Exporting unsporting expat sportsmen

In rather unrelated South African sports news this week, English batsman Jonathan Trott was named the ICC’s Cricketer of the Year for 2011 after an extraordinary 12 months of runs, runs and more runs.

What should be of interest is that fact that Trott hails from Cape Town and represented South Africa at under-15 and under-19 levels before nailing his colours to a British mast.

Now hold on. Before you think this is another article decrying affirmative action in South African sports based on the amount of our countrymen playing for foreign states, think again.

What I merely want to illustrate is the sheer number of South African sportspeople plying their trade for countries other than that of their birth.

For instance, I’ll start with the England cricket team, which has a South African Test captain in Andrew Strauss and several others besides Trott who are South African by birth—the most obvious would of course be the vociferous Kevin Pietersen—but more on him later.

Then there is the Netherlands’ cricket outfit (yes, they are a cricketing nation) who have names like Kruger, Swart and Loots in their ranks, and one of their most skilled players being Ryan ten Doeschate, who is from Port Elizabeth.

I can then go through the Canadian, Irish and Namibian cricket teams to show you more examples, but that would be biased towards the game of leather and willow, so we’ll move onto rugby.

The World Cup in New Zealand officially has 37 South African players taking part—even though the Springboks only account for 30 of them.

The most notable are Australian lock Dan Vickerman, a former South African under-21 player, and English prop Matt Stevens.

Canada has Worcester-born backline player Daniel van der Merwe, who is at his second World Cup for the Canucks, but they aren’t even half as South Africanised as Italy is.

The Azzurri have three towering locks in their squad in Quintin Geldenhuys, Corniel van Zyl and Carlo del Fava who were all raised on good old pap and wors.

Their coach, Nick Mallet, was born in England, strangely enough, but played for and coached the Springboks.

Even the United States has a solitary South African in the midst of their lineup as Cape Town-born loose forward JJ Gagiano aims to earn his World Cup stripes by virtue of his American mother.

When it comes to football, I can’t remember any recent acquisitions of South Africa by foreign nations for their national teams, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t gone unheralded.

The well-documented cases of Sean Dundee and Roy Wergele are about the only South African-born footballers in recent history that have cracked the nod for another country.

Wergele played in the 1994 and 1998 World Cups for the US, and Dundee, well, he managed to earn himself a solitary cap for the German B side.

But what does it all mean? Not much.

While some of us like to use this as a stick with which to beat transformation in sport, I actually like to think of it as some sort of a national sporting sieve we can employ to sort the chaff from the wheat when it comes to dedication to one’s country.

It does result in some funny instances of confused nationalism, especially for Kevin Pietersen, who seems to be going through some sort of an identity crisis lately.

He recently tweeted at the beginning of the World Cup: “I want Eng to win the RWC but want my mate @butch_james to somehow be Player Of The Tournament.. #loverugby”

I would have let this slide as mere nostalgia on KP’s part, but then I saw the verbal rumble he had with @ZinzanBrooke8—former New Zealand great Zinzan Brooke.
I’ll just let the tweets do the talking here.

@kevinpp24: “Don’t go to hard at @zinzanbrooke8 on Twitter please.. He’s still crying from ‘95 RWC ... #welcometotwitterbigman
@ZinzanBrooke8: “Can anyone explain this. I thought @kevinpp24 played cricket for England. So why the line about RWC 95? We stuffed you, but not the Boks

Well now, can anyone think who Kevin Pietersen actually supports?

Nickolaus Bauer

Nickolaus Bauer

Nickolaus Bauer is the Mail & Guardian's jack of all trades news reporter that chases down stories ranging from politics and sports to big business and social justice. Armed with an iPad, SLR camera, camcorder and dictaphone, he aims to fight ignorance and pessimism through written words, photographs and videos. He believes South Africa could be the greatest country in the world if only her citizens would give her a chance to flourish instead of dwell on the negativity. When he's not begging his sub-editors for an extra twenty minutes after deadline, he's also known to dabble in the occasional poignant column that will leave you mulling around in the depths of your psyche. The quintessential workaholic, you can also catch him doing sports on the weekday breakfast show on SAfm and presenting the SAfm Sports Special over the weekend. Read more from Nickolaus Bauer

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