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Treason (or: Loyalty is Nothing)

On Full Time (Vancouver's soccer show!) last Sunday, that media-friendly imported Canadian hero Stephen Hart spoke to the TEAM's Mike Martignago and Tyler Green and, in spite of his downhearted demeanour throughout the interview, managed to get through the entire thing without shooting himself.

Hart's a good interview on a number of levels. For one thing, unlike Dale Mitchell, he actually gives them. Also, he tells the truth, which gives him a big leg up on certain Yugoslav-born goalkeepers I could mention. When asked about Asmir Begovic, Hart said that the prospective traitor is "leaning towards Bosnia."

First off, full disclosure. Stephen Hart is a very bright man, but he is an employee of the Canadian Soccer Association and the CSA has made having no idea what's going on into a fine art. It's entirely possible that Asmir Begovic is dealing with the impending birth of his first child, thinks that he blew that whole Bosnia rumour to bits earlier on Full Time, and Stephen Hart is simply as panicky and used to this sort of thing as we are.

But if it's true. Good god.

I hate today's international game like it killed my father. The overtly mercenary nature of the teams deprives the sport of meaning and makes me a sucker for caring about it. I can't stand Sepp Blatter, Jack Warner, FIFA, and everybody who has ever worked for them. But the players are only variably guilty; I've always said there are three sorts of defectors, some more culpable than others:

  1. Dani Fernandes. Born in and passionately interested in one country, which wasn't interested in him. Went and played for someone else. These guys are okay by me. In Fernandes's case, he was the backup on the Canadian U-20 team to some kid whose name I've forgotten but I seem to remember played college soccer for a couple of years and is now selling mufflers in Abbotsford. He never got a sniff from the Canadian system and was told as much, but Portugal was a bit further-sighted. That said, Dani is eligible to come back to Canada if he wanted to, and I know they'd take him. Canadian equivalent: Marc Bircham.
  2. Jonathan de Guzman. Somebody who may have been born and raised in one country but had very real connections to another. Jonathan (and Julian)'s entire family was of Dutch ancestry and the younger de Guzman has also played in the Eredivisie his entire career. He is probably more Canadian than he is Dutch, but he is tolerably Dutch. Also eligible for Canada now, of course. Canadian equivalent: Simeon Jackson.
  3. Owen Hargreaves. "What's that, endorsers? You'll pay me more money to hawk aerosol cheese if I do it in an England shirt? By god, old chap, I was a bally ol' Englishman who just happened to be born and raised in Calgary!" Canadian equivalent: none, although Mike Klukowski would be level two and a half if such a thing existed.

That's it. Three levels, in ascending order from "good guy in a bad situation" to "scumbag". Then FIFA brought in that new rule and by god, we have a level four.

  1. Hypothetical Asmir Begovic. Move to Canada at a young age because your homeland is like a country full of alcoholics, except instead of booze it's genocide. Grow up in Canada, taking advantage of our generous refugee policy. Accept tens of thousands of dollars in training and youth development time from the Canadian Soccer Association. Do a touching advertisement for a shoe company talking about your Canadianness. Train with the senior team, accepting a callup to sit on a bench for ninety minutes in Jamaica during the merciful euthanasia to our World Cup qualifying run. Passive-aggressively decline a cap-tying callup to the Gold Cup squad because of "pregnant girlfriend" mumble mumble and "'establish myself in Portsmouth" mumble mumble. Go on the country's largest soccer radio broadcast and say that you're Canadian. Go to the largest sports newspaper that hasn't been bombed out in Bosnia and say that you're Bosnian. Bolt in the night to Bosnia leaving a trail of evasive statements and outright lies in your wake because you want to hawk aerosol cheese. Pretend that you want to win games, even though the only reason Bosnia is still alive in World Cup qualifying is that, in UEFA, everybody still is. Hope you don't get ethnically cleansed.

I have strong feelings on this. It's one thing to leave a country as a refugee and say "I will always be grateful to Canada for completely saving my family's asses, but in my heart of hearts I am Bosnian and always will be." I'd understand that (an Ottawa resident, Mahir Hadziresic, was called up to the Bosnian U-20 squad but nobody minds for that reason). It's another thing to arrive in Canada at eleven years old, come up through our ranks, get into our youth setup, take advantage of our training, our facilities, and our money, and then as soon as Bosnia shows any interest leaving us at the altar with the wedding already paid for, without even having the stones to tell the truth.

It has nothing to do with freedom of labour or even FIFA regulations (in Lord Bob's FIFA, Begovic would be eligible for Bosnia until cap-tied because he was born there). It's a matter of not being a complete dirtbag. And if the rumours are true then, well, I just became a Serbian White Eagles fan.