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This patriot game is already won as Scottish judo steals a march

It was meant to be a national sports programme but such is the quality of the job done by Judo Scotland it seems to have turned into an exercise in mass repatriation.

Sally Conway, like Matt Purssey and Sarah Adlington, has adopted Scotland as her homeland because the structure allowed her judo career to flourish. Picture: Steve Cox
Sally Conway, like Matt Purssey and Sarah Adlington, has adopted Scotland as her homeland because the structure allowed her judo career to flourish. Picture: Steve Cox

No fewer than six members of the 14-strong Scottish judo team for the forthcoming Commonwealth Games were born on the other side of the border, including three-time Olympian Sarah Clark, and yet the level of commitment expressed by each of them could hardly make it clearer that none are flying under flags of convenience.

Time and again the messages from these judokas carry echoes of how Sean Lineen, rugby's original kilted Kiwi and a man who would smilingly respond to queries about his allegiance with the message: "There are three types of people in the world: those who are Scottish; those who want to be Scottish; and those with no ambition."

Take, for example, the explanation of Sarah Adlington, a 27-year-old who was born in Shrewsbury. "I moved up about 10 years ago and I've been up here ever since," she said. "I'm delighted to represent Scotland. You can't choose where you're born, but you can choose where you live your adult life and Scotland's where I've chosen to live my adult life and I don't think I'll ever leave."

Or how about Matt Purssey's take on his decision to compete for Scotland in Glasgow. "I was born in Chertsey, in Surrey but I moved to Scotland 12 years ago," said the 33-year-old.

"I moved to follow my judo. I was at the National Academy in England, which was the British National Academy, but I felt I was plateauing and a lot of the good players and coaches were based in Scotland.

"I thought I'd come up and see how it worked for me. I had the idea of coming up for a couple of weeks and never went back to England, 12 years later I have a home here, friends and family. So this is my home."

Then there's Sally Conway, Bristol-born but another individual who is now based very happily in Scotland's capital. "I moved up to Scotland when I was 18 and I've been here ever since so it's definitely home to me now," she said. "I didn't know I was going to be Scottish until I moved up, but I wouldn't change it now."

There have clearly been attempts to tempt them back into the fold with England ahead of judo's return to the Commonwealth Games. The response they have each made to those overtures only reinforces how heart-felt their decisions to compete for their adopted homeland have been.

"For me it was never in question - I always wanted to compete for Scotland," said Purssey. "Scotland has done an awful lot for me in terms of support and where I am now with my judo. This is an opportunity to hopefully give something back."

Conway expressed similar sentiments. "I've been up here so long now that people think I'm Scottish anyway," she said, the West Country twang since audible. "Not the accent as much, but after nine years up here I'd hope it had changed a little. However, this is the right thing to do and if I was to fight for England that wouldn't fit with me."

The reason why they feel that way was perhaps summed up best by Adlington. "As soon as we moved to Scotland at the age of 18 we were made to feel welcome, made to feel part of the family and then it's just grown," she said.

"The connection as the years have gone on becomes more and more and more. [Competing for] England didn't even enter my head. I think they're used to it now and I tell them the same thing. It's where I've lived my adult life and they've helped me and if it wasn't for the help I've had from Judo Scotland then I might not be where I am today.

"I talk about it with my dad and he says 'I couldn't have given you a better life than the life you've had in Scotland so what you might miss is small compared with what you gain and what you see'. If you take a step back from it you couldn't ask for anything more."

Let the Games commence and, after the competition in Glasgow, we turn our attention to the referendum. Both sides in that debate could doubtless seize upon the comments made by some of Scotland's toughest citizens in seeking to make cases about the all-embracing nation being cultivated or to the benefits of working together.

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