Hugh Robertson, the Olympic minister, has added his voice to the ‘Plastic Brit’ row overshadowing Britain’s World Indoor Championship campaign by saying that all foreign-born athletes competing for Team GB this summer should know the words of the National Anthem.
Robertson’s remarks follow angry exchanges at a UK Athletics press conference in Istanbul on Thursday when a reporter from a national newspaper asked team captain Tiffany Porter, a sprint hurdler who was born and raised in Michigan, to prove her British credentials by reciting the first few lines of God Save the Queen.
Porter said she knew the whole anthem but refused to say the words because it was “not necessary”.
The question provoked a furious reaction from head coach Charles van Commenee, who said he had not chosen Porter to captain the squad for her “ability to memorise words or her vocal skills”.
But Robertson said that me “I would say that would be even more necessary if you think you are going to win a medal.”
Robertson added that he had no problem with overseas-born athletes representing Britain if they held a UK passport but said he opposed any fast-tracking of the naturalisation process to allow them to compete at the London Games.
That is not an issue for Porter who, as a dual national with a London-born mother and Nigerian father, has had a UK passport since birth.
Robertson said: “I am pretty clear on this issue. Anyone who wants to compete for Great Britain must hold a British passport or go through the full naturalisation process.
“What I am against is giving special treatment to people simply to allow them to compete for this country.”
Porter, 24, opened her Istanbul campaign yesterday when she qualified second fastest behind Australian world champion Sally Pearson for this morning’s 60 metres hurdles semi-finals, though she refused to be drawn on the nationality row.
“I’m focusing right now on competing and I’m very excited to be here,” she said.
But the controversy deepened when UK Athletics said that it would be banning a national newspaper from all of its events – including the two domestic Diamond League meetings at Crystal Palace and Birmingham, the Olympic trials, all press conferences and training camps – for its coverage of the story. The ban was authorised by the governing body’s chairman, Ed Warner, and chief executive Niels de Vos.
GB team members rallied around Porter on Friday, with European Indoor 3,000m champion Helen Clitheroe praising her leadership skills.
“She’s an absolutely brilliant team captain,” said Clitheroe. “She gave a brilliant team speech last night and inspired us all. I’m pretty sure if you asked the majority of the team, they wouldn’t know the words to the National Anthem. I do, but it’s not a requirement to be our team captain, it’s about someone who you can look up to, follow and inspire us, and Tiffany’s that person.”
Britain’s overseas-born contingent produced some of the best performances of the day, with Cuban-born triple-jumper Yamile Aldama leading the way with a huge leap of 14.62 metres. Shana Cox, another American-born dual national from Long Island, New York, was a comfortable qualifier for today’s 400m final after winning both her first-round heat and semi-final.
World 5,000m champion Mo Farah, who has been outspoken in his support for Porter, qualified for tomorrow’s 3,000m final but had to work hard to finish second in his heat behind Kenya’s Augustine Kiprono Choge. Farah clocked 7min 57.59sec.
Welshman Joe Thomas qualified for the 800m semi-finals along with Andrew Osagie, while Dwain Chambers won his first-round 60m heat in 6.65sec. There was disappointment, though, for 400m runners Nigel Levine and Richard Buck, who went out at the semi-final stage.