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Action Replay: Team Spirit

Germany vs Ghana at the football World Cup in Brazil. Jérôme Boateng and his half-brother Kevin-Prince Boateng are playing, but on opposite sides (as they did four years earlier in South Africa). Jérôme plays for Germany: his mother is German, his father a Ghanaian immigrant to Germany. Kevin-Prince has the same father but a different mother (also German); he plays for Ghana. Both were born in Berlin. Kevin-Prince played for the German Football Association’s junior teams but a few years ago decided to play for Ghana. Jérôme says he never thought of playing for Ghana, where he’s never been.

The US team in Brazil also has a sizeable German influence, and not just because their coach is Jürgen Klinsmann. Four of the squad have German mothers, with their fathers being American servicemen who lived in Germany. Some have never lived in the US, but chose to play for them since they had little chance of playing at international level for Germany.

One thing all this shows is how relatively open the world is these days, with plenty of people migrating for work and other reasons (including military ones, sadly). Other World Cup squads were also a mix of players of various backgrounds. Thus, Josip Drmić played for Switzerland, where he was born, though his parents are Croatian.

It also raises questions about eligibility for a particular national side which varies between different sports. For football it is a matter of birthplace of the player or their parents or grandparents, having a passport for the country in question, or living there for five years after the age of eighteen. In rugby union, birthplaces matter but passports don’t, and the period of residence must be three years preceding a specific match. Back in 2000, rugby saw a controversy about players who played for Wales, despite being qualified instead for New Zealand: it was dubbed Grannygate.

So nationality is a pretty fluid concept as far as sport is concerned. However, this seems to be ignored by supporters who cheer on ‘their’ teams, irrespective of the actual backgrounds of the players. Capitalism really does undermine the importance of countries and borders, in sport as in so many other areas.

PB