How culture adds colour to the big picture

When Germany won the World Cup in 2014, Mesut Ozil was the home-grown heartbeat of their midfield.

Four years later, when the country stumbled out of the competition, Ozil was the Turkish migrant scapegoat.

The not-so-subtle change of perspective, prompted the Gelsenkirchen-born son of Turkish parents to speak out about the German media. “When we win, I am German. When we lose, I am an immigrant,” he said. “They didn’t criticised my performances, they just criticised my Turkish ancestry.”

Two other World Cup stars made similar observations.

“When things were going well, I was Lukaku the Belgian striker, when they weren’t going well, I was the Belgian striker of Congolese descent,” Romelu Lukaku said.

Karem Benzema, born in Lyon to French nationals who were of Algerian descent, added: “When I score I’m French, when I don’t I’m Arab.”

The comments endorsed the maxim that it is acceptable to criticise people for what they do, not what they are.

Dawn Fraser would have been on safe ground criticising Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic for being rude, petulant, juvenile, arrogant brats – truth is, after all, the ultimate defence in libel or defamation actions – but not for their ethnic origins. It is hypocritical of any white Australian to do so.

When British cyclist Chris Froome came to Tasmania to train with then teammate Richie Porte in 2014, he was happy to be interviewed as long as the subsequent article was approved by his publicist. 

Froome was a delightful, intelligent and humorous interviewee, happily talking about his life before and after becoming a multiple Tour de France winner.

When I emailed the article to his publicist, the only amendments that she requested were to remove the phrase “Kenyan-born” and another reference to his childhood in Nairobi.

I found it rather bizarre that the only content being disputed was indisputable fact.

A simple Google search will reveal “Born Nairobi, Kenya, May 20, 1985” just below the words: “Full name: Christopher Clive Froome” and “Nickname: Froomey”.

I duly removed the offending words, but felt the profile was weakened by doing so.

Surely, a person’s cultural heritage adds colour to the overall picture along with their occupation, religion, lifestyle or any other aspect of their existence.

And it would be unAustralian to stop listening to AC-DC just because the Young brothers were born in Scotland.

Rob Shaw is a Fairfax journalist.