In spite of anti-immigrant law being reinforced in Great Britain, foreign athletes have delivered unforgettable performances to their audiences. This is an important way of promoting sport in the UK.
Juanjo Andrés Cuervo
Latin America is a continent that has a large number of sports followers. Almost all of the countries choose football as their favourite sport, while Venezuela prefers baseball.
Latin Americans played an important role in British sport. During the London 2012 Olympics, a sporting event that brought a large number of immigrants into the UK, with Latin Americans standing out in many disciplines and winning a good number of medals.
Some of those included Cuban swimmer, Ryan Lochte, Colombian cyclist, Mariana Pajón, Dominican athlete, Félix Sánchez and Argentinian taekwondo athlete, Sebastián Crismanich.
The most award-winning Latin American countries in the competition were Brazil (16 medals), Cuba (14 medals), Colombia (eight medals) and Mexico (seven medals).
In the team events, the victory of the Mexican football team against Brazil in the final was also a highlight.
Paralympic Games in London
Throughout this event, the Latin Americans gave a notable performance. Brazilians, Alan Oliveira, Yohansson Nascimento, Daniel Dias and Terezinha won six medals between them.
Cuba was well represented by Luis Félipe Gutiérrez who broke the record for long jump and his teammate, the swimmer Yunis Castillo also won three gold medals.
Mexico took home the largest number of medals in their history (21) while Colombian Moises Fuentes won the silver in swimming.
Apart from the Olympics, the UK has witnessed many great achievements of Latin American athletes in other sporting events. An example of this was Brazilian runner, Marilson Dos Santos who broke two world records in the London Marathon.
His teammate, Fabiana Murer also achieved the highest jump in pole vaulting in the Birmingham Grand Prix.
There are many cases of British naturalized citizens who have won medals for the UK. One of the most recent well-known athletes is the runner, Mo Farah who was born in Somalia and won two gold medals in the London Olympics.
As well as this, the Uruguayan Luis Suárez received a Sports Latin Personality of the Year Award. A gala also recognised the work of Colombian Fernando Montaño, Brazilian Thiago Soares and Argentine Marianela Nuñez who are all professional Ballet dancers.
Immigration, the scapegoat
After England’s early elimination from the national selection in the last World Cup, sports professionals are trying to find reasons for the failure.
The Football Association (FA), the institution that regulates this sport in England, explained the reasons behind the incident. According to them, the blame lies within the fact that there are too many foreigners playing football in England and this affects the national selection.
In fact, the institution itself produced a report proposing restrictions to the visas granted to foreign players who are not from the EU. They also said that they should be obliged to select more players from lower sports divisions.
Glenn Hoddle and Danny Mills, who are members of the FA and ex-footballers, believe that the problem behind England’s poor result is immigration.
According to them, the number of foreigners in Premier League clubs should be limited. Glenn Hoddles stated that “you have to be relentless about this. You have to be thinking in English, English and English again”.
However the members of this organisation are not the only ones who have an opinion on the matter. Last year, the black player Rio Fernando wrote an article that expressed that there should be a limit on players from outside of the EU.
His argument, in accordance with the FA, was that the national selection loses value when there are so few English players in the Premier League’s bigger teams.
This scenario should have lead to further discussion given that there has not been any history that has proved the contrary. Having said that, Germany and Spain, the previous World Championshave a large number of foreigners in their Leagues.
In Germany, half of the players are foreign whereas there are 40% in the Spanish league. It is these two selections that have achieved the best results in the last six years.
Change of rules
The massive arrival of immigrants in English football came as part of a decision made by the European Court of Justice in 1995. With this new legislation, foreign players had more freedom to sign up for teams in the English league. Since then, the percentage of foreign players has risen from 33% to 66%.
Despite the fact that some are blaming immigration, the situation has brought better results to the English selection. Since 1995, the combined national results have slightly improved sitting on average in between fifth and tenth place in the World Cup and European Championship.
The English clubs have also made a considerable improvement with their results.
In the last two decades, Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool have all shown their potential in the Champions League as well as the UEFA. Among the greatest achievements are the two European cups won by Liverpool and Chelsea and the three finals played by Manchester United.
At present, the English league is the second highest in the World according to the UEFA ranking which is a local competition with a large number of followers. In fact, the Premier League is followed by more than 200 countries.
Latin Americans, the elite
Without a doubt, the Latin Americans who have entered the English league are the reason behind the improvement in the clubs. During the previous season, the Premier League champion, Manchester City selected three Argentines and a Brazilian for the first team and as it stands, the team coach is Chilean, Manuel Pellegrini.
Continuing the string of successes, Latin Americans Caballero, Zuculini and Fernando have all been signed for this year.
Additionally, the best player of the league was Uruguayan Liverpool player, Luis Súarez who also won the prize for top scorer. After his sale, the team signed his teammate, Coates as well as Brazilians Coutinho and Leiva.
Chelsea, the best English team of the last decade, has signed Brazilians, Diego Costa and Filipe Luis as well as continuing to have the Brazilian players, Oscar, William and Ramires and the Mexican, Uli Dávila.
And Juan Cuadrado, a Colombian professional footballer who plays primarily as a winger for English side Chelsea and the Colombian national team.
Arsenal has strengthened with two Latin American players who impressed in the World Cup: Colombian, Ospina, and Chilean, Alexis Sánchez.
In their defence, Manchester United has lined up Ecuadorian Valencia, Brazilian, Rafael, Mexican, Javier Hernández, Chilean Henríquez and Argentinean Marcos Rojo.
But there are two footballers who stand out: Radamel Falcaoand Ángel Di María.
Difficult for the most humble
Like any other foreign worker, sportsmen who are from outside Europe have to obtain a work permit to exercise their talents in Great Britain. These permits will be given to International players of the highest level, based on their performances in important competitions of any continent. Because of these restrictions, apart from being recognised as one of the elite, it is complicated for Latin Americans to dedicate themselves to sport in the UK.
(Translated by Suzanne Elman)