Adopted Mason highlights question of allegiance
"I have to keep working on my British accent," laughed Germaine Mason when I met up with him recently. His best Queen's English was heavily disguised in a thick Jamaican accent!
On 19 August last year, 25-year-old high-jumper Mason made a first time clearance of 2.34m to equal his personal best and grab an Olympic silver medal.
He stood proudly on the podium as the simulated wind in the flagpoles fluttered the red, white and blue of the union jack. Team GB cheered and Jamaica cheered too.
Born in Jamaica in 1983 to a British father, Mason switched allegiance to Great Britain in 2006. He wasn't the first athlete to switch vests in sport and will definitely not be the last.
Germaine always talks for his love of Great Britain, with his mother and family living in London, and the pride he feels representing this nation.
I know his reason for choosing to represent GB was purely because he wanted to, but how many times do we see athletes jumping ship to represent a different nation for other reasons and is it right?
This is a complex debate and it opens up a big can of squirming worms!
British sport has inherited many successful stars as a result of dual citizenship, like Greg Rusedski in tennis and cricketer Kevin Pietersen. I always remember hearing Rusedski was British when he won and Canadian when he lost.
Meanwhile, footballer Manuel Almunia of Arsenal, with no British family connections, will qualify for citizenship after living here for five years.
Do we truly embrace athletes that can be considered 'not one of us' because they have non-British accents? Does it really matter who an athlete competes for? Is it not the performance that counts?
Germaine Mason lives and trains in Jamaica with the likes of Asafa Powell, alongside coach Stephen Francis. He doesn't feel removed from the GB team and is in a great situation of having the support of the Jamaican people, who know deep down it's also a medal for them.
There are many reasons why athletes switch nationalities.
These include the following:
- The athletes and their families will be financially better off.
- They can't make their own national team, by not being good enough or because of other rules. One example is Dwain Chambers being banned from the Olympic Games by Team GB, hence the rumour of him being snapped up by a Middle East country for 2012.
- Or maybe an athlete just wants to compete for another country because of family ties.
Zenebech Tola from Ethiopia and Stephen Cherono from Kenya are two high profile names in athletics. You may know them better as Maryam Jamal of Bahrain and Saif Shaheen of Qatar.
Jamal, the reigning World 1500m champion, and Shaheen, the world record holder for 3000m steeplechase, both changed alliances and both have very different stories.
Jamal was reportedly seeking political asylum.
She applied for citizenship in three different countries before Bahrain granted rapid citizenship, with conditions.
Shaheen caused a big stir, when in 2003 he changed his Kenyan shilling for the Qatar riyal, with reports there was a lot of money on offer. Who are we to judge an athlete's decision based on improving their lives and those of their families?
For many countries it is sometimes obvious that these switches are done on the basis of need and those countries are happy to take sporting names on board when they lack indigenous talent.
So when it is acceptable to change?
I presently see past the colour of an athlete's vest and cheer and applaud great sporting performances, including Germaine Mason jumping to an Olympic medal for Great Britain.