Exclusive: New British sprint convert Miguel Francis insists he is proud to wear GB vest after controversial nationality switch

Ben Bloom
Miguel Francis has represented Antigua & Barbuda throughout his career - AP

Britain's newest sprint convert insists he will feel proud to wear the national vest after controversially - and unexpectedly - switching nationality from Antigua & Barbuda, just a month after pledging allegiance to the Caribbean islands.

Miguel Francis, a training partner of Usain Bolt, was the seventh fastest 200m runner in the world last year with a personal best of 19.88 seconds - fast enough to win silver at the Rio Olympics where he was unable to run due to injury.

The 22-year-old competed for Antigua & Barbuda at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and the 2015 World Championships, and only last month insisted "Antigua is who I want to run for". But, speaking exclusively to Telegraph Sport, Francis says he had been confused about where his international aspirations lay and insists he is now proud to represent Britain after the move was rubber-stamped on Wednesday.

"I'm young in this sport and can't really make up my mind what I want," said Francis, who was forced to flee the British Overseas Territory of Montserrat with his family after a volcanic eruption when he was six months old. "But I've made up my mind now and this is the best decision for me in my career.

"There were a lot of things [with deciding to leave Antigua] - bad treatment and things going on. There was a lot of dysfunction within the athletics federation. I know for sure things can be better with Great Britain.

"That's who I was supposed to be running for in the first place because I was born in Montserrat and they don't have an Olympic Committee."

Francis had been expected to challenge for a medal at the Rio 2016 Olympics Credit: ap

Francis's move will reignite the debate around "plastic Brits", which caught fire when American-turned-British hurdler Tiffany Porter was challenged by one journalist to sing the national anthem on the eve of the World Indoor Championships in 2012.

A further five athletes switched to Britain in 2015, including former Anguilla sprinter Zharnel Hughes, who trains alongside Francis and Bolt at Racers Track Club in Jamaica.

A recent flurry of African runners changing allegiance to cash-rich middle Eastern countries saw the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) announce a complete ban on changes of nationality this February, with president Seb Coe admitting the rules were "open to abuse".

However, Francis has been allowed to finalise his move because he started his application last summer.

Asked how he would respond to those who question his right to run for Britain, Francis said: "That's who I was supposed to run for [as a Montserrat national].

Francis trains alongside Usain Bolt in Jamaica Credit: getty images

"I've already gotten [criticism] like that when my transfer first came about. There were people talking about it and saying I'm not a real British athlete so shouldn't be running for them. But, once again, that's who I should have been running for so I don't really care."

Although he plans to retain his training base in Jamaica, Francis says he is looking forward to joining the British Athletics set-up and returning to Wolverhampton, where various members of his family live.

"I like how they treat athletes in Britain," he said. "Before there's a race or a big meet there is a training camp and the environment means everyone gets to know each other.

"I don't really see any tension in the camp. Everything is well organised and I like that.

"I've been to England three times before because my family is in Wolverhampton. It's really nice there. It's a lovely setting and really chilled. It's more of a countryside feel so I like it.

Former Anguilla sprinter Zharnel Hughes also switched allegiance to Britain in 2015 Credit: pa

"The temperature is the biggest difference. It's really, really different and I actually don't like being cold but it's something I have to get accustomed to."

British Athletics are understood to have been surprised when news came through confirming Francis's switch in the wake of his comments pledging allegiance to Antigua last month.

A spokesman said: "British Athletics can confirm it has received confirmation from the IAAF that Miguel Francis is eligible to compete for the British Athletics team with immediate effect.

"The 22-year-old sprinter who was born in Montserrat is eligible for transfer of allegiance to GB with his birthplace a British Overseas Territory.

"Francis started the process to transfer allegiance from Antigua & Barbuda in August 2016, prior to the Olympic Games in Rio, and is now eligible to compete subject to meeting the required selection criteria for a Championships team."

The move further strengthens Britain's bulging 200m ranks. Adam Gemili missed out on an Olympic medal by just 0.001sec last summer, Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake moved second on the British all-time rankings with a personal best of 19.95sec, while Hughes is also considered a potential medal candidate in the future.

Only three of the four will be selected for this summer's World Championships in London.

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