Last Updated on August 16, 2008 by Jimson Lee
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness… and Olympic Medals !
By now, you’re probably aware of countries like Qatar and Bahrain “importing” elite athletes in the Pursuit of Olympic Medals. Qatar offers a monthly stipend of $1000 USD for life to athletes who “switches passports”.
LetsRun.com is notorious for pointing out this fact and always uses both names with the strikeout font like this:
The official world record in the 3000 m steeplechase for men is held by
Stephen CheronoSaif Saaeed Shaheen of Qatar with a performance of 7:53.63
What about new Americans citizens who take an Olympic spot away from an American-born athlete? Is this right or wrong? Should they use the same criteria for the Olympics as eligibility to become the President of the United Sates and be American born?
Of course, this would be ridiculous, as it would rob any athlete who immigrated at a very young age. You’ll have to ask yourself, “What is a true American?” or Canadian for that matter.
Granted, the USA sprint team has to be the toughest team in the world to qualify, so why would anyone want to compete at the USA Trials if you had a choice? If going to the Olympics is your ultimate dream, then I can think of a dozen countries you should apply for citizenship. But you’ll have to make the A standard first!
Competing at the Olympics and winning a gold medal is another story, as the endorsements will yield high dividends! And what better place then the Land of Opportunity?
Here is a controversial article that addresses this issue:
Swapping Passports in Pursuit of Olympic Medals
Marching into Beijing Stadium under the American flag this August will be a kayaker from Poland, table tennis players from China, a triathlete from New Zealand, a world-champion distance runner from Kenya and a gold-medal-winning equestrian from Australia.
All newly minted United States citizens.
Foreign-born and trained stars have been contributing to the United Statesâ€™s Olympic medal count since 2000 in a modest but growing trend that blurs the national boundaries of the competition.
We call them migrant laborers,â€ said Kevin B. Wamsley, a co-director of the Canada-based International Center for Olympic Studies. Certainly, thereâ€™s a value for nations on medals.â€
The United States is a magnet for attracting accomplished veteran athletes to switch citizenship, according to analysis by The New York Times. Since 1992, about 50 athletes who had competed in international events for their home countries â€” including 10 for China â€” became United States citizens and Olympians, winning eight medals, records show. This practice has implications for American athletes who are shut out of precious Olympic berths and has also been cause for conflict among competing nations.
Nine new citizens are on track to secure spots on the 600-athlete United States team for Beijing, including the distance runner Bernard Lagat, who won two medals for Kenya in the 2004 Athens Games.
The United States Olympic Committee says it does not recruit. We think itâ€™s just an offshoot of where athletes want to train and where they want to live and for whom they want to compete,â€ Jim Scherr, the chief executive of the committee, said in a telephone interview. Itâ€™s a good thing. Nobodyâ€™s out there trading for athletes or offering financial rewards for an athlete to jump from one country to another.â€
The International Olympic Committee imposes a three-year waiting period for an athlete who switches countries, although it will grant a waiver if the athleteâ€™s native Olympic committee and international sports federation give permission. Two new Americans received the I.O.C. waiver this year: the equestrian Phillip P. Dutton, who won two gold medals for Australia; and the canoeist Heather Corrie, who is also a British citizen. (The Timesâ€™s statistics did not include dual citizens and athletes who immigrated as children.)
American-born competitors have grumbled about losing Olympic opportunities to newcomers and have been especially vocal when government officials have gone out of their way to expedite the eligibility of foreign athletes. Such fast-tracking does not appear to be happening for this Olympic cycle.
Few of the immigrants said they came here exclusively to continue their athletic careers. Mostly, they said, they came for love, opportunity, freedom and education. Nearly all have been welcomed by United States athletic federations.
They take advantage of EB-1 visas for aliens of extraordinary ability â€” meant for renowned scientists, artists and athletes â€” which moves them swiftly to the front of the line for permanent residency. The United States government issued 2,749 of these visas to foreigners, their spouses and children in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2007, but the statistics do not indicate how many went to athletes.
An athlete who marries an American citizen can obtain a green card as a permanent resident in three years; it takes five years otherwise. Potential Olympians often miss the Games while waiting.
Filling in the Gaps
In years past, the United States had trouble competing in some Olympic sports but for immigrants, said Alicia J. Campi, the research coordinator with the Immigration Policy Center in Washington. Among the sports she cited were field hockey and table tennis.
This is an area where immigrants can help because they already have the skills theyâ€™ve developed through decades and centuries of culture that valued that particular sport,â€ Campi said in a phone interview. One or two athletes can really change the possibility of the United States doing well in one of those nontraditional sports.â€
Seven Olympic medals since 2000 have been won by five new citizens who had been elite performers for their home countries: the gymnast Annia Hatch from Cuba and the synchronized swimmer Anna A. Kozlova from Russia each won two in 2004; the sailor Magnus Liljedahl from Sweden and the tennis player Monica Seles from Yugoslavia in 2000 in Sydney, Australia; and the ice dancer Tanith Belbin from Canada in the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy.
The Nigeria-born Hakeem Olajuwon of the 1996 basketball Dream Team was the only foreign athlete to contribute to the United States medal count in the 1990s.
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