PRETORIA, April 23 (Reuters) - Foreign-born athletes who have taken UK citizenship ahead of the 2012 London Olympics have been dubbed “Plastic Brits” by critics but the most famous sportswoman to have made that journey is sympathetic.
For 45-year-old South African Zola Pieterse, better known by her maiden name Budd, the reasons behind the move are understandable - money in an age of rampant sports commercialisation as well as a desire to compete.
“If you look at running as a business then it is unfair to bar people from running at whatever level they want just because they’re not eligible,” she told Reuters in an interview.
“You can’t really blame people for trying to get into the Olympic Games.”
Budd bursted on to the global stage as a barefoot teenager in the early 1980s when South Africa was barred from international sport because of apartheid.
She ran in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics for Britain and was leading the 3,000 metres final when she became involved in a dramatic collision with American Mary Decker.
Decker was felled and could not finish while Budd was, in the eyes of many fans, unfairly blamed for the incident.
Visibly rattled, she finished seventh but went on to become a double world cross-country champion.
“The Olympic Games today is not the Games it was 20, 30, 40 years ago,” said Budd.
“If somebody wins a gold medal in the Olympics it means a lifelong way for them to earn money so there is so much more at stake now.”
Budd said critics should also consider the time and effort that goes into top-level sport.
“If it weren’t that commercialised I don’t think anyone would be interested in performing and putting so much effort into it because it won’t be worth putting your money into it or your time. Rather then put it into a career,” she explained.
Budd has been living with her family in South Carolina for four years and a lot of water has gone under the bridge since the Los Angeles Games when she was vilified by the U.S. media.
“It’s a much lower profile for me now. It’s been a few years since the 84 Olympics and it’s nice just to live a quiet life in Myrtle Beach where no one more or less knows you and I can just live a normal life,” said Budd.
The London Olympics start on July 27. (Editing by Tony Jimenez)