Like many of my countrymen, I’m proud to be Irish. Being Irish brings certain traits with it: a general (and abhorrent) dislike of them from across the water, a pride in our arts and heritage, and a devotion to our sports teams. We love being Irish and we love following our sports teams. No matter where we play, there is always a large and vocal presence of Irish people to support our own and while I’m in no doubt that the importance/uniqueness of this is overstated by ourselves, we are a nation of sports lovers.
In return for this devotion, we expect many things in return, most notably pride in the shirt/flag. We want our sports stars to represent Ireland with dignity, honour and most importantly passion because they are representing more than just the island of Ireland; they’re representing the sport mad community that lives here too. Be it rugby, football or Gaelic games, when our men/women represent Ireland, they become an extension of each sports fan in this country.
Yet the essence of this Irish-ness, and indeed of other nationalities, has become weakened in recent times. In athletics we have seen Africans such as Rashid Ramzi, Stephen Chorono (Saif Saaeed Shaheen) and Albert Chepkurui (Ahmad Hassan Abdullah) defect from their home nations and instead compete for Asian countries such as Qatar and Bahrain, often for no reason other than financial reward. We here in Ireland aren’t immune to allegiance switching – who can forget the ‘Oi-rish’ football legends such as John Aldridge, Ray Houghton and Terry Phelan. These are players who were adored by the Green Army for their exploits on the field, as was their English manager, even if their passports and birth certs weren’t from this country.
So does it matter where someone comes from? There are reports that Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni will look to take advantage of new citizenship rules from FIFA and invite players such as Kevin Nolan to line out for Ireland. He’s become available now that FIFA say he and other players are eligible, even if they’ve played for other nations at an underage level, in Nolan’s case England. He qualifies for Ireland under ancestry rules, though oddly he also qualifies to play for the Netherlands. Would the Dutch be happy to see a Scouser called Nolan lining out for them?
In an increasingly globalized world, people’s nationalities have become less defined than they once were. A growing number of athletes will have a choice between two or more countries, as Aldridge and Houghton had in the 1980s. They chose Ireland, and represented us well, so maybe being from this little island isn’t that big a deal after all. Maybe we just want our sports stars to play as if they are one of our own.