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Aldama set to divide opinion

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David Bond | 05:51 UK time, Thursday, 1 September 2011

Yamile Aldama will be aiming to win her first World Championship medal for Great Britain in the triple jump this morning. If she can pull it off - and it's a long shot considering she didn't even start training until the spring - then expect her achievement to spark another debate about sporting flags of convenience.

Aldama was born in Cuba and won her only silver medal at these championships for her country of origin back in 1999. But she has also competed for Sudan in the Athens Olympics in 2004.

Now she is in Korea as part of the British team having finally got clearance from the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) at the start of August.

For Aldama it is the end of a long and extraordinary journey which began when she met and fell in love with her Scottish husband, Andrew Dodds, while he was studying in Havana. The pair married and moved to Wembley, north London in 2001.

But her attempts to compete for Britain were first thwarted by the Cuban authorities who were angry at her defection having invested so much in her development.

Then her life was turned upside down when Dodds was jailed for 15 years for trafficking £11million worth of heroin in 2002. She says she had no idea her husband was leading this double life and was left with a young child on her own in a strange country. She expected to be deported but in the end she was allowed to stay.

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Unable to compete for Britain or Cuba she ended up taking up the flag of Sudan, who fast tracked athletes looking to compete on the international stage. She last represented them at the World Indoor Championships in March 2010.

By then Dodds had been released and, remarkably, they are back together. They have a baby son, Diego, who had his first birthday yesterday. She says they are in love and that she has never been happier.

With her family life settled once again Aldama received her British passport 18 months allowing her finally to compete for a country she has called home for the last 10 years.

It is one of sport's most amazing stories but while she can genuinely lay claim to feel British, having spent so many difficult years in the UK, there will still be those who feel she shouldn't be wearing the team's red, white and blue colours this afternoon.

The so-called plastic Brits debate focuses on Aldama and two other members of the squad here - long jumper Shara Proctor who was born in the British overseas territory of Anguilla and Tiffany Offili-Porter, who has dual American and British nationality.

Proctor failed to make the final of the long jump while Offili-Porter competes in Friday's heats of the 100 metres hurdles. You may recall Offili-Porter caused consternation back in July when she tweeted on Independence Day that she wished she was "in the States" adding that she was definitely there in spirit.

British head coach Charles Van Comennee says he has no problems with selecting any foreign born Brits - as long as they are good enough. Well, how could Britain's Dutch born coach credibly raise any objections?

However, it does raise the question as to whether some athletes are nailing their colours to Britain's mast to try and cash in on the London 2012 experience.

This is hardly new for Olympic hosts and there are other sports who have naturalised foreign born nationals in time to boost their teams before next summer.

For example, British wrestling is now funding five Ukrainian and Bulgarian wrestlers in the hope they might deliver medals for Team GB in a sport where we have no tradition of competing.

But the Greeks did it before Athens 2004, as did the Australians before Sydney in 2000. The Australian pole vaulter Tatiana Grigorieva is one example which springs to mind. Born in Leningrad but naturalised in time for the Millennium Games, she won silver for her adopted country. She still lives there incidentally.

Between now and 2012 there are likely to be many more stories like this. And it is not just in the Olympic sports where this is happening.

Take England's rugby squad for the World Cup. Five of the 30 are foreign born - Matt Stevens, Manu Tuilagi, Dylan Hartley, Alex Corbisiero and Shontayne Hape.

Yamile Aldama

Aldama is competing for a third nation at this year's championships

It's the same in cricket - Andrew Strauss, Kevin Pietersen, Jonathan Trott, Jade Dernbach and Craig Kieswetter were all born in South Africa. Eoin Morgan is Irish.

English football is different. Although the team have had two foreign coaches in the last 10 years, it's difficult to think of any one player who wasn't born in England playing in Fabio Capello's squad. In recent times only Owen Hargreaves, Manchester City's new recruit, was born overseas, in Canada. But his parents are British.

Arsenal's £10million signing Mikel Arteta is Spanish but could play for England. So far that hasn't come to anything.

International sport is a highly paid, competitive professional world. Should sportsmen and women be denied the opportunity of competing on the highest stage and earning a living just because they aren't born in a particular country but are given the opportunity to represent that nation?

Clearly it would be ridiculous if foreigners start wrapping themselves in the Union Jack and weeping every time the band plays God Save the Queen.

