Blacks even at his scintillating best? Doubtful. Would any of the super 12 sides at the time have taken a punt on him? Unlikely. So LV made the best choice for himself just as he did recently when he chose to leave Gloucester and England for France.

 Personally I don't blame any sportsman or woman for making the representative choices they have to make in professional sports, it is a short career and the chances for personal glory are thin on the ground. Professional sport is only able to be professional because it's primary goal is to entertain the fans, it is an interesting contrast therefore between the cold choices of a pro and the raucous support of a sporting patriot. That's all very well during a match, but how petty and small minded do you have to be to try and deny someone a professional opportunity that anyone would be foolish not to take?

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