What makes someone Scottish?

Or any particular nationality, for that matter?

For some, it’s where they were born, for others it’s where they grew up or where they now live. 

In a sporting sense, nationality has become far more of a paperwork issue than about any sense of belonging to a particular country.

It’s why the comments of Craig Chalmers earlier this week caught my eye.

Chalmers is a great of Scottish rugby, winning 60 caps as well as playing for the British Lions in a decade-long international career that saw him win both the grand slam in 1990 and the Five Nations in 1999.

As well as being a bloody good fly-half in his day, he never was and remains someone who’s not scared to speak his mind.

The Herald: Craig Chalmers has expressed frustration over the number of imports into the Scottish national rugby teamCraig Chalmers has expressed frustration over the number of imports into the Scottish national rugby team

In a wide-ranging interview in The Times, he talked about the current Scotland rugby team, noting that Finn Russell is the only one who really sounds Scottish.

“The current squad, a lot of them are Scottish but a lot of them aren’t,” Chalmers said. 

“The only person who speaks with a proper Scottish accent is Finn Russell. 

“Scottish rugby needs a reset. We have relied a lot on grandparents and three-year residencies. We have relied on the SpringJocks.”

It is, of course, something of an exaggeration to suggest that Russell is the only one who sounds Scottish but his point, that the current fly-half is one of the very few players in the current national team who was born and brought up in Scotland, is certainly worth considering.

Firstly, does it actually matter if those pulling on the Scotland jersey have close connections to this country?

Scottish Rugby has certainly looked to all corners of the globe in order to bring players into the international fold through residency rules, rather than working to have a team full of players who were developed within the Scottish system.

Similarly, the Scottish men’s football team is packed full of players who qualify for Scotland through their grandparents rather than any connection they personally have to this country.

As far as the rules go, this is entirely legitimate. 

And it’s arguable that were Scotland not to maximise these rules, we’d be putting ourselves at a significant disadvantage compared to other nations who are wringing everything out of these eligibility rules.

But despite being fully aware that having a team chock-full of “foreigners” is completely legal and exactly what many other countries do, and despite not necessarily agreeing with Chalmers that “Scottishness” should be judged on the accent of an individual, I’m not entirely delighted with just how easy it is to switch nationality and how much the essence of the Scottish national team, and national teams in general, seem to be being lost.

International sport is distinctive from club sport for a reason and by eroding what nationality means too drastically, the magic of international sport is also being eroded.

Yes, allowing a national team to be selected from a bigger pool of players may increase the quality by a tiny percentage but in fact, what is lost as a result is far more significant.

At some point, the current trend of loosening and chipping away at the eligibility rules has to be halted because while it might cause short-term pain, there’ll definitely be long-term gain.



The omission of Guy Learmonth from GB’s squad for the World Indoor Athletics Championships, which begin in Glasgow on Friday, came as both a shock and a surprise when the news emerged earlier this week.

The 31-year-old failed to meet British Athletics’ qualification standard for selection but, as a result of his placing on World Athletics’ “Road to Glasgow” ranking list, he was ruled eligible by the global governing body.

It’s an invite that was promptly declined by British Athletics.

Learmonth’s anger and devastation, which he talked about in these pages yesterday, was entirely understandable; to have the opportunity to compete for major championship silverware on home soil is something that comes around extremely rarely and so for British Athletics to deprive him of this has resulted in Learmonth being both heartbroken and disillusioned.

I’m all for selection for major events being tough – no one wants to see athletes pulling on a GB vest purely to make up the numbers.

But to omit Learmonth is a baffling decision.

He’s a world-class athlete – at his best, he’s a sub-1:45 runner and already this year, he’s run 1:46.80 indoors.

He attributed his second place at last weekend’s British Indoor Championships to a chest infection he picked up in the days leading up to the event, in which he was pipped to gold by one thousandth of a second.

The Herald: Guy Learmonth wants the Tokyo Olympics postponed

Certainly, it seems that had he chosen not to put himself on the line and instead sit out the British Championships, he might well be headed to Glasgow.

Instead, Learmonth will be at home while others, including some in the GB team whose invites by World Athletics were accepted by British Athletics, will be battling for medals.

Elite sport is a brutal environment, everyone knows that and none more-so than the athletes themselves.

But it can’t be forgotten that elite athletes are human beings and treating them like commodities has consequences.

It remains to be seen if Learmonth has the motivation to continue in a sport that he feels has treated him so badly.

I hope he does and even better, does enough to make his Olympic debut in Paris this summer, which would be the perfect riposte to those who haven’t supported him this year.