Jack Wilshere Debate: Can Foreign Football Players and Sports People Represent England or Other National Teams?

11 Oct

As reported in the media, Jack Wilshere, English football midfielder, 21, recently said: “If you live in England for five years it doesn’t make you English.” His comments were made in relation to the number of foreign players who currently play in English football and his (Wilshere’s) belief that ‘only’ ‘English-born’ players should have right to represent England in its ‘national’ football team. There are no immediate or further reports about whether Wilshere was also referring to the number of foreign players in English football in general. Though, one could argue; that this is clearly a reasnonable assessment of his views to make. His comments have sparked some debate about culture and national identities and equal outrage in both the media and society; particularly in relation to race and ethno-cultural relations; what being English and English identity actually means, and whether there are too many foreign players playing in English football.

Let’s break down and analyze Wilshere’s remarks shall we: “If you live in England for five years, it doesn’t make you English.” Wilshere was referring to the number of years it takes for a foreign player to be considered to represent the English national squad. It also makes clear that he believes no-one- whether a football player or not- can and should ever be permitted to call themselves English if they have lived in England for 5-years or less. From this, we can also reasonably assert that Wilshere has (his) personal views about the number of other ‘foreigners’ who were not born in England, but have settled in England and contribute to English society. His statements about ‘Englishness’ could be considered to be a rather nationalistic, in this respect.

In a way though, he is right… to some, limiting degree. The fact is, that living in England for 5-years does not necessarily make you English. Why? Firstly, one has to define and associate one’s identity (and national allegiances) as such. Secondly, one has to be accepted as being or identifying one’s self as English. However, because those who consider themselves ‘rightfully’ English- as Wilshere does- Wilshere says it is unacceptable and we (immigrants and foreign residents) cannot be- simply because of our birthplace. A rather xenophobic and hateful stance in my view. At worst, Wilshere’s remarks are indeed akin to xenophobia… in the least, a stupid and ill-considered rant. Far from attacking Wilshere, my view it that his stance clearly appears to me that of an individual who is either intolerant of immigrants and foreigners- who do not have equal rights to play national football in their resident or adopted country- or that he himself is struggling with his own identity issues because of the presence of foreigners in what he perceives to be his country. I will leave you to make your own minds up.

As with Wilshere’s view of residency and status; it still appears that there are many racist elements within English society; particularly within football, and from more intolerant sections of society, who clearly consider themselves as having more rights than immigrants who have adopted England as their home.

Sadly, we ‘foreigners’ and ‘immigrants’ can ‘only’ call oursleves ‘British’, because we are not permitted to call ourselves ‘English.’ Even that is a privilege for some of us. The important thing to remember, is that we are who we believe and assert ourselves to be; not who others (like Wilshere) say we are, and/ or would tell or attempt to dictate us to be. Wilshere, in my view, is a firmly in the closet of xenophobes, but hides himself from being open and direct!

For further thoughts on identity, please refer to this article: English and British Identity.

Author: Jason Schumann

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