The beautiful game, as it is known, can inspire some frightfully ugly reactions.
For instance, Canada’s women recently lost their Olympic semi-final football (soccer) match to the USA (4-3 after extra time), due in large part to a couple of quaintly creative decisions by Norwegian referee Christiana Pedersen. My initial reaction to this was that Canada should scramble the CF-18s pronto and launch an invasion of Norway or at the very least make some bold incursions into its airspace as an expression of outrage. Given the sense of injustice I was feeling at the time, this felt like a moderate approach.
But while not without precedent (El Salvador and Honduras engaged in a four-day war following riots at World Cup qualifying matches between the two countries in 1969) my approach was neither serious nor sensible. It was, in fact, spectacularly self-serving.
What did inspire, however, are some thoughts about service that were prompted by the fact Canada’s team contained one dual Canadian-American citizen, Chelsea Stewart, while the American team contained another, Sydney Leroux. This is not unusual. Canadians have for years played hockey and other sports for foreign countries and as we are all aware, Team USA swimmer and gold medalist Missy Franklin is also a Canadian citizen with Canadian parents. I don’t think these matters should be controversial, particularly in the case of Franklin who was born and raised in the USA and always dreamed of representing the land of her birth; the nation that nurtured her.
It becomes somewhat more controversial when one abandons the nation of one’s birth and nurturing to represent another. This is not, in my view, controversial for the act in itself but for the reasons articulated for the decision. The services of Team Canada’s Stewart, for instance, were declined by Team USA, so Canada became an alternative option to not only pursue her ambitions on the field but to serve her “other” country. Team USA’s Leroux, on the other hand, was in Team Canada’s plans but dreamed of playing for the best team in the world and so went to work determining her father’s citizenship so that she could become American and pursue what was best for herself.
Asmir Begovic, raised from the age of four in Edmonton and now starting goalie for Stoke City of the English Premier League, first caught the eyes of European scouts playing on Canada’s junior teams but eventually found it more convenient to play for the land of his birth as opposed to the land that fostered him. Calgary’s Owen Hargreaves famously shunned playing for Canada and chose England—the land of his father’s birth. Similar stories abound. Often the decisions are complex and are influenced by parents and—in an increasingly pan-national world—difficult emotional decisions.
What catches the attention from time to time, however, is this explanation: “I’ve decided that (country X) provides the best opportunity for me to pursue my international ambitions.” This, as if the concept of loyalty to something greater than oneself has been completely removed from the decision-making process.
All of which gets to the point of service and whether the concept is simply eroding in a country within which—post-Charter—primacy has been given to individual rights over those of the collective. In prior generations, it was considered honourable to subjugate individualism in order to serve the collective good. Here in the early years of the 21st century there is increasing evidence to suggest the collective and its institutions exist simply to provide individuals with the opportunity to pursue their ambitions.