Dual Citizenship And Sports

Following his two goal performance in a 3-1 victory for Italy over the United States at the Confederations Cup soccer tournament, Giuseppe Rossi finds himself a topic of discussion among American sports writers and commentators.You see, Rossi is originally from Joisey (also referred to New Jersey) who happens to have dual American and Italian citizenship who decide to play soccer for Italy.

The 22 year old Rossi is such a special talent several European teams have expressed interest in him. After starting his professional career at FC Parma in Italy, Manchester United acquired his services until they sold him to Spanish club Villareal where he currently plays. Count ‘em, that’s three major soccer nations who saw something in him.

It wasn’t long before he caught the eyes of the Azzurri Italy’s national side  and he’s been representing them at every level since 2003.

For its part, USA soccer has come under some criticism for not trying harder to keep him within the American system. In fairness, Rossi and his family were committed to Italy, so I’m not sure how much then-coach Bruce Arena could have done. Still, he could, should have tried, no?

Does anyone have a problem with Rossi’s decision for choosing Italy over the United States? I don’t and in the case of Rossi, the American media doesn’t either. Put it you this way, who would you choose if you had the choice between a soccer powerhouse like Italy or USA? Not to disparage the U.S. program. The United States have steadily remained a top 15 soccer nation in recent years.

By this point this example should remind Canadians sports fans of a similar situation with Owen Hargreaves. Hargreaves was somehow overlooked by Team Canada but was good enough to be signed by Germany’s Bayern Munich – one of the world’s biggest and successful clubs. His development there eventually earned him a spot on England’s national side and represented them at the 2006 World Cup. I didn’t see Hargreaves’ decision as anything but a wise move.

Jonathan de Guzman is another stand out talent born in Canada who decided to play for another country. This time, the nation in question is yet another great soccer nation: The Netherlands. His club stint was with Feyenoord and he made his international debut for the Under-21 Dutch national team in 2008.

The history of soccer has been filled with similar cases. Great players have often played for nations other than their place of birth albeit each for their own reasons. Alfredo di Stefano, one of the greatest players in history, was born in Argentina and ended up playing for Spain. Omar Sivori, also Argentinean, played for Italy. Brazilian player Alessandro dos Santos (Alex) represented Japan. Even the great Juste Fontaine wasn’t born in France proper but rather in Morocco. But that brings into question former colonies of imperial powers. My point is that Rossi and Hargreaves are hardly alone as these precious few selected examples show.

And it doesn’t stop at soccer.

In hockey, Brett Hull, like de Guzman, was ludicrously called a “traitor” for choosing to play for the Team USA back in the 1980s. His situation was a little different. A marginal player early in his career, he knew he would never crack a Canadian line-up knee-deep in talent. Team USA offered him a spot in 1986 and he took it. By 1989, Hull was on his way to becoming one of the most prolific scorers in the history of the NHL.

Pro heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis decided to box under the British flag even after winning a gold medal for Canada at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. Tennis player Greg Rusedski also bolted for the UK.

When it comes to sports, is it right to hold back an athlete in the name of nationality especially if that nation simply can’t offer anything?

In the case of soccer in particular, North America is simply not the best place to be. If Europe comes knocking, they have players at “buon giorno, bonjour, guten tag, and hello”.

And rather than lament this odd twist in the human soul, let us embrace it, and with it the intriguing young Justin Trudeau. Time and distance have erased the gradual disenchantment we underwent with the elder Trudeau. We remember now his elegance, his turns of phrase (”Just watch me,” “there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation”), his decisiveness. We remember a cosmopolitan perspective, an active and probing intellect, a talent for large thoughts and large metaphors. What remains of Pierre Trudeau is the image of a man whose sweeping style and personality made what is, in spite of its geography, a small country feel much larger. There was magic in Trudeau, a magic all too rare in Canadian politics. So much of this magic went to waste, but only because it did not have an historical moment great enough to conjure on.

How much of the previous paragraph is true? Some? All? None? What does it matter? If we are to be the people who bring home political treasures we will have to wrestle truths from fantasies.

What are the struggles, the very real and serious struggles for the future of Canada? To protect the environment? To maintain and rebuilt the institutions of equality and justice? To protect our economy from the predations of sociopathic money men? To harmonize a more and more diverse population? To ensure opportunity for the have-not provinces? To be a functioning national community in a more and more dysfunctional world? Yes, these and other challenges will confront us as a people, and in a world of enflamed passions, of racial mistrust, simmering resentments and violent despair, a managerial calm will not do. We face what is difficult and what is frightening, we prepare ourselves for the work of generations, not with the pale blandishments of reason, but with the passions of fantasy, with the image of a world so much better that we ache for it.

This passion is always embodied in a person, a leader. And the only man that history has prepared for this role in Canada is Justin Trudeau. We can hope that he has inherited a part of his father’s intellect, some of his talent for the theatrical, and a large dose of the arrogance that we loved in Trudeau however much we may have condemned it, as polite Canadians  we were inevitably going to. What Justin Trudeau can bring to the political fray is the sense that a moribund liberal party has found, finally, its event. That after the attempts to create a new energy from the hearts of energyless men, after the maddening inability of the Liberal party to generate an image of the future that strikes us all as simply and convincingly good, there will be a figure, a voice, a face, that will attach the picture of our imagined beautiful future to a picture of our imagined beautiful past.

And this is the greatest power of political fantasy. The past is what it is, riddled, as always, with compromise, inertia, the pettiness of the everyday exercise of power. It may be incorrect, the burnished image we always offer up of this past. It may be factually inaccurate to see in Pierre Eliot Trudeau a leader of vision, a man of scope and reach. This, some might argue, is political fantasy at its worst. But the strange thing about such fantasy is that its worst is intimately bound up with its best. Perhaps fantasy cannot change the brute factual reality of the past, but it most certainly can change what will be the equally brute and inescapable reality of the future. If the image we possess of Pierre Trudeau is that of a man whose potential went largely unrealized, who had in reserve wisdom and decisiveness that, for a host of reasons, went unused, then why not see in his son the return to the scene of the very wisdom and energy we need today more than ever? If the son echoes the father, if  greatest of dreams  he strives to surpass the father, we should encourage and applaud such ambition. If he one day appears large to us, large with political purpose, large with hope, large in his expectations of us, then this power will become our truth, however much it may be couched in terms that are beautiful, poetic, dramatic, even fantastic.

Justin Trudeau’s moment is not yet here. He is still young, still flexing his political and intellectual muscle. I hope he will not fall victim to the modesty with which our culture seems sometimes cursed. He will assume leadership with a strong wind at his back, with an inheritance of political capital, with  most importantly an aura of fragile but effective historical magic. He may not thank fate for having dropped him into this role, but we may still have reason to thank him if he assumes it will strength and purpose.