Atkinson backs belongers’ case
Alia Atkinson, one of the most influential black swimmers, has offered an outsider’s perspective on the non-Bermudian “belongers” debate and says it must be “heart-wrenching” for them to be denied the opportunity to represent a country they call home.
Atkinson’s views come on the heels of a ruling by the Supreme Court of Bermuda in December, which determined that all athletes deemed to “belong to Bermuda” are eligible for selection.
The four-times Olympian became aware of the contentious matter, which came to the fore when two non-Bermudian junior athletes brought a case against the Bermuda Amateur Swimming Association, during a coaching visit to the island last week.
“I’ve been catching up on the law between the Bermudian athletes and the people who live here but don’t have Bermudian status,” the Jamaican told The Royal Gazette.
“I want to say there’s a lot of talent here, but I don’t know who’s who [Bermudian and non-Bermudian]. I don’t know which athletes are able to represent Bermuda. For a lot of these kids, Bermuda is their home; it’s all they know. It’s really hard to tell them they can’t represent their country and their home.
“I don’t know the full details or reasons why, the pros and the cons of it all, but from an athlete’s point of view, it’s pretty heart-wrenching.”
Atkinson, the first black woman to win a world swimming title, believes deepening the talent pool by embracing those athletes who “belong” to Bermuda can only benefit the island’s performances at the world level.
“You’d think you’d want to put your best team forward,” said Atkinson, who held a free coaching clinic at the Basa pool at Saltus Grammar School on Saturday.
“I’ve heard there are a lot of athletes who are top-notch and are being turned away. If you want to see the Bermudian flag fly at all international levels and competitions, I don’t know what to tell you.
“It’s not like they’re training somewhere else and coming here. They’re showing that your programme is working, that your coaching staff is working to have got [the athletes in a position to compete internationally].”
Atkinson’s thoughts will likely spark further debate ahead of Bermuda’s team selection for the Carifta Swimming Championships in Barbados in April.
In the past, the swimming association has given priority to its Bermudian athletes over “belongers” for international competitions but that could change in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision.
“Jamaica doesn’t really have that issue,” said Atkinson, who won her country’s first medal at the Commonwealth Games last year on the Gold Coast, Australia, claiming silver in the 50 metres breaststroke.
“You’re either born there or need to have a certain amount of time of residency in the country [to be eligible].
“It’s not like you’re taking an [adult] athlete from another country and saying they’re Bermudian or Bermuda is successful because of them. You’re producing athletes who are not able to show it on the world stage.”