Yesterday’s Summer Olympic action provided a pair of memorable moments embodying the spirit of competition and perseverance. A classic women’s soccer match between Canada and the United States showcased a combination of grit and skill that wasn’t decided until the Americans tallied a goal in the waning seconds of extra time. Later in the evening, Dominican runner Felix Sanchez wept on the victory stand after winning the men’s 400-meter hurdles, a win he dedicated to his late grandmother.
While Sanchez has represented the Dominican Republic for over a decade (he won a gold medal in the same event at the Athens Olympics in 2004), he exemplifies a growing trend of athletes opting to compete for countries outside of where they originally have citizenship. Though born in New York City and raised in Southern California, Sanchez was granted dual citizenship because his parents were born in the Dominican.
Dual citizenship is not new to the Olympics. For example, Canadian-born hockey superstar Brett Hull chose to play for the United States over his native country in 2002, a decision that cost him a gold medal when his team lost to Canada in the gold medal game. The increasing problem, however, is the ease and frequency with which it is currently happening.
Hundreds of athletes in the London Summer Games are competing for countries not originally their own. The United States has over 40, many of which are medal contenders. While some have reasons not related to sports, such as American 10,000-meter gold medalist Mo Farah, most use this option as an easier means to participate in the Olympics. Simple Google searches reveal dozens of athletes with recently-gained citizenships, including an American-born women’s basketball player now representing Turkey for what she called a “business decision.”
This continuance of this pattern could have a major effect on future Olympics, with some critics already calling for the elimination of nation-based representation in favor of athletes representing themselves and various sponsors. My belief is that the International Olympic Committee needs to start addressing the problem instead of pretending it doesn’t exist.