Immigration may seem a peculiar topic when talking about sport, but it is a subject that has been on my mind since Mo Farah became one of Britain’s most beloved sporting stars.

Icon | Mo Farah is idolised as a British sporting hero, putting him in the 'good immigration' bracket. (Image | NME)

Icon | Mo Farah is idolised as a British sporting hero, putting him in the ‘good immigration’ bracket. (Image | NME)

Few in this country will forget the sight of Farah winning gold in the 5,000 and 10,000 metres at the London 2012 Olympic Games: yet after the latter victory, Somali-born Farah had to deal with a journalist asking if he would have preferred to have run for Somalia, rather than Britain.

The 30-year-old gave the question short shrift, and has since developed into a sporting superstar, building on last year’s gold medals with two more at the World Athletics Championships last month.

Many will see the esteem Farah is held in as proof of the wider acceptance of immigrants, particularly Muslims, in our society. However, I feel this is largely down to his public persona.

While Farah is arguably Britain’s greatest ever long-distance athlete, and would be a British sporting legend if he were to retire tomorrow, he has become what is regarded as an “acceptable” face of Islam in the UK: performing his infamous “Mobot” pose accompanied by an ebullient grin.

This is not to denigrate Farah. He is under no obligation to be an activist, although he has spoken publicly on the topic of banks removing their services for transferring money to African nations, as focusing on winning races is difficult enough. However, would Farah be so adored were he to openly discuss the issues facing other Muslims in Britain?

Another tale of sport mingling with immigration concerns the Australian cricketer, Fawad Ahmed. His journey into the Australian team is arguably one of the most heartwarming sporting stories of the year.

However, the ugly spectre of racism reared its head, as Ahmed’s request to forgo having the logo of a beer company on his shirt, for religious reasons, led to a small but vocal alcove of scathing criticism. This ended up with former Australian rugby union star, David Campesetweeting that Ahmed should, “go home”.

While it is good to see that Ahmed has found a level of professional and personal satisfaction, it would be wrong not to question the motives of the country’s cricketing governing body, Cricket Australia.

The team has been lacking a quality spin bowler since Shane Warne retired, and due to an odd set of circumstances they not only swiftly re-naturalised Ahmed as an Australian citizen, but they bypassed the country’s immigration laws in order to do so.

Moving on to football, there is a common thread linking two of the best strikers in the world, Mario Balotelli and Zlatan Ibrahimović.

Balotelli is fast becoming Italy’s star player, but had to wait until he was 18 before being officially recognised as Italian. While Ibrahimović is possibly the most famous citizen of Sweden, he still talks of feeling “like an outsider” in his own nation.

While the immigration conversation is extremely febrile at present (not just in Britain, but across the globe), the “keep our borders closed” brigade seem happy to do a volte-face where sport is concerned.

There is a real disconnect with lionising Farah while ignoring the fact that he represents a country with newspaper front pages such as this.

Ibrahimović may be a national icon, but recent events in Sweden are incongruous with the path he took to sporting stardom, while perennial stories about Balotelli suffering racist abuse from people in his own country have become so routine that one could be forgiven for reacting with little more than a heavy sigh these days.

This raises two key questions: how would these people be treated if they had no sporting talent, and should aptitude in one area of life make a person more deserving of praise and respect?

In the desire for global sporting glory, it appears that we have drawn up dividing lines between ‘good immigration’ and ‘bad immigration’.

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