Apologies to those of you rushing here for some sort of De La retrospective; the magic number today is used in reference to the multi-passport mischievousness of certain Sponsorathonympics athletes. If hip-hop is your thing though, you can do no better than A Grumpy Old Man With A Beard, written by the extremely knowledgeable Duncan Masters. His blog is regularly updated with news, ace downloads, and ticket giveaways: oodles and oodles of goodness.
Further apologies are in order, as the Comments will be somewhat truncated over the next few weeks. I am signing up for one final year at my job here in Korea in mid-September, and am currently trying to rush through the tedious horror that is a 120 hour TEFL course in order to get a pay bump. As such, as soon as these Comments are filed I will be piling into the sixth unit of twenty; today’s topic of fun-filled fatuousness is the Past Tense. Happy happy, joy joy.
This means that I won’t be looking at Frank Schleck’s failed drugs test, though if you want my opinion on doping in cycling it can be found here, nor the dickheads who scattered nails on the road a couple of stages back. And I definitely won’t be mentioning that the kind of disgusting shite that if you found it on your shoe you wouldn’t try to wipe it off or have them cleaned but would instead just incinerate them in some sort of bio-hazard disposal unit that is known as John Terry was found innocent. Nope, instead let’s look at some dodgy athletic practices.
The Magic Number
There is a tendency, particularly amongst the host nations of the Sponsorathonympics, to assess their medal prospects years out from the event, work out where they are currently strong, and highlight the weaker areas. Then, as time goes by, positions in these weaker sports are conveniently filled by the sudden arrival of new immigrants to the country who have a coincidentally high pedigree in exactly the disciplines required. Now this is by no means illegal. As long as you do not contravene the International Olympic Committee (IOC) rules on eligibility, then all is well. Morally however, questions are often raised.
The most egregious and eyebrow raising example this time around has come from the British wrestling team. A few years back the team’s coaches decided that a higher quality of sparring partner was needed in order to upgrade their wrestlers’ techniques. A search found a number of possibilities, both male and female, from Eastern European countries who were then brought (bought) to the UK on work visas. What happened next? Well, wouldn’t you know it, as is wont to happen in the romantic confines of the wrestling circle, half-nelsons became full-nelsons, and then before you could cry “That must be an illegal grapple”, marriages were breaking out all over the mats. And now several of the spots on the Sponsorathonympic team have been taken by very recently naturalised Eastern Europeans. More can be read about this situation throughout the UK team in general here, about wrestling specifically here, and a typically witty and acerbic account by Marina Hyde entitled True Love Among The Leotards can be found here.
Now this has all lead to a rise of the pejorative term in the UK, Plastic Brits, which basically refers to those who have been in the area for a very short time, but are suddenly representing GB. I can understand the frustration behind this: if you are a British born athlete who has trained your whole life in your sport only to be denied a once in a lifetime chance to represent your country at your home Games because somebody else has been on the fast-track to citizenship, you will be angry. But don’t be angry at the so-called Plastic Brits. Turn your anger towards your own sporting authorities who encouraged and abetted the practice, or the IOC who make the actual rules. I dislike the practice, but if I may slip into some pretty lazy stereotyping here, I look forward to the day when perhaps distance runners of Somali heritage run wearing the silver fern.
So when I stumbled across this piece by British triple jumper Yamile Aldama called Plastic Brit Jibe Is So Offensive In Our Country Today, I skimmed through it with a sympathetic eye. British husband and kids, eleven years in the country, knows the anthem etc; great. But then a tweet from a journalist I respect, football writer Fernando Duarte, caught my eye: “Message to Yamile Aldama. When team GB is actually 3rd you represent people are allowed to talk…”
Third? What what what??? So I quickly followed standard professional journalistic practice and jumped straight from Twitter to Wikipedia. The very first sentence of her biography states that she is currently competing for Great Britain having already represented Cuba and Sudan. Eh? You what? In 1996 and 2000 she represented Cuba at the Games. She then moved to Britain and married a Scottish fellow. Shortly after this, and as she waited for her application for citizenship to be processed, said husband was arrested and sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment for heroin trafficking. With no chance of obtaining a UK passport before the 2004 Games, she basically shopped herself around, and received offers from Spain, Italy and the Czech Republic, before choosing war-torn but resource rich Sudan.
Now, in my opinion, the instant she competed for a second different country at the Sponsorathonympics, as she did in 2004, that should have been the end of it. By all means, transfer your citizenship once after representing your country of birth, especially if you have legitimate refugee status. But there should be no way that you are then able to change to a third nation. In Aldama’s case, I can understand trying to find an alternative when her UK visa was denied, as she was in her athletic prime. I’m guessing Cuba wasn’t too keen to have her back after she abandoned them, so she found somewhere else. But for her to now be competing for a third different nation at international level is ridiculous. Three is the magic number, we all know it. If the Guardian or the British Olympic Committee wanted to fight the Plastic Brit jibes then good on them, but I don’t think they could have chosen a worse example to pen the article. I stress again that she is not to blame for this as she is merely exploiting incredible loopholes in the system. But once you know a little more about her background the whole thing smacks of dangerous high-horsery.
Enough, grammar awaits, as do two huge Pyrenean mountain stages over the next two nights. Back with a look at that and weekend previews on Friday. Indeed indeed.