JULY 15 — A pair of new British sporting heroes have emerged in the last couple of weeks, and considering the political climate currently gripping the nation their identity is highly significant.
Just over a year ago, Britons voted to leave the European Union in a referendum result which, it now appears obvious, was in large part motivated by a desire to gain greater control over immigration — ie stop foreigners from coming into the country.
Since then, the debate has been ongoing between those who believe Britain should be the preserve of the (white) British, and those who believe the presence of immigrants creates a richer and more morally responsible society.
I’m firmly in the latter camp, so I have been heartened in recent weeks to see two of Britain’s most traditional summer events feature prominent contributions from a pair of athletes who many ‘patriotic’ advocates of limiting immigration would regard as foreigners.
Firstly, a couple of weeks ago England’s cricket team opened their summer test match series at against South Africa at Lord’s, the traditional home of cricket in the exclusive leafy North London suburb of St John’s Wood.
England’s comfortable victory was notable for giving new captain Joe Root a highly promising start to his tenure, but he was beaten to the man of the match award by one of his teammates: Moeen Ali.
As his name suggests, Ali is a Muslim of Pakistani descent, with his grandfather emigrating to England from Kashmir, and he is physically notable for an impressively long and bushy beard.
Although he was born in England and has lived in the country all his life, Ali is the kind of person — with the kind of appearance — that many opponents of immigration would like to keep out of the country, which an increasing number of extremists believe should be the preserve of white Christians.
Nevertheless, Moeen has been a regular in the England cricket team for the last few years, and he became the toast of the nation by producing the best performance of his career in the victory over South Africa.
He started off by scoring an important 87 runs in England’s first innings, allowing the team to post a formidable total, and then played the major role in sealing the win by taking ten South African wickets — a feat which was enough to get his name etched into eternity on the famous honours board at Lord’s.
A few days later, Moeen’s heroics were matched by Johanna Konta, who became the first British female tennis player to reach the semi-final at the Wimbledon Open championship since Virginia Wade in 1978.
Although Konta eventually lost out in the last four against the legendary Venus Williams, who now goes up against Garbine Muguruza in today’s final, her progression to the semi-final captured the public imagination as she outshone leading men’s player Andy Murray, who was knocked out in the quarter-finals.
And interestingly Konta, like Moeen Ali, is another example of immigration enriching the British sporting scene.
She was born to Hungarian parents in Sydney, Australia, before moving to England at the age of 14 and formally switching her international sporting colours after receiving British citizenship seven years later.
It must be quite galling for the xenophobes who comprise a disappointingly large proportion of the British population to see their country represented at a high level in international sporting events by performers who, in their eyes, aren’t really British.
A Muslim descendant of Pakistani immigrants and the daughter of Hungarians who first set foot in England at the age of 14 that’s just not British, according to some.
And neither, what’s more, is perhaps the greatest current British sportsman of them all: long-distance runner Sir Mo Farah (full name Mohamed Muktar Jama Farah), who won his four Olympic Gold medals after moving to Britain from his native Somalia at the age of eight.
I wonder whether the anti-immigration Brexiteers suffer moments of cognitive dissonance — a awareness of a mental clash of beliefs — while they are cheering on adopted sons and daughters like Moeen Ali, Johanna Konta and Mo Farah as they represent Britain on the global sporting stage?
They should do. Just because somebody is good at running or doing things with balls doesn’t mean they should be treated any differently in their rights to live in certain countries.
If you want to be hostile to the idea of immigration, you should be against immigration consistently and not temporarily suspend your hostility if the person in question happens to be good at sport.
So, for those Brits who have found their beliefs about immigration compromised by enjoying the sight of Konta and Ali doing their thing at Wimbledon and Lord’s, perhaps it would make sense to think again and, rather than cheering them on, develop a more hostile attitude towards the success of British immigrants.
Or maybe there’s an even better idea: perhaps they could think again and change their mindset about immigrants.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.