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Loyalty needn’t be divided

Last update - Thursday, February 25, 2010, 10:58 By Des Tomlinson

Des Tomlinson: On The Ball I was recently invited to attend the Dublin premier of Invictus, a film that charts the progress of the South African rugby team in the 1995 World Cup at a crucial period in the country’s history.

You have to take your hat off to Nelson Mandela for his vision in seeing the potential of sport and using this to unify a hurt and fragmented nation. This is perhaps one of the greatest examples of the power of sport.
Sadly, Ireland won’t be at the Fifa World Cup this summer, due in large part to the hand of Thierry Henry, the head of William Gallas and, to be fair, some missed opportunities during the match by our own side.
But let’s assume for a moment that Ireland had qualified for the cup – who would you be supporting? Would you be joining half the country and more in front of the box this summer cheering on the boys in green? Or would you be faced with a dilemma as to who to shout for if Ireland faced the country of your birth?
I faced a similar dilemma when England would play the West Indies in cricket. The truth is that I was never a massive fan of watching cricket – the ‘beautiful game’ was more up my street – but I felt an obligation to support the motherland.
For people who value both the country where they were born as well as where they live now, this can be a sticky wicket. But why can’t you cheer for both?
In Europe, the question of dual identity and valuing cultures has been pushed to the forefront as a result of increased migration. Indeed, the question of ‘who to shout for’ was tested in France recently when Algeria played Egypt in a World Cup qualifier. Young people from communities who either felt excluded or not part of French society ignored France in the win over Ireland, cheering instead for the country of their parents’ birth.
With both France and Algeria qualifying for the finals in South Africa this summer, it’s going to be, as French-Algerian journalist Nabila Ramdani put it, “a straight choice between blue and green – Les Bleus representing our parents’ adopted homeland, or Les Verts from the former colony where they were born.”
Realistically speaking, who would expect a Polish, Nigerian or UK-born citizen who was raised for the majority of their life in these countries and cultures to suspend their sense of identity and pride when their national team is playing? Nor would you expect an Irishman or women living in Brazil to cheer for Brazil against Ireland in their upcoming friendly.
But for young people born or growing up in Ireland and whose parents are from abroad, they may be keen to treasure and appreciate both their parents’ identity as well as their own sense of being Irish – recognising that sport at a national level is a reflection of identity, and that the debate about what it means to be Irish or French or what-have-you is constantly evolving.
The question of who to shout for, at least for the younger generation, is not so clear-cut. But this does not mean that people value one side more or less than the other – you can value both and cheer for both.
As part of the FAI’s network of emerging talent centres, new players – both boys and girls – are emerging from diverse ethnic or cultural backgrounds. In time they will surely filter through to the national teams, clearly pinning their colours to the mast one way or the other. The question of who to cheer for will not be an issue for these players of the future, who will follow in the footsteps of Irish legends such as Paul McGrath and Curtis Fleming.
So if you’re at a loose end today when Ireland’s girls in green take on Brazil, or on 2 March when our boys play the South American giants in London, put on the green jersey and celebrate the richness of Ireland’s own rainbow nation.

Des Tomlinson is the FAI’s intercultural co-ordinator

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