Published on November 30, 2012 | by Nathan Evans

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National pride and loyalty in world sport

National pride and loyalty in sport has been a debate which has run on for many years. Whether it is football or rugby, cricket or tennis, this topic creates divide throughout the sporting world.

Kevin Pietersen captained the England Test and One Day International teams

To put it into perspective, the current English cricket squad that is touring India includes five foreign players of which four were in the starting eleven for the first test, these were opener Nick Compton who was born in Durban, Jonathan Trott from Cape Town, Kevin Pietersen who is originally from Pietermaritzburg and finally wicket-keeper Matt Prior from Johannesburg. The fifth player was Eoin Morgan who is originally from Dublin.

Now as many will know at least three of these players are pivotal to England’s success in every form of the game but surely by having these players in the squad it is sending the wrong message through to the young players of today. It has got to be hard enough to break through into your international side without having to compete with players from foreign countries who are only eligible because they have played in the country for four years.

Ex-England captain Michael Vaughan voiced his opinion on this matter back in 2009 when he slammed Jonathan Trott after he was caught celebrating with the South Africa side after their series win over England who were at home. These comments came a year after the incident occurred when Vaughan released his autobiography, stating; “It was a sad day for English cricket that on my last day against South Africa I saw Jonathan Trott celebrating with them, when the week before he had been our 12th man at Headingley”. This surely is a huge negative to calling up a player to play for a different nation to his or her birthplace, as a player no matter if you are an England regular and perform to a high standard week in week out when you are faced against your original place of birth there is going to be an element of patriotism towards them?

Another aspect to look at is that surely if these players are good enough to play for England are they not good enough to play for their own nation? Or are England as a nation picking up the scraps left behind by other nation’s rather than looking at their own vast home grown talent. England’s rugby squad is made up of quite a few non-Englishmen, with no fewer than ten of their current squad being non-English.

The majority of these players are from the Oceanic region which really does support the aforementioned theory seeing as New Zealand are arguably the best rugby international side in the world yet these starting players for England are unable to break into their own international side leaving many of the sporting world wondering how can England claim to be able to compete on the highest level when they clearly don’t have the same standard of players as the likes of New Zealand are currently producing.

Wilfried Zaha must choose between representing England or the Ivory Coast

This debate continues to spread and now onto the world of football. England most recently had a friendly against Sweden, which was overshadowed in the lead-up to it by the first international call-up to young Crystal Palace starlet Wilfried Zaha. Normally to call up a young player would be topic enough for conversation due to what some would call a ‘gamble’ decision. But this decision was marred by the fact that although Zaha has risen up through the ranks at South London side Crystal Palace he was in fact born in Ivory Coast.

This situation was further confused when Zaha had received earlier in the week from Ivory Coast captain and leading all-time goalscorer Didier Drogba, who pleaded with the forward to choose Ivory Coast over England and represent them at the up and coming African Cup of Nations.

Zaha told national newspapers that “I was born in the Ivory Coast but all I know is England. It’s 50-50 at the moment.” Due to a FIFA rule he would be eligible to play for Ivory Coast as they say that you can switch nation’s as long as the player has not played a competitive fixture for the first nation which means that even though Zaha played the last few minutes of the England Sweden friendly match he can choose to represent Cote d’Ivoire at the upcoming African Nations. Zaha continued by saying “Didier Drogba called me and I was shocked, to be honest. He’s a humble guy. I’ve been with England Under-21s and now I will have to make a decision.”

Zaha was not the only person who had his say on the matter as former Chelsea player Salomon Kalou voiced his opinion that he hopes Zaha will change his decision to play for England stating that “he is Ivorian and his place is with us, he must remember it is not easy to play for, and triumph with, England”. This view is possibly shared by many as there have been stars in the past that were selected to play for England for a few matches but never broke through into the starting line-up, with the problem being here that if Zaha decides on England and plays a competitive game but soon fades from the England scene he will be unable to play for Ivory Coast where he could become a first-team regular.

Wilfried will however not be the only youngster to come through Crystal Palace’s youth system and choose his birthplace over England, after current Chelsea and Nigeria star Victor Moses had the opportunity to play for England but opted instead for Nigeria, where he lived until the age of 13 when he moved to London.

Current England manager Roy Hodgson believes that Zaha will stay with England, saying; “If you decide you want to play for England Under-19s and Under-21s and you’re very happy to accept a call-up to the national team, it seems pretty obvious to me that’s where you want to play, but then perhaps I’m too simple.” He added: “If our national team is not strong enough motivation for them then they are not the type of player we want anyway” which is showing a very strong stance towards any player that is currently thinking of other possibilities of international sides rather than England that they are free to go but don’t expect to come crawling back.

This debate will probably go on for a long time and continue to captivate the general public and sporting critics for many years to come, maybe one day the youth and future of this nation’s sports teams will get first refusal ahead of foreign talent but this is probably a long way away from happening.

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