As the dust settles on Great Britain’s best ever showing at a World Indoor Championships, you’d be easily fooled into thinking that everything was going smoothly in the run up to London 2012.

However, certain media establishments, seem determined to try and undermine the positive atmosphere surrounding the GB Athletics team’s recent successes. With no fewer than five separate articles written by three different journalists, the far-from-esteemed Daily Mail has left no stone unturned in its criticism of British Athletics. And the chosen victims? So-called ‘Plastic Brits’.

While this is not a new story, with many athletes transferring loyalty halfway through their career, it’s reached a new height as a number of ‘foreign’ athletes have chosen to represent Great Britain in the run up to our home Olympics. It’s argued that the chance to compete at such a prestigious event on home soil (a privilege bestowed to very few) has prompted the timing of these switches, but surely the criticism has now gone too far?

Last Thursday, on the eve of the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul, Tiffany Porter was named as the Team GB Captain. Whilst originally competing for America (her country of birth) as a youngster, Porter switched nationality back in 2010, arguably a sufficient length of time to warrant her credibility. Having held dual-nationality since birth, Porter has a British mother and Nigerian father, making her British claim arguably stronger than her American ties.

However, some people have taken great offence to her captaincy including Angie Thorp, who held the British 100m hurdles record until Porter broke it last year. After the announcement that Porter would captain the team in Istanbul, Thorp commented: “It’s diabolical, it’s appalling. Even if we credit her with the right to wear a British vest, she has not done enough to deserve to be captain.”

But the criticism did not stop there as a reporter accosted the hurdler at the pre-event press conference, asking her to sing the first few lines of the National Anthem. Porter politely refused, adding that she wasn’t known for her singing ability, but did state: “I know the whole of God Save the Queen”. However, the reporter pressed on demanding that she recite it instead. “I don’t think that’s necessary”, Porter replied.

Many of Porter’s teammates were outraged at the line of questioning she had to face, whilst UKA Head Coach Charles Van Commenee quite rightly stood by his captain, saying: “I chose the team captain for her leadership skills and her athletic skills and her credibility, not her ability to memorise words or her vocal skills”.

Established senior international and former European 3000m Champion, Helen Clitheroe, was one of the athletes who was outspoken in her support of the new captain. In her post race interview Clitheroe said of Porter: "She's an absolutely brilliant team captain, she gave a brilliant team speech last night and inspired us all. I'm pretty sure if you asked the majority of the team they wouldn't know the words to the national anthem – I do – but it's not a requirement to be our team captain, it's about someone who you can look up to, follow and inspire us, and Tiffany's that person.”

Undoubtedly one of Britain’s best loved athletes Mo Farah has also backed Porter and is himself Somali born. World 5000m Champion Farah stepped in, saying: “I don’t think that question was acceptable, I think it was out of order. Tiffany’s a great athlete and she has come here to do well and represent her country. As an athlete, you don’t want to be answering questions like that.”

Farah had been preferred by some pundits for the role of GB Team Captain, alongside the nation’s poster girl for London 2012 Jess Ennis – both of whom have enough pressure as favourites for home glory, without the additional stress of leading the team at the World Indoors.

While further recent additions to the British team have been labelled ‘Plastic Brits’, including now World Indoor Triple Jump Champion, Yamile Aldama, this is not an issue exclusive to Great Britain, with many international athletes transferring their nationality for a number of personal reasons.

However, as I overheard a British athlete comment at the track; Athletics is not a team sport and therefore should we really mind if top class athletes are willing to leave everything on the track, admittedly for themselves, but in the end for our country?


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