​There have been a number of recent examples of sports people opting out of international sports. The reasons cited vary, but the outcome is the same, the countries don’t have their best people representing them in sporting endeavours. Messi claims he is tired of Argentina losing (a true winner?), various golfers pulling out of the Rio Olympics on the back of the Zika virus (why is it just golfers?), Chris Gayle opting for the T20 circus (money and flash over national pride, or was he pushed? – ditto Kevin Peterson), NZ’s Brendon McCullum (clearly fit enough for T20), various rugby players – Charles Piutau and Nick Evans spring to mind (Euros and the overseas experience, fair enough?).

In professional team sports, has the interntational team just become another ‘brand’ to play for? Another contract to negotiate? Does it hold any extra ‘value’ over the cash and leverage?
Messi is interesting, international football has managed to keep the top players involved in the top tournaments, is this the start of a change? Is he really just a bad loser? Is it because of the shambles of Argentinian international football? 
Golfers fears of Zika, seems fair enough, are we just hearing more about golfers pulling out rather than other sports people? Golfers and tennis players regularly pull out of the Olympics, it is clearly optional in their views. Not enough money in it? Should a sport be at the Olympics when the top players don’t view the Olympics and country representation as the pinnacle? These sports have long established, prestigious (and well paid) gala events. It is a shame that the Olympics is so desperate to have them!
Cricket is about the money, but surely they can still squeeze in the odd international? Who wouldn’t want BMac back in the NZ T20 team? West Indies cricket is awash with play-for-pay players and appears in shambles with rumours of breaking up the individual island nations. Kevin Peterson has issues, but was he really pushed for the sake of team culture, believable – he seems to genuinely want to play for England, unlike McCullum?
Rugby as with cricket is clearly about the money, but then NZRugby policy (a blog entry in itself) and the lack of an international window don’t help. Many players either exit the international game early, or give up on possible All Black selection. Is this just the expected case of money and an OE for young people? If we looked at data from the amateur era would we actually find the same thing, young men (in the case of rugby) choosing travel and career over national representation?
Is money any more of a reason in professional than in amateur sports (now and in the past) in which sports people have to choose between training and performing, and making money? How many potential sports people did we not see?
Why bother with the Olympics as a pinnacle national representative competition for sports that have well established top tournaments?  
Do sports where club competition is considered to be at a higher competitive level than international (rugby league, basketball) or at least over hyped (ice hockey, baseball) need internationals? Players appear to enjoy the international experience with what appears to be a dose of nostaligia and duty at times.
Sports that competitors represent a country and a brand so dramatically – F1, Americas Cup (AC,now that deserves some questioning in its own right) – do we really need country representation? Do these sports people really consider that they are representing their country – England or Mercedes, Australia or Red Bull, New Zealand or Emirates? Do we maintain the quasi-country representation because it helps with sponsorship and broadcast deals?  

In the world of professional sport it would seem your country is at risk of becoming just another brand and money talks at the end of the day.

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4 thoughts on “Why represent your country in sport?

  1. The Zika thing is interesting….they had a good-ish interview with a Communicable Diseases chap on “Radio Sport” here the other day….his summary “you should be more worried about dengue or any one of 30 other issues before you worry about Zika”…he was pretty categorical that the risk factors were very much isolated to the “very poor” and hence those without any useful means of profilaxis…(not to diminish what’s clearly a horrible impact in the case of pregnancy…)

    As relates the golfers then – convenience….

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    1. Not unsuprising to hear this. Western media blowing things out of proportion. I did hear a rumour that Zika is a western (I think US) conspiracy against the development of Brazil.
      Agree, it is a useful excuse for some.

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  2. Another interesting question is which country you choose to play for.

    Messi is a naturalised Spanish citizen having moved there when he was 13 and would have been eligible to play for Spain had he not represented Argentina at youth level. As a winner, he would surely have enjoyed more success with them (and a good number of his Barcelona teammates) if he’d followed that path.

    It often appears as though players will pick the first country that comes knocking (possibly because they don’t believe they will reach a level to represent the stronger country they are eligible for) – Winston Reid (NZ v Denmark), Mike Harris (Wallabies v All Blacks), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon v France) and I’m sure the list goes on…

    Should a player be able to change that decision (the way the change clubs)? Or is a decision they make as a teenager, in many cases, the one they have to stick with?

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    1. The way you have describe it somewhat reinforces the view that national representation is becoming more like club representation, players should be free to pick and choose. It would be great if national teams followed something simple like citizenship so you have a clear affiliation to the country and intent to maintain that affiliation. If you stop players changing NZ would not have got Irene! But, more seriously on that example, it would be odd if she could only represent SA when she has made a clear personal commitment to live and stay in NZ.

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