Comment: Origins no issue for this Scots team

English'born, Inverurie'raised Hannah Miley proudly wears her tartan scarf as she is introduced at the Tollcross Swimming Centre Picture: Ian Rutherford
English'born, Inverurie'raised Hannah Miley proudly wears her tartan scarf as she is introduced at the Tollcross Swimming Centre Picture: Ian Rutherford
Share this article
Have your say

wHEN it comes to nationality, is it an emotional choice, a quirk of geographic fate, a matter of genetics or an opportunistic ruse to get to the biggest sporting events via any means available? Is it simply a fact printed in black and white on a birth certificate or something that resides in the heart and soul of those who have been representing the host ­nation at these Games?

Officially, the criteria demand that, for an athlete to represent Scotland at a Commonwealth Games, that this should be the country of birth, or that of a parent or grandparent. If that doesn’t help, there is also the ­residency route.

Viorel Etko, left, and Alex Gladkov, who won wrestling bronze, are not Scots'born. Picture: TSPL

Viorel Etko, left, and Alex Gladkov, who won wrestling bronze, are not Scots'born. Picture: TSPL

Those various options have been utilised to full effect by members of Team Scotland this summer. Of those who have contributed to the record-breaking Scottish medal haul thus far, 19 were born outside of Scotland and, while many observers subscribe to the notion that winning is all the counts, the romance of the friendliest of Games and the nostalgic demand for sporting integrity calls for something less superficial.

But, just because some of those who have stood on the top step of the ­podium and belted out the ­national anthem, or donned their kilts and wept with pride, were born elsewhere, doesn’t make them imposters.

Perhaps that is one of the real legacies of these Games. Perhaps these Games have helped redefine nationality and what it means to be Scottish in a modern, multi-cultural country.

The matter of Scottishness is a thorny one these days, with the independence referendum looming and the whole issued defined by some into two simple words: Yes or no.

But it has always been about something wider. For some, their heritage is what has helped hone the athlete. In the case of Hannah Miley, who was born in England but is defined by her Celtic roots and the qualities and personality traits she associates with them. That work ethic, the stubbornness, the need to prove people wrong all combined to help her defend her 400m individual medley gold on the opening night in the pool. It set the example for others and, it could be argued that those personality traits played an even bigger role in her ­adding another unexpected medal in the 200m IM later in the meet.

Raised in Inverurie and, true to her hometown, she has resisted offers to move south or abroad. So does the accident of birth, when she was born in Swindon, render her less Scottish than the likes of triple medallist Dan Wallace who was born in Edinburgh and bellowed Freedom in homage to William Wallace when he won his gold, then headed out to the blocks in a kilt and Irn-Bru-inspired socks on the final night of the swimming ­action.

Like Miley, there is no doubting he is Scottish, but he moved to Florida ­because he felt, apparently correctly, that it would enhance his chances of improving as an athlete.

So nationality has to be about more than yes or no. It has to be based on more than a place of birth, more than a place of residence.

It was aquatics head coach ­Graham Wardell who revealed what being Scottish means to his athletes. A few days ago he told the story of one Scottish competitor addressing their team-mates and stating they didn’t need a T-shirt with Team ­Scotland on it to know who they were representing because they carry it in their heart.

“I think that’s true of every Scottish person and I think that’s even true of the ones who have Scottish parents but live down south,” said Wardell, another who was born south of the border but wore the tartan proudly and lost his voice cheering the home swimmers to win ahead of their ­Commonwealth counterparts, including their near neighbours.

“There is a real sense of national pride and our team spirit is based on pride and passion and performance.”

It has been the same throughout the team. Dan Purvis was born in ­Liverpool and still doesn’t reside up here but he has his family tree to thank for his chance to have a hand in creating history by helping the Scots gymnastics team achieve feats once unimagined. Like his team-mates Dan Keatings and Frank Baines he could easily have competed for England. In fact, if some south of the Border had had their way, they would have.

But they resisted the urge, they ­consider themselves Scottish and it could be argued they sacrificed their chances of making the gold-winning team to prove that.

But some cynics will suggest others see the flag as one of mere convenience and it would be naïve to think that, occasionally, is not the case. But even some of those have been educated here, they have been part of something special and they now have an emotional bond and are fully signed up members of the Commonwealth clan, securing their place in the history books as a member of the most successful Scottish team ever.

Ask the medal-winning wrestlers, one born in Ukraine – Alex Gladkov – the other – Viorel Etko – in Moldova, if they feel Scottish. They may not have the Glasgow patter or a Highland lilt but the country is their home and they fought the odds and have the bruises and the cauliflower ears to prove for they have fought for the nation and the honour.

As JFK once said: Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.

As Flower of Scotland sounds out around venues, the gold reserves reach new heights and the medal count mounts, there is no doubting that whether motivated by national or personal pride, every Scot, those competing and supporting, those born and bred as well as adopted, has risen to the occasion.