London: Oct 10, 2013
Kevin Pietersen took to Twitter to question England footballer Jack Wilshere‘s belief that only English players should represent the national side.
Pietersen, born in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa to an English mother and South African father, has become a mainstay of the England cricket team and is just one match away from appearing in 100 Tests.
He is one of a number of players across several sports, including Jamaica-born footballer John Barnes, who’ve represented England without being born in the country, a legacy of the country’s imperial past, ‘mixed’ marriages and, more recently, greater global migration.
But Wilshere said Tuesday: “The only people who should play for England are English people. If you live in England for five years it doesn’t make you English.”
However, Pietersen pointing to his own case and that of several other South Africa-born England cricketers as well as Somali-born doubles Olympic champion Mo Farah, said: “Jack Wilshere — interested to know how you define foreigner…?”
“Would that include me, [Andrew] Strauss (the ex-England cricket captain), [Jonathan] Trott (England batsman), [Matt] Prior (England wicketkeeper), Justin Rose [South Africa-born golfer], [Chris] Froome (Kenya-born Tour de France champion), Mo Farah?”
Following a back and forth Twitter exchange Wilshere, who sparked a nationwide debate ahead of the England football team’s key World Cup qualifier against Montengero at Wembley on Friday, clarified his remarks late Wednesday by saying: “To be clear, never said ‘born in England’ — I said English people should play for England.
“Great respect for people like KP [Kevin Pietersen], Mo Farah and Wilf Zaha — they make the country proud.
“My view on football — going to a new country when ur an adult, and because u can get a passport u play 4 that national team — I disagree. (sic)”
Earlier, Wilshere, 21, insisted he’d only been talking about his own sport.
“With all due respect Mr Pietersen the question was about Football! Cricket, cycling, Athletics is not my field!”
That didn’t satisfy the Pietersen, with the 33-year-old former England captain replying: “Same difference… It’s about representing your country! IN ANY SPORT!”
Wilshere’s initial remarks came against the backdrop of the Football Association looking into the eligibility of rising Manchester United star Adnan Januzaj.
Belgium-born winger Januzaj can play for the country of his birth, Albania, Kosovo, Serbia and Turkey and the 18-year-old could also one day represent England on residency grounds.
Wilshere said having foreign-born players in the team risked diluting the essential character of the side.
“You think of England and you think they are brave and they tackle hard. We have to remember that,” he said.
‘To be English you should be born in England’
Wilshere’s view was backed by former England football captain Alan Shearer, who told the BBC: “I am of the opinion that to be English you should be born in England… Adnan Januzaj looks a fantastic young talent.”
“But just because you’ve lived in England for five years that doesn’t mean you can play for the national team.”
However, FA chairman Greg Dyke, speaking earlier on Wednesday, said Wilshere had gone too far and that were his view to be enforced Farah would have never have run for Great Britain at last year’s London Olympics.
“The idea that somebody who is not born in this country cannot play here is not real, but how long should they be here?” said Dyke.
“But then you’ve got to look at what FIFA say, what are the FIFA rules on it?”
“The FA are looking at what we think is appropriate and that is now what we are going through the process of.”
Many overseas-born sportsmen and women representing British teams are sensitive to suggestions they are not as committed as their ‘local’ colleagues and are flying a ‘flag of convenience’.
The issue of player eligibility is not just one for English sport.
Earlier, this year Pakistan-born leg-spinner Fawad Ahmed became an Australian citizen, having previously been an asylum-seeker, and in August he made his international debut for his adopted country.
Meanwhile Germany’s squad at the 2010 football World Cup in South Africa contained several players born outside the country.