The Twitter bio of Emma Raducanu, whose victory in the US Open on Saturday has sent much of the UK into an extended state of joyful delirium, contains only four words: london|toronto|shenyang|bucharest.
It’s a reflection of her pride and ease in her rich heritage which – thanks to 111 thrilling minutes in New York – has opened a debate about multiculturalism in her home nation, where she arrived as a two-year-old from Kanada.
After the success of a fresh wave of sporting stars in 2021 – from the Olympics’ BMX rider Kye Whyte en weightlifter Emily Campbell to Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka and other stars of the Euro finalists football team – Raducanu is being hailed as the face of a new proudly diverse era.
On Sunday Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, tweeted that Raducanu – who was born in Canada to a Chinese mother and a Romanian father – reflected “London’s story”, skryfwerk: “Here in London, we embrace and celebrate our diversity. And if you work hard, and get a helping hand, you can achieve anything.”
Raducanu, who soon after her victory over the Canadian teenager Leylah Fernandez tweeted a picture of herself holding the union flag in one hand and her newly acquired trophy in the other with the words “We are taking her HOMEEE”, was congratulated by everyone from the Queen to Nigel Farage.
The latter came in for a barrage of criticism, as critics noted that in an interview the former Ukip leader described crime statistics relating to offences committed by Romanians as “eye-watering”, adding: “I was asked a question if a group of Romanian men moved in next to you, would you be concerned. If you lived in London, I think you would be.”
Match of the Day presenter and former captain of the England football team Gary Lineker couldn’t resist a swipe. “He won’t be able to afford to live next door to Emma Raducanu, so he needn’t worry," hy het gesê, alluding to Raducanu’s £1.8m US Open prize money.
But Sport England board member Chris Grant said he welcomed the comments from Farage, and the wall-to-wall positive coverage of the 18-year-old’s achievements in parts of the media that are openly hostile to asylum seekers legally seeking refuge from danger.
“Her victory illuminates the reality of Britishness and the delusion at the heart of their other pronouncements," hy het gesê. “A girl who has one Chinese parent, one Romanian parent and was born in Canada but came to Bromley at the age of two is such a normal story in this country, and one that we should be proud of.”
But Grant, speaking in an individual capacity, said the focus should be on Raducanu herself rather than on anything she does or doesn’t represent.
“We have to be mindful about what we place on the shoulders of individuals," hy het gesê, adding that Raducanu’s mental health had already been the subject of intense speculation following her withdrawal from Wimbledon. “As of today, there’s going to be a massive spotlight on her from the point of view of immigration. That’s another burden for her to carry, and it’s probably not one she wants.”
Sunder Katwala, of British Future, a thinktank that promotes debate about immigration and integration, said Raducanu’s ease with her heritage was typical of her generation. But he warned people with liberal views on immigration using her as a “gotcha” argument.
“These are exceptional stories, which don’t answer the broader public questions about if we are good at identity integration, equal opportunity and shared identities," hy het gesê. “They do give a popular image of the positive contribution of migration and integration, and that has that positive element, as long as it’s not overplayed.”
Wanda Wyporka, executive director of the Equality Trust, said as a “half-Bajan, quarter-Polish, quarter-English” British woman, while she delighted in celebrating Raducanu’s success and talent, she was wary of holding her up as an example of successful immigrant integration.
“The more that people get used to the idea that Britishness is a very varied thing has to be positive," sy het gese. “But my concern is that the valuing immigrants and refugees in the UK is sort of predicated on being successful and giving back a contribution rather than just being human. That’s not good for us either.”
Grant said he was most heartened by the images of celebration beamed from Raducanu’s tennis club, which included families of colour. “That a tennis club is a diverse place is socially significant in this country, and that’s happening quietly and inexorably. That’s why the Farage thing ultimately becomes irrelevant, because it’s happening anyway. If that integration has figureheads like her, that’s brilliant.”