Fualaofi Aki was born in Auckland, New Zealand in 1990. 27 years later, going by the name ‘Bundee’, he is now an international rugby player for Ireland, a country located approximately 18,000 kilometres – and 11 time-zones – from his birthplace.
But so what?
The concept of belonging to a nation is so personal, so circumstantial, so arbitrary as to be almost indefinable, or at the very least ambiguous. Yet there are those who wish to see things merely in black and white, who would deny others the right to a greyer version of nationality.
They are wrong. Bundee Aki, if he chooses to be, is as Irish as shit weather and Supermacs.
Besides, Aki has met all the requirements to play for Ireland. Technically, he is as entitled to play for the national side as anyone else in the squad. One can argue the qualification rules are too soft – but that’s not Bundee’s problem: he has done everything World Rugby has asked of him.
Down the years, Ireland has embraced overseas-born players pulling on the green jersey in a number of sports, perhaps most notably during the Jack Charlton era of the 1990s.
So why should it be any different for Aki?
Footballers like Andy Townsend, Tony Cascarino, John Aldridge et al helped give the country some of its finest sporting moments, and, in general, football supporters have mostly embraced the recruitment and inclusion of so-called ‘Plastic Paddies’.
Aki may not have any Irish ‘heritage’, in terms of his ancestry, but at least he has lived and worked in Ireland – unlike some of the stars of Jackie’s Army, who rarely set foot on the island except to play football or sell autobiographies.
In many ways, this means Aki has already contributed as much to the state as some of these men. He deserves not just to be accepted for this, but to be held up as an example of the wonderfully fluid nature of identity.
Two hours before Aki makes his first appearance for his adopted country, Dublin-born Ian McKinley will debut for Italy, a country in which he arrived at roughly the same time Bundee came to Ireland, and to which he has no family connections. In contrast to the criticism of Aki’s selection, there has been a widespread outpouring of joy in Ireland at McKinley’s achievement.
Although this sentiment is perhaps partly due to the out-half’s incredible recovery from losing the sight in his left eye, there’s no little hypocrisy in those who would enthuse about his international career and yet lambast Aki’s in the same breath.
One could argue that both men’s actions are based on career decisions, rather than personal feeling, but as asked at the top of the article: so what? Ireland and Italy will benefit every bit as much as Bundee Aki and Ian McKinley from their inclusions in the respective international setups.
It’s time for the objectors to let it slide. Get on board with Bundee – he’s one of us.