Vancouver: Winter Olympics and Dual-ing Citizens

April 12th, 2010

During the recent Vancouver Winter Olympics, Kirin Kalia, Editor, Migration Information Source, found herself thinking about what citizenship means as she watched country-switching athletes demonstrate the same global mobility as other skilled immigrants. Between bobsled and snowshoe events, Kirin shared her thoughts:

Like many people, I probably spent too much time watching the Winter Olympics over the last two weeks. Among the facts commentators noted about certain athletes, and which caught my attention: their citizenship.

In most cases, the athlete became a citizen of another country either for training purposes or because the competition for a spot on the other country’s team was less intense. For some athletes, this has meant giving up their original citizenship because their “home” country does not permit dual citizenship; others are dual citizens, giving them the freedom to choose which country to represent.

However, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), concerned both about countries essentially buying athletes and about maintaining the spirit of the games, has rules in place that do not allow athletes to switch their allegiances all that easily. After representing one country in the games or other international competition, the athlete generally must wait at least three years after changing/acquiring a new citizenship to represent the new country (see rule 42 of the IOC rules.)

The citizenship issue comes up regularly during the Olympics. The Los Angeles Times gave various examples of country-switching athletes in its piece from August 2004, as did Time magazine in its 2006 article, which focused mainly on Canadian hockey players getting Italian citizenship thanks to their immigrant past.

In Vancouver, the most controversial dual citizen was skier Dale Begg-Smith, a Vancouver native with Canadian and Australian citizenship who won gold for Australia in 2006 and silver in 2010. Some Canadians consider him a traitor and even booed him during the medal ceremony. Yet some Australians wonder if Begg-Smith’s less-than-boisterous personality means he’s not a real Aussie.

Lawyer and economist Ian Ayres, however, sees mainly the benefits of such situations. In an August 2008 post for the New York Times Freakonomics blog, he argued that the fluidity of citizenship has already improved the quality of Olympic competition and that the IOC should change its citizenship rules.

Kirin Kalia, Editor, Migration Information Source
Reprinted with permission from: Migration Information Source (Migration Policy Institute), March 1, 2010, Editor’s Note, source@migrationpolicy.org.

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