By STEVE MASCORD
NEW England coach Shaun Wane would be among the people most disquieted about international sport becoming more and more like a club competition.
From the Olympics to rugby league, athletes now often switch to the nation which can further their personal interests to the greatest degree. Of course, people now change their countries of residence more than they ever have in history and national identity is no longer as straightforward as it once was.
Add to this the many legal avenues now open to those who feel they have been unfairly discriminated against and you have an exceedingly complex issue, as reflected by the different rules that govern national eligibility in different sports.
When Wane left Blake Austin and Jackson Hastings out of his preliminary squad for this year’s Ashes series against Australia, it was easy to immediately assume that as a self-proclaimed British patriot, he was railing against this mercenary trend in international sport.
Under an Australian coach and with three Australian born players, the first Great Britain tour Down Under since 1996 had been a disaster. Using this as justification, Wane would have had plenty of support for going ‘old school’ and winding back the clock to a time when “foreigners” Michael Withers, Tulsen Tollett, Maurie Fa’asavalu, Rangi Chase, Lachlan Coote, Hastings and Austin had never donned the English and British colours.
(One has to feel sorry for Hastings in light of International Rugby League’s recent decision to retrospectively rank GB as a tier one nation, banning him from every representing Australia, if he never gets another look-in for England or Great Britain, though)
So the burning question was: had the birthplace and life-long homes of Hastings and Austin counted against them?
In an interview last week with the Backchat TV panel show, Wane give a very strong indication that the answer could be, and if not would very likely be in the future, ‘yes’
“If two players are playing exactly the same I’m going to go with the English kid,” he said.
You’ve got to admire Wane for his honesty. After a tough upbringing, he’s in demand on the corporate motivation circuit for being blunt and passionate.
The coach of England has just admitted that properly qualified selection candidates will be discriminated against on the basis of their country of birth, the country in which they have spent most time or their accent.
Surely there’s no other way to read that statement.
So, how would an Australian or Kiwi-born player go about making the England team for the Ashes and next year’s World Cup?
“If I was to bring anyone in who wasn’t English into the team, they’d have to be outstanding.
“Fantastic performances in Super League and the NRL – the door is never closed.
“Fantastic performances from everybody, which I would expect, would get you in the team, no question.”
As I said, Shaun is to be applauded for his candour. What he is saying, pragmatically, makes oodles of sense: there are negatives associated with picking ‘plastic Poms’ and these negatives can only be negated by individuals who proven match winners.
If he can make a difference between winning and losing, he can be a (properly qualified) Martian.
But ideologically, isn’t this position also an admission that patrioitism has a limit, that the surrendering of principles has a price?
It is, in fact, the very essence of international sport becoming the same sort of horse trade that professional club competition has become. If I can use a local kid I will but if there’s a better player out there in his position, we’ll being him in.
That’s what clubs do. I’d assume Shaun doesn’t want international sport to end up like that.
… because it’s arguably more expedient and transactional than anything Wayne Bennett did in the England and Great Britain roles before him.
By STEVE MASCORD