Readers Roundtable: Olympic Carpetbagging

imageThe Olympics are advertised as the closest thing to a real It’s a Small World this side of the Miss Universe pageant, with athletes from all countries coming together in the spirit of harmony and friendly competition. As the athletes parade in national costumes through the stadium for the Games’ Opening Ceremony, who would suspect that many of the athletes only recently became citizens of their teams’ countries or recently ever even set foot in them.

In 2016, American runners like Alexi Pappas and Ariana Hilborn have stated their intentions to compete, not for the United States, the country where they were born and still reside, but for the countries of their ancestors, Greece and Latvia respectively. Neither has yet run an Olympic qualifying time as a member of her respective country’s team, but each has the intentions and the ability to do so within the next month or two.

While Alexi and Ariana sought dual citizenship for a chance to be Olympians that neither would likely otherwise have, some countries, like Qatar or Bahrain, have been accused of buying their Olympic teams, particularly their runners from East Africa.

With the Olympics approaching, we wanted to discuss this issue. Is citizenship flexibility a good thing for the Olympics or is carpetbagging hurting the spirit of the games?

Salty Running boss and mother of 3 little ones with PRs of 3:10:15 (26.2), 1:25:59 (13.1) and 18:15 (5k). I love to write about running culture, mental training, and fitting in a serious running habit with the rest of a busy life.

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  1. This is a very interesting topic. I myself am a tri citizen, Panama, Colombia, and the United States of America. While I’m certainly not Olympic material, but let’s pretend I was, if I missed an opportunity in the U.S and could Be given another chance in the respective countries where I hold citizenship then I don’t see anything wrong.
    The buying of athletes is touchy. They come from poor families and if that’s their way of supporting their families then it’s hard to be a hater. If I was a talented Kenyan runner and I had the choice to make 2 cents ( I don’t know really) a day or get paid $xxx,xxx to run for Russia then I’d pick run for Russia and help my family.

    1. Yeah, I mean, would I say no to the opportunity to be an Olympian? Uh, probably not! It’s easy to criticize people in theory, but given the opportunity, most people would probably take it.

  2. Although I am excited for them to have the opportunity to compete in the Games, there is just something about this backdoor entry that gives me major pause… Even if your parents or grandparents are 100% ___ & you are able to technically get dual citizenship, if you were raised here in America, educated here, coached and trained here, and only gained your dual citizenship in the year before the Games with the explicit goal of being able to represent that other country, it doesn’t seem to me you really represent that country. Maybe there needs to be rules in place: a certain number of years you need to have dual citizenship, or that once you decide to represent a country that your training/coaching needs to happen there… or… something. If those types of guidelines existed (and maybe they do, as I am not an Olympics expert), that would also take care of countries buying talent/athletes.

    1. I agree with you, that if you are going to pull the dual citizenship there should be some sort of time frame enforced. I mean, even in the US in order to be a state resident you need to reside in the state for at least 6 months 1 day. Example- snow birds who head to Florida for the winter. I know we are talking about different countries here and not states- but I feel like the idea is the same. Why should you get benefits of whatever a particular state/country has to offer if you aren’t even there the majority of the time?

    2. I think this gets to the heart of the matter: the olympics is supposed to be about countries sending their native sons and daughters to all compete in the world’s games! It’s about the world and what it means to be a part of the world and a native of a country and the individual athlete is kinda tertiary in the whole calculus. When the athletes pick and choose countries, then they’re somewhat elevating the individual above the collective.

  3. As already said above by others I think it’s an interesting topic and one that is very circumstantial. Dual citizens, to me- okay I can make plenty of arguments for this. You legally have that right, and you are using it as an opportunity to represent yourself and a country at the Olympics. But like Pimento said I feel like there should be some time frame enforced with this. To discourage athletes from switching last minute when they maybe realize they don’t have a chance where they are at, and decide to switch sides. When it comes to buying the athletes- personally I don’t agree with it. That isn’t to say I don’t understand why an athlete might choose to do it (money for family), I get it- we do whatever it takes to support those we love, even financially. But, to those countries doing the buying- is a medal and some publicity from an athlete who isn’t “yours”worth all of that? It’s like those who dope, is it really worth it for a medal when you didn’t really earn it?

    Sport switching (Like LoLo) doesn’t really bother me. Especially if the team is chosen based on results. Lolo out performed the other ladies for the spot on the team- so let the numbers do the talking and she earned it fair and square. But, I can get why the others could be upset. I mean, haven’t we all had a friend/family member take up running when we have been doing it so much longer…and all of a sudden they are out performing us? You’re happy they fell in love with the sport and they are succeeding, but still stings when you’ve been doing it longer and someone comes in ahead of you. So from that perspective I can understand why athletes would be upset about it, but that doesn’t make it unfair. (In my opinion).

  4. I think if you can obtain dual citizenship lawfully like any other candidate, and earn a spot on that team, then it’s fine. No time limits required. It should be treated like any other person seeking such rights for immigration or job purposes. However, I don’t support expedited treatment just because that person is an athlete. I would hope that any athletes still have to compete against native ones to earn their spot as well pursuant to the federations or governing bodies in those countries. They should not be allowed to leapfrog the process.

    I also don’t support the buying of athletes anymore than PEDs. I realize there are many talented athletes from very poor countries, but this is the Olympics not pro sports deal. If there is no basis for citizenship, then there should be no ability to buy or expedite the granting of such for the sole purpose of competing on behalf of another country. We can’t solve global poverty in this way and it should be discouraged and challenged just like PEDs.

    The Olympics by necessity have already become too corporate. There has got to be some limits.

    1. I think the issue is what you said- the expediting of the process because the Olympics are rapidly approaching and the person is an athlete. I don’t know much about the process, but I find it hard to believe that a regular Joe Schmoe could get his citizenship transferred in a few weeks or months- I mean it can take months to get a passport, citizenship could take much longer.

  5. I think it’s ridiculous, if they do not have any ties or background with the country. If you have recent ancestors, or have lived there the majority of your life, then great- take your opportunity to represent your new country! But athletes who switch citizenship solely for the purpose of getting into the Olympics- that’s not really right.
    There’s even a law that you have to wait 3 years after gaining citizenship before you can compete for your new country. But unfortunately, there are also plenty of waivers so that people get away with gaining (buying) citizenship, then competing immediately.