It is an intriguing debate, one that has left me with ambivalent thoughts and half-baked answers. Who qualifies to play for a country?
A simple, straightforward answer has to be that those who are citizens of that country. Closer scrutiny would suggest the answer might not be that simple. There are a vast number out there who are of Indian origin but have opted to be citizens of a foreign land. Some are citizens of a USA or a Britain, because they were born there.
Should they be now denied their "right" to represent India because they don't "technically" qualify to be Indian citizens? The Sports Ministry has now made a policy that only those who are "genuine" Indians — Indian passport holders — can represent the country.
The reasoning? Why fund “imported” talent at the cost of an Indian citizen even if he or she is not as good a player as the imported one.
There are a number of Indian “origin” players, especially in tennis, who represent India but are US citizens. I am not sure whether they opted to play for India because of a love for India or because they were simply not good enough to play for their adopted country and decided to shift their “loyalties”.
We can also not doubt their “patriotism” as it has been observed that expatriates, wherever they are, root for Indian teams with a greater degree of passion and guttural support than a “genuine” Indian is capable of. Being in “exile” and feeling rootless can trigger a love for your origins far stronger than when you are rooted and have a sense of cultural belonging.
I know of a family in Australia who used to show their two children an Indian film propagating “Indian culture” for days together to instill in them “Indian values.”
I am not sure what the children imbibed: One could barely walk and the other had just begun speaking. If they are good enough to play for India one day, would we still doubt their nationality, despite the stamp on their passport?
Sporting history is replete with incidents of players playing for their adopted countries. Andre Aggasi had Iranian lineage but played for the USA, the country whose passport he holds.
Zola Budd became a British citizen because she wanted to participate in the Olympics and could not have done so as a South African, as at that time, South Africa was not allowed in the Games.
Would Prakash Amritraj or Shikha Uberoi want to play for India if, like Agassi, they were good enough to represent USA? These questions have no easy answers.
It may also not be easy to forgo US citizenship and become an Indian national just because it gives you a chance to represent a country.
It may be easier to kiss the tricolour and drape it around your soul, but it may be more difficult to become a legal citizen at the expense of the benefits you can derive by belonging to a superpower nation.