But as a nation we are clearly benefiting from the freedom to select overseas born talent. Did anyone who loves English cricket stop to think about whether the presence of so many South Africans in the team when they were celebrating becoming the number one Test team in the world last month or beating Australia in their own back yard in the winter? If England win the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, will it feel diminished for England supporters? The truth is we are all in denial when it suits us.

The question is whether the presence of all these foreign competitors is in any way reducing the opportunities for home grown talent or distorting the system for developing British sportsmen and women. If that is the case then the governing bodies need to tread carefully.

Yet most put the counter argument that the Premier League is so fond of using - that the presence of foreign stars helps improve the quality of home grown competitors because it raises the quality threshold. The plight of the England football team suggests that is a myth.

Clearly many of you will feel something special in sport is being lost in the rush to recruit foreigners into British sports teams.

But after what she's been through few can begrudge Aldama the chance to wrap herself in the flag of her adopted country if she wins a medal today.


  • Comment number 1.

    I have no probelm with Aldama she is married to a British man and has lived in the UK for ten years. Again no probelm also with Procter Anguilla is not a member of the IOC this is the only way for her to get to the Olympics.

    More of a probelm with Offli-Porter who in my way of thinking has only jumped to the British ship because she is not good enough to repesent the USA. The likes of Michael Bingham also fall in that category. Also Germaine Mason in the High Jump competed first for Jamacia and won a silver medal "for GB".

    The system to my way of thinking is open to abuse, back to Aldama, her best years are behind her so I don't think she will medal.

  • Comment number 2.

    Mo Farah, anyone? Born in Somalia, lives in the USA. But we all know that Mo is British in the same way that we know Andrew Strauss is not South African.

    The truth is that the concept of having a nationality is blurry these days, but as a Brit, I for one will be cheering on Aldama, with her British husband, child, residence, and pride and desire to compete for Britain.

    Does she really divide opinion in the way the title of this Blog suggests?

  • Comment number 3.

    What's even more ridiculous is that you can't spell weeping.

  • Comment number 4.

    Surely we should be celebrating these facts? the UK is slowly breaking the back of the bigotry of the past and showing we welcome all comers. And to expect someone to completely deny thier heritage and family history is not fair.

  • Comment number 5.

    And yet another non-story from Mr Bond. Lazy journalism and an attempt to create a story from nothing.

    It's been happening for years and every country does it. USA athletics has Bernard Lagat, the Aussie cricket team had Andrew Symmonds, the All Blacks have always picked up Samoan and Fijian players. As you've said it's hardly an English issue and it's not going to ever be changing so why bother discuss it.

    It seems this is just another attempt by you to focus on the negative of an issue, just look at your list of blogs at the bottom of this page; "UK athletes struggling to meet high expectations", "World Championships struggle in bid for centre stage", "Why Man Utd Asian float could backfire on Glazers", "London passess early test but big challenges to come". And now this one as well. Talk about Mr Doom and Gloom, you make Victor Meldrew look like a ray of sunshine!

  • Comment number 6.

    Also you may want to get someone to look at the link on the front page of the Sport website;

    Best of British?
    Long jumper Yamile Aldama competes for a third nation in the World Championships

    Last time I checked Aldama was competing in the triple jump. Seems a bit rich to question the issue of changing nationalities when you can't even get the event right that they're competing in. Maybe it's time to start a blog where we list all the examples of lazy journalism and mistakes from this website and see how much you guys enjoy having your errors and decisions highlighted in this way.

  • Comment number 7.

    Strauss moved to England when he was 6, I don't think we can really call him South African.

    No mention of the rather famous John Barnes, born in Kingston, Jamaica, capped 79 times for England, won rather a lot with Liverpool.

  • Comment number 8.

    Just to pull you up about the rugby and cricketers David. The actual number of foreign born rugby players is actually more than five. You left out Armitage, Shaw and Simpson. But Matt Stevens has an English mother. Shaw has English parents and only took up rugby at 16 when came to finish his education in England. Armitage, Hartley, Corisbiero, Tuilagi, Simpson all came here at a young age or in their early teens. And are all products of the English rugby system. So they're not quite the same as say Hape who came here as an adult and even played Rugby (league in his case) for his native NZ.

    As for the cricketers. Strauss came here at the age of six and has an English parent. Prior came here at the age of 11. Both are products of English youth cricket. Pietersen and Kiesewetter have an English parent. As for Trott, as much as I think he's brilliant, he qualified as a adult and has no real connection to England if he wasn't a cricketer.

