Having grown up in a country where we sang the anthem every morning and at every possible event, where representing your country was the ultimate goaland achievement, where you believed your elders when they told you if they cut you in half you would bleed green and gold, I have started to wonder if
this is of a time gone by and whether this has become the stuff of legends of old?
The press is full of the latest disgrace, comments from players who don’t care and the antics of those who are on a jolly rather than focusing on the
game at hand. Is it that commercialism and the modern world have put pay to this? Do we live in a society where your national team is just another team
to play for and of a country that your grandmother needed to have visited just once, to qualify to play for?
Yes and no, as so often is the way. For every screw-up and show of disrespect for the national shirt they wear, there are many, many more athletes who
stand shoulder to shoulder, proud to be representing their country. People who value and appreciate the call.
We all watch our national teams run out and represent us, but the thing we very rarely hear is what it means to those who represent us and are proud to
pull on the national shirt.
In the course of many interviews, chats and observations with athletes from all over the globe there seems to be a common thread that separates the DO
and the Don’t cares.
Those who represent their nation with pride do it because they enjoy it, for the love of it. At no time has money or fame even been given a passing nod.
It just isn’t part of the psyche of sports people who are driven to represent their country for the right reasons. The drive to be better and improve both
personally and as a team is what pushes them.
Knowing that their team mates are doing the same around the country, spurs them on as individuals to better the team. They get up on the cold, wet and
early mornings to train, knowing that others are doing it as well and that as a team they want to be better and do better.
“This is part of the cost to be paid for representing a lot of people” said Niamh Kavanagh (Ireland), “and we do it without questioning. It’s what’s asked
and for such an honour you just do it. To pull on the green jersey and represent Ireland, you just do it. This is for the people, the fans.”
What a fantastic view to have on what to some has become a chore - the fact that it’s an honour and you don’t question the price. This comes from someone
who doesn’t live the jet set life with all the trappings, it comes from an athlete who has a job and ON TOP of that trains and does what so many others
do for a living! 36 hour days being squeezed into 24, for the love of it and the honour and not the money, fame and jolly’s.
The question is, how do you pull back the decay? Marlie Packer (England) feels that the grassroots support of teams, individuals and sports is vital to
promoting the goal of playing for your country. “Working your way up through the under 20’s program, knowing others are doing the same no matter where
you are in the country. To play in events such as the 6nations, this is what we are trained for”.
This is not about an individual doing something for themselves, even in non-team sports. Yes, almost all the athletes I have spoken to, talk about personal
challenges and goals for improvement, but it’s always a side comment and something personal. It never gets in the way of the focus: that it is to represent
their country, the people of the country, the fans and, very interestingly, the grassroots players and the system they came up through.
“Representing SA means wearing the green and gold not only for myself but for a nation and every other hockey player in our country” said Sanani Mangisa
(South Africa). There is a real sense of knowing where they came from and that seems to breed part of that sense of pride in representing their countries,
knowing what it has taken to get there and that they, along with others, have come through the melting pot of regionals and made it to the top. They have
reached the ultimate goal and for this none of them take it for granted.
The same sentiment has been echoed across the sports and countries of the athletes I have spoken to and this is best summed up by the words of one and
the actions of another. “So many want to represent their country, so few do” said Marlie Packer (England).
When I asked another athlete at the end of a gruelling international they couldn’t answer the question as they were completely overwhelmed by it. Subsequently,
they contacted me to say that the question brought up so much emotion for them as it meant so much to them to represent their country that they just couldn’t
find the words. All that came up was the graft and desire culminating in achievement, and that in turn equalled raw emotion.
It’s great to see and hear that there is still desire and pride to play for your country, more so amongst female athletes than men, it seems. Is that
because the cost is greater for them? That however, is another can of worms for another day….