Athletics: Letter from Paris - Barber's French short-cut
The second, Eunice, was a 16-year-old street urchin with extraordinary athletic talent when she was spotted and helped by the French cultural attache in Freetown, Sierra Leone. The diplomat, Dominique Dufour, arranged for her to develop her ability at the athletic club in Rheims in northern France. In February, only 18 months after she first sent in her request, she became a naturalised French citizen.
Last Sunday, Eunice Barber won the gold medal for the heptathlon at the World Championships in Seville. She is the only French gold medal winner of the games.
Eunice Barber is a superb athlete. Mr Dufour deserves only praise for helping her to use a talent which might otherwise have been lost. With her pre-race tears, her post-race grins, her trademark nose-ring and her broken French, the new "Barber of Seville" has captured many hearts in her adopted country.
Her story has also raised some awkward questions, which do not end at the frontiers of France. Eunice Barber is not the only athlete of "transferred" nationality at the Seville games. Niurka Montalvo, who won the women's long jump for Spain, was born in Cuba. Three members of the Australian team come from the former Soviet Union. One, the pole-vaulter Viktor Chistiakov, became an Australian the week before the games.
There are four other newly naturalised athletes in the French team. One of them, Driss Maazouzi, who used to run for Morocco, received his clearance papers from Rabat the week the games began.
Under the IAAF rules, three years have to elapse before an athlete can change countries, unless his native federation grants a special dispensation. Morocco had originally asked for financial "compensation".
Is that where we are heading? Transfer fees for talented athletes from poor countries to wealthy ones? Talent spotting of promising young athletes in the third world to bolster the "national" teams of the first world?
In the case of Eunice Barber, the French government denies any special treatment. It is, however, highly unusual for a naturalisation demand to be processed and approved within 18 months.
The leading Green politician, Jean-Luc Bennahmias, said that he was "delighted" by her success, but he pointed out that there were tens of thousands of illegal immigrants - "sans-papiers" - in France who stand little or no chance of becoming French under the present rules.
Why should there be one law for the athletically talented and another for the legions of hard-working, domestic and sweat-shop labourers who make their own modest contribution to the French economy?
A similar question was put to Eunice Barber by a French journalist minutes after she clinched her heptathlon gold and danced around the Seville running track waving a French tricolour. She replied, in English: "I didn't get my naturalisation quickly. I waited like everyone else. If all the sans- papiers can be made legal, then fine..."
The Barber case is not a simple one. Dominique Dufour, the diplomat who launched her career, is not an official talent-spotter for the French athletics federation.
He is a man who loved athletics and started a club for the street children of Freetown, whether they were talented or not. Eunice Barber joined the club and regularly ran faster than the boys. She also disappeared for long periods and failed to turn up for training.
When Dufour persuaded her to leave the civil strife in Sierra Leone and go to Rheims six years ago, she had never heard of the heptathlon. All of her athletic education has been in France.
On the other hand, what would have happened to Eunice Barber if - like Serge from the Ivory Coast - her youthful talent had faded? Would she still have received her French naturalisation papers? The answer is almost certainly no. She would have been placed on an aircraft back to west Africa and the civil war in Sierra Leone.
Marvel has released the first teaser trailer a week early after it leaked online
Latest in Sport
Anderlecht vs Arsenal match report: Kieran Gibbs and Lukas Podolski pounce as Arsenal leave it late
Liverpool vs Real Madrid player ratings: Was Cristiano Ronaldo the star man? And how did Mario Balotelli fare?
Liverpool vs Real Madrid match report: Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema run Reds ragged at Anfield
Arsenal player ratings
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was shirt swapping the real reason?
- 1 Nokia no more: Microsoft drops once-ubiquitous mobile name – in favour of its Lumia brand
- 2 Renee Zellweger on plastic surgery reports: 'I'm living a fulfilling life and I'm thrilled that perhaps it shows'
- 3 Banksy not arrested: Internet duped by fake report claiming artist's identity revealed
- 4 Australian café owner sparks debate after saying 'No' to having unruly children on premises
- 5 Couple die within 28 hours of each other after being married for 73 years
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991' with most Brits wanting to stay 'in'
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
London bus driver 'kicks gay couple off for kissing'
£120 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Luton: The Job:TEACHERS REQUIREDWe are...
£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education are currently...
£60 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Special Needs Teaching Assistant ...
Negotiable: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education is urgently recruiting...