  • Comment number 9.

    Before anyone goes on about Mo Farah. He came here as a refugee. It was a teacher at his school in the UK that persuaded him to take up Athletics as an alternative to trouble he used to get into as a teenager. He came through the UK system and now runs for the country he acknowledges (literally) saved his life. Yes, he trains in the US. But so do many UK athletes and many others used to train in Australia.

  • Comment number 10.

    Arteta is NOT eligible for England because FIFA Statutes stipulate he would have needed to have held a British passport at the time when he represented Spain at the U16 European Championships and in addition he would have required five years of education in Britain before turning 18.
    This was widely reported almost exactly 1-year ago, including on the bbc website here:

  • Comment number 11.

    Oh and the 5-years of education in Britain rule (above) is not legally binding, but is a gentleman's agreement made by the home nations, but it still exists and is adhered to (so far).

  • Comment number 12.

    We've had foreign born sports men and women competing for England and UK for years. Most of them came through our various sports academies, youth systems, club teams etc because they grew up here.

    For me Saladana isn't really a plastic Brit as Cuba had kicked her out of their team. She lives and works here. But the question over her is that she chose to compete for Sudan in 2003. And the motivation to do so. She only chose to do so because her eligibility for the GB team came through in Autumn 2004. A few months after the Athens olympics. So she switched teams to make the olympics. Some people would argue that she should've waited and competed for the GB if that what she really wanted to do. Not take a flag of convenience for Sudan (she still continued to live and train in the UK) to make the olympics.

  • Comment number 13.

    @ 7 - John Barnes is a sensitive subject. The main opposition to him playing for England at the time of his debut wasn't that he born in Jamaica and moved here at the age of 12, but his skin colour. When Viv Anderson (born in Nottinghamshire) made his England debut there was a lot of fuss from people about England turning into an non-white team and all sorts of xenophobic nonsense. Thankfully we've moved on from that.

  • Comment number 14.

    The quality of BBC journalism, particularly sports journalism, really has dropped in the last few years. Almost every story involving someone losing in an event features the headline "XXXXX crashes out of YYYYYY" because the journos lack the imagination to find a different verb for 'exits'; journalists routinely use the expression "begs the question" entirely wrongly (it does not mean "prompts the question"), see almost any McNulty article for this particular faux pas; and then there are articles like this that attempt to make a mountain out of a mole hill. Couple this with some county cricket matches being commentated on *separately* by both local radio and TMS and we can easily see why the BBC needs such an extortionate licence fee.

    I have no doubt this comment will be removed as being "off topic", but this article is symptomatic of the degeneration I'm describing.

  • Comment number 15.

    From the penultimate paragraph of the Blog:

    "Clearly many of you will feel something special in sport is being lost in the rush to recruit foreigners into British sports teams."

    The comments so far seems to suggest that NOBODY thinks that something special is being lost, never mind "clearly many".

  • Comment number 16.

    @yottskry - I second that.

    Add in "X set to do something", "Y poised for something" - WTF, has it happened or not? Is it news?

    Also, the "Rooney backs Terry to bounce back" stuff drives me mental... as if football news wasn't dull enough already.

    Peace out

  • Comment number 17.

    Lazy journalism aside, why can't they get it into their skulls that it's NOT the Union Jack, but the Union Flag? It's only a jack when flown from the foremast of a vessel.

  • Comment number 18.

    @Andyburn - Indeed. I've long since given up trying to point this out.

  • Comment number 19.

    Does anyone know if Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps have got any British lineage??

  • Comment number 20.

    May I remind you there are two types of rugby played in Britain. You may not be aware of this, because you probably live in a region in which the only coverage you get from the BBC is at 3 in the morning. If you are going to refer to one of the rugby sports in an article, please state which one you're referring to.

  • Comment number 21.

    There are quite a few mistakes in this blog as pointed out above. If you want to make a point ot of 'foreigners' playing for England/Britain/whoever at least get your facts correct as you come out looking amateurish. Speak to some of your colleagues in rugby, cricket and football or else we'll all be waiting for Arteta to make his debut for England in the same sort of way Tony Cascarino did for Ireland.

  • Comment number 22.

    Yawn - nationality has never been clear cut. Albert Trott played test cricket for both Australia and England over 100 years ago. Today his (alleged) relative, Jonathan Trott plays for England but was born in South Africa. There are a million examples.

