Rain stopped another Ireland giant killing exploit at cricket’s ICC World Twenty20 yesterday. Having beaten Bangladesh and Pakistan in 2007, victory over England would have been the ultimate achievement. But, of course, it was Eoin Morgan who led the England innings. And, when an Irishman is the great new hope of English cricket you might think the world has done a somersault. It certainly confounds ethnic stereotype. But, he can play and having served his time in Ireland, moving to England and changing his allegiance was his only hope of taking his place at the highest level the world stage. Brought initially to the garrison towns of Ireland, the origin of Irish cricket is complicated- a polite Irish understatement- but that doesn’t stop us celebrating when, as minnows of world cricket, we chalk up a few unexpected results. And, no one on the Ireland team was more disappointed yesterday than the Australian born Trent Johnston.
It is not just cricket. Irish athletes in many sports have a long history of national identity ambiguity. All Island teams often travel with a mix of British and Irish passports and the qualification criteria for the Republic of Ireland soccer team could conservatively be described as generous. We have our own identity peculiarities but we are not alone. National sports teams across the western world are multicoloured, multicultural, and of diverse ethic origin. So, when I see victorious athletes waving national flags after a medal winning Olympic performance, world championship, or world cup, I wonder what they are trying to say. We have some idea what we mean by ethnicity (although this has become increasingly difficult) but, what is nationality anyway?
Domhnall MacAuley is primary care editor, BMJ