Tuesday, 4 July 2017

What is "British" anyway?

Yesterday's victories at Wimbledon for Johanna Konta and Aljaz Bedene, cheered on by patriotic British tennis fans, has sparked debate on social media and forums about whether or not we should be celebrating them both as British.

Konta, currently the world number 7, was born in Australia to Hungarian parents, but moved to the UK in her teens and took British citizenship in 2012. Bedene was born and raised in Slovenia but moved to the UK in 2008 at the age of 19. In 2015 he was able to take British citizenship having lived in the country for 7 years. Both call themselves British, and a Union Jack appears next to their names on the scoreboard, but many consider them not to be Brits because of where they were born.

But what actually makes someone British? It's a question that goes far further than the sports arena, but just looking at it from a sporting point of view, where do we draw the line. Officially both are British, although Bedene isn't allowed to represent Great Britain in the Davis Cup as he'd already played for Slovenia. If you consider her British, Konta has a great chance of becoming the first British Wimbledon Ladies Singles champion for 40 years, since Virginia Wade, but she herself, although she was born in Britain, lived in South Africa between the ages of 1 and 15. Would she be considered not to be British?

We even struggle sometimes with the nationality of sportsmen and women who were born and raised in Britain, with many feeling that the British press describes Andy Murray as British when he wins but Scottish when he loses. Similar accusations were made recently about current Tour de France leader and Welshman/Brit Geraint Thomas.

The fact remains that many of our sporting heroes over the years weren't born in the UK. It would wipe out an awful lot of sporting success if we didn't consider them to be British. Here are some examples:


Mo Farah – Somalia

Linford Christie – Jamaica


Greg Rusedski – Canada


Bradley Wiggins – Belgium

Chris Froome – Kenya


Kevin Pietersen – South Africa

Andrew Strauss – South Africa

Nasser Hussain – India

Ben Stokes – New Zealand

Matt Prior – South Africa

Andy Caddick – New Zealand

Devon Malcolm – Jamaica

Graeme Hick – Zimbabwe

Robin Smith – South Africa

Allan Lamb – South Africa

Basil D'Oliveira - South Africa


John Barnes – Jamaica

Raheem Sterling - Jamaica

Terry Butcher - Singapore


Dylan Hartley - New Zealand

Ben T'eo - New Zealand

Toby Faletau - Tonga

Bill and Mako Vunipola - New Zealand

Of course, adopting "foreigners" as sporting Brits can cause problems if not done properly or for the right reasons. There were fierce protests when South African runner Zola Budd's British passport was fast-tracked so she could represent GB in the 1984 Olympics, allowing her to bypass the Apartheid boycott. That ended in tears on the track too, after her clash with American Mary Decker in the 3,000m final. You need to be sure of your facts too, as the Welsh rugby team found to their cost in 2000 when it was discovered that New Zealand born Shane Howarth, who had won 19 caps for Wales, didn't in fact have a Welsh grandmother as had been thought.

Sportsmen and women representing countries other than the one where they were born isn't unique to Britain, and in many ways is simply representative of a modern society where migration is commonplace. Many African distance runners have represented European nations over the years, sportsmen and women who have studied at American universities have often ended up representing the USA, and New Zealand rugby has been regularly criticised for plundering the Pacific Islands for talent (2 of their starting line-up against the Lions on Saturday were born on Pacific Islands). It's simply not the case any more that an athlete representing a country would definitely have been born and raised there to parents who were also born and raised there, and does that matter - not at all.

So if we do see Johanna Konta raising the Venus Rosewater Dish on Centre Court, this year or in the future, I'm sure most of us will be celebrating it as a British success, just as most of us celebrated Mo Farah's and Linford Christie's gold medals, Bradley Wiggins' and Chris Froome's Tour de France wins and England's Ashes victories.