Every now-and-then, the best of us suffers a hard-and-hurting, bad-and-bitter bite of nationalism that we express with Fire and Brimstone, only to later pipe-down and cool-it – not because we were wrong to feel that way, but because ‘That’s how it is now’ or is simply ‘accepted’ as Politically Correct.
I was all-over-myself last week over the way the British were glad to dump all their guilt and embarrassment over their hasty and uncelebrated (if not shameful) departure from Afghanistan on August 31, in favor of heralding the fact that Britain had finally won a women’s tennis US Grand Slam title after over 40 years.
Not that I didn’t feel the 18-year-old little lady didn’t deserve her win, as she worked hard for it — every slam of the way — against her 19-year-old competitor.
Like everyone else, I was trying to grapple with the fact that two young teenagers had shown the aging crop that the future of tennis continues to lie with the likes of them — and Naomi Osaka.
I was also bemused by the fact that neither of the two young ladies (who had just toppled all the Grand Slam records by making it to the finals from virtually nowhere) were born in Britain.
Both were Canadian — and while each played their guts out barely showing any signs of strain, one beat the other for her adopted homeland.
When Queen Elizabeth took time-off her busy royal schedule to pen a congratulatory note to the new young Star of Britannia, my mind’s flash drive pictured the now-popular image of Sir Mohamed Muktar Jama Farah, wrapped in the Union Jack.
Better known in the athletic world simply as ‘Mo Farah’ before he was knighted by Her Majesty, the Somali-born long-distance runner (born in 1983) had moved with his family to England as a youth, started breaking records on the English tracks — and was eventually quickly adopted by Britain after breaking and defending successive Olympic records to become The Empire’s most-decorated athlete today.
As I took-in the equal praise for Emma Raducanu after she defeated fellow Canadian Leylah Fernandez, I couldn’t but keep on registering (in the back of my mind) that both were Canadians representing their respective homelands on one of the grandest of tennis stages in the world – and feeling that was probably why all the commentators were baffled that they showed absolutely no sign of rivalry on the lawn.
Again, Osaka’s similar mesmerizing of commentators and observers when she beat Serena Williams in the USA came to mind – and the fact that although Japan fully adopted her, there were times she also probably felt ‘less Japanese’ at home, even on rare occasions like when her image is photo-edited and re-colored to make the daughter of a Haitian father and a Japanese mother look ‘more Japanese’.
But then, while taking-in my feelings about the fact that Canada and Britain were being represented on the US Grand Slam court by two adopted daughters – and blowing a kiss to my TV screen when I saw and heard Emma address Chinese fans globally (and in perfect Mandarin) after her victory, the reporter noting ‘Her mother is Chinese’ while ‘her father is European…’
Tiger Woods and his Korean connection also briefly flashed across my mind, even half-Jamaican Colin Powell and half-Kenyan Barack Obama for a short while…
I’d noted that ‘People of Color’ (like Blacks and ‘non-Whites’ are referred to nowadays) had also continued to skirt the White House after Joe Biden successfully chose half-Pakistani Kamala Harris as his running mate for the Vice Presidency and appointed Afro-American Lloyd Austin as US Defense Secretary.
But all of that disappeared on Monday after I was influenced, even convinced, I should take some time-off to watch Saint Lucia’s ‘Kings’ team play in the semi-finals of the popular Hero CPL Series.
Barely minutes into the match, after seeing Darren Sammy as the team’s coach, I asked my two visiting friends for Johnson Charles and was told he was ‘playing for Barbados’.
I then asked ‘Who from Saint Lucia’ was on ‘Our team’, only to be told ‘Nobody…’
It was steaming hot that afternoon, but I felt a chill…
I asked both: ‘How y’all mean nobody… This is a Saint Lucia team, so why is no Lucian on it?’
One replied (rather matter-of-factly): ‘That’s how it is in the CPL… different players from different countries…’
But I refused to understand, asking ‘So, how-come all those people from other countries [I almost said ‘foreigners’] wearing our national colors as their uniform and we have no one to represent us?’
One replied: ‘Because none of our players qualify to get pick…’
My friends’ eyes glued to the TV and both too thrift on words for my liking, I reclined into my rocking chair and continued watching – but still refusing to see myself accepting any rule that said a team representing Saint Lucia could or would exclude Saint Lucians.
But (I was later told) – and still refused to understand — the team doesn’t ‘represent’ Saint Lucia, only that it ‘plays under the Saint Lucia flag…’
And that ‘Sporting Saint Lucia’s national flag colors…’ (complete with the rare ‘Cerulean Blue’ invented by Dunstan St. Omer to make our national banner globally unique) was ‘Nothing new…’
I also watched the thrilling Kings vs Patriots (Saint Lucia vs St. Kitts & Nevis) finals on Wednesday and was proud all-the-way for the strange Saint Lucia team sporting my national colors – and to the very end, with no regrets…
I’ve always wholly accepted that in any sport one side wins and another loses, but nothing has made me accept that I should not ‘feel a way’ about a team representing Saint Lucia or playing in our name, under our flag, without a single Saint Lucian.
But my comeuppance started much sooner than expected when — during that same Hero CPL Final — I heard a commentator talk about how the Guyana Cricket Board had serious issues with the ‘West Indies selectors’ for apparently failing (either consistently or more than once) to pick a Guyanese for the regional team.
Not only was I surprised by the claim, but even more so by the response of another commentator — to the effect that ‘The West Indies selectors owe no explanation to Guyana…’
I must admit the Guyana complaint somewhat helped me accept that I am not alone and that an entire Caribbean nation is also mourning the prolonged absence of a national on the Caribbean’s cricket team.
I still don’t accept what I refuse to be made to understand…
But I can’t but accept that cricket and football, tennis and basketball, like the Olympic Games, are no longer just sports but Big Business today, in each case motivated more by profits than playing.
I mean, just look at the cost Japan paid to host the 2020 Olympic Games in 2021, only for the IOC (International Olympics Committee) to take home all the financial bacon while Japanese citizens were forced to stay home as Tokyo (and the rest of the country) toasted under COVID-19.
One friend too close to argue with (who it would take too long and too hard to win an argument) briefly told me I was not only ‘Out of touch with sports today’, but also that instead of ‘Just being a Lucian’ like I claimed, (in his view) I was ‘displaying a huge hangover from an overdose of nationalism…’
And, of course, I agreed to disagree — only still wondering today if I was at all wrong to feel the way I did – and still do.
Meanwhile, Oh for those days when sports were just games to be enjoyed for fun and the collective therapy of community happiness…