Chris Froome: Why we should be proud to see a Kenyan win for Britainby Alexander on July 26th, 2013
Last night’s finish to the Tour de France was wonderful. It was great to see the second Brit finish in Yellow, but for me the experience was tarnished by the commentator’s tone of voice as they told us Froome’s back story.
Possibly I am sensitive because like Chris Froome I am an economic migrant. As a child I grew up for a while in South Africa and now live in the UK. To be honest though, the real reason I am an economic migrant is that I went to school in the West Midlands and chose to move to London for work.
I now describe myself as a Londoner. I have adopted this identity for myself, because this is where I have been for the last 3rd of my life, longer than I have lived anywhere before. The truth though, is I and Chris Froome are part of the 5th largest nation on earth. It is a nation with no name and no flag. It will soon have a population bigger than the United States, it is currently bigger than Canada and Australia combined and has one of the fastest rates of population growth in the world. It is the nation of people with no home; it is the nation of people who live outside their country of birth.
So is Chris Froome British? Yes, of course he is. Using the site GBnames you can see his surname has its centre of origin in Berkshire: http://bit.ly/12GJsMG. But so what? He is British not because we view him as British but because that is what he has chosen to be.
Chris Froome is Kenyan-born, was brought up in South Africa, holds a British passport and currently resides in Monaco with his Welsh born, South African fiancée, but he chose to ride the Tour under a British licence.
Last night I was gutted to see Mark Cavendish miss out. I am always awestruck by Cav’s power. He is a force of nature, watching him gives me a similar feeling as watching a swarm of starlings. These men are amazing. Their talents are fleeting ephemeral flames. They are a rare combination of physical and psychological traits that makes these remarkable feats of speed and endurance possible. That is why it pains me so much to hear sports commentators all but apologise for athletes’ personal histories.
If you take a look at a city and then look at individual streets, you will find that the streets with the greatest diversity of surnames, are the most productive in the city. The streets that all have local surnames tend to be the most impoverished. The streets that not only have foreign names but also have names from other parts of the UK tend to be the ones were people are getting richer fastest.
The reason is movement always comes at a cost. Whether it is a few calories burned having a gentle ride around the beautiful British wine country or the agony of winning the Tour de France, movement always requires something. So people, who have gone to the trouble of moving away from everything they know, and away from their support network, don’t tend to arrive and put their feet up. They are focused, they work hard and they get results, often they have made the journey for a reason and they have a goal in mind.
In the future more and more world beaters will come from this nomadic global tribe. As movement becomes easier it will become harder to find elite people in any walk of life who conform to this outmoded notion of nationhood. The first country that drops geography from its sense of identity will have a huge advantage, not least because they will be able to welcome talent in from anywhere with open arms without judgement or prejudice.
Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could stop thinking of Britain as a location, and start seeing it as a destination? Froome epitomises many of the things that made Britain great. He is intelligent, worldly, hardworking, eloquent, humble, and calm. Rather than neglecting to mention his past, or lamenting the fact that he wasn’t forged in England from British steel like some kind of Victorian rivet, we should celebrate the journey he and his family went on. The sacrifices he has made to achieve his win and the fact that “Britain” still means so much, that a man who had the choice, picked us.
Wine is a good example of a British industry that is taking the world by storm. The British wine industry didn’t emerge as world beating by being insular. They went out to Germany, France and the New World to discover the skills, talents and techniques that made us world beaters. Like Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins, I am sure we will see future British-born athletes, rising to the top of world standings. But the intense competition, of professional sport is casting a light on how the world really works. It will become harder and harder to find people who can take on the world and beat them on their first outing from these shores.
Rather than pretending this isn’t the case, we need to find a way of embracing it. If you agree please like and share this post. :-)