    I am English, my wife is American. Our children have dual nationality. They have a perfect right to represent either of those nations.

    In this country, we always think it is us who only do this but it goes on everywhere. Even the 1987 All Blacks had an English/Irishman in the side, John Gallagher! He is an All Black legend despite spending virtually his entire life in England.

  • Comment number 23.

    Jambalaya wrote:

    The comments so far seems to suggest that NOBODY thinks that something special is being lost, never mind "clearly many"

    I for one do think so and suspect that many who don't post on blogs feel the same way. Flags of convenience.

  • Comment number 24.

    What's going on, Britain's "leaders" resorting to dishonorable tactics again with the public happy to go along with it unfussed by the negative image of their country? Yaawn


  • Comment number 25.

    magicDarkshadow: Trott had a British passport before he came to the UK, that's how he qualified to play for Warwickshire in 2003.

  • Comment number 26.

    I too am concerned with this issue.

    There will always be some grey areas eg an athlete with one british parent but who has never lived or been educated in this country; someone who comes over at aged 18 but has gone through the (say) Australian sports and education system etc.....

    But clearly Hape, Trott, Offli-Porter are not British and should not be representing England/GB.

  • Comment number 27.

    @25 - Thanks for letting me know. I also just got chastised by a work colleague for saying it in the office. So fair play to Trott.

  • Comment number 28.

    @21 - Cascarino is an interesting one. Cascarino's mother was adopted by an Irish couple. Something that Cascarino wasn't aware of until well after he was first capped by the Republic. But he still qualified because under Irish law, adopted children are recognised as their adoptive parents children. So in Cascarino's case according to Irish law he is the child of Irish grandparents and therefore can apply for an Irish passport. Making him eligible.

  • Comment number 29.

    24: Dishonorable how exactly? No rules have been broken have they?

  • Comment number 30.

    28: Didn't realise he qualified in the end to be honest just knew about his autobiography and him admitting he had misled the authorities slightly. Oh well I'm no better than David Bond with my facts now then, at least I don't get paid. On a complete side note after reading up on Cascarino I can't believe what he said about the recent Arsenal match!

  • Comment number 31.

    International sport may be about representing a country but its a results business, most British sports teams have at some time utilized a player who is qualified to play for them even though they were not born and or raised in this country. Likewise from the Athlete (or sports person's) perspective if there is better funding, training equipment, quality of life or just an opportunity to fulfill a life long dream that you have been working towards then who could honestly say no!

    Moreover I suggest almost every country that competes internationally does it as well as I can name Australian, South African and Kiwi Rugby and Cricket internationals that weren't born there. It's a fact of sport and has been for a very long time. It's not something that is every going to change and I for one don't really care who represents my country as long as they put absolutely everything into they can.

  • Comment number 32.

    The question of nationality always involves the All Blacks at some stage or another.

    Regarding number 5s comment, prior to the 1980s it was rare to see a non-Maori Polynesian in the All Blacks and the only Fijian I can recall before then was Bernie Fraser ( whose ancestry was our usual mix including Irish and Scottish ). The reason we see more brown faces is due to the fact that the Pacific Island migration for work really took off in the 1970s and 1980s and the kids of those immigrants ( some of the kids also having travelled at 5 - 6 years of age ) are now becoming eligible for selection by their country. Their country! As for Fiji, the amount of Fijian migration increased following the military coup of 1987. It's called migration - I should know, my parents were migrants to NZ and I have ended up here ( and very nice it is too ).

    If you are talking about rent a medals then Qatar may have a bit more to answer for on that front.

  • Comment number 33.

    #32, yes Qatar are another example of a country where people compete for them after moving there. My point was plenty of people do it in plenty of sports. You seem a bit defensive about the mention of Fiji and the All Blacks, so Sitiveni Sivivatu and Joe Rokocoko weren't both born in Fiji? I'm not disputing that they were brought up in New Zealand I was just stating that these sort of instances happen in many countries and in many sports, the All Blacks being one example the same as the England cricket team. The fact is that it's happened for years and will carry on happening. The governing bodies put rules in place that they think are right and these people follow them, they haven't done anything wrong so where's the story?

  • Comment number 34.

    Others: Linford Christie, Eric Young, Terry Butcher, Robert Earnshaw, Greg Rusedski, Lennox Lewis, Herbie Hide.
    Many many British sportsmen have emigrated to Britain. Its no bad thing as long as they do not expect a free ride!


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