18 December, 2016

Those non-european europeans

In my report on the European championships I wrote about the scandal of the new mercenaries of athletics. The turkish team presented 18 non-european-born athletes who garnered 10 medals (pure-bred turks on the other hand secured just two medals). I was pointing out there that we are adulterating our european competitions through the presence of non-european-born athletes.  I was finishing on a hopeful tone since the IAAF had let it be known that after the Olympics they were going to take care of this problem. But then the European Cross Country Championships arrived and Turkey managed a one-two in both senior races. Here are the winners of the women's race

Meryem Akda (Mirriam Jepchirchir)-Yasemin Can (Vivian Jemutai)

and here are the ones of the men's.

Polat Arikan (Paul Kemboi)- Ali Kaya (Stanley Kiprotich)

Now before anybody starts accusing me of hostility against Turkey (for obvious reasons) I will speak my mind. I am not bothered in the least by the fact that Turkey is winning european medals. Had the winners been pure-bred turks I would have applauded their victory without an instant's hesitation. I protest against the presence of all those kenyans in the turkish team mainly because I am convinced that their presence is hurting turkish (and european) athletics. If I were a middle-long distance runner in Turkey would I bother to train hard, knowing that I would never make the national team, the places being taken by athletes imported from Africa? Definitely not! I would look for some other sport with a more level ground. And, to be fair, Turkey is far from being the only country playing this game. In fact at the Amsterdam Europeans Italy had even more foreign-born athletes than Turkey (21 to 18).

After I saw the results of the Cross Country Championships I was of two minds about writing this article immediately or waiting for the IAAF to do something. What pushed me in the direction of posting was an article of Louise (a.k.a. swift_girl) with the delicious title  

Nation Hopping Nonsense!

I already wrote about her great analysis on the four plagues of the athletics world. In her recent article she is doing a great, lapidary, analysis of the problem with the kenyan turks. She asks five questions 

Where were they born?  
Where did they grow up? 
Where do they currently live? 
Where do they train?   
Where will they fly back to after the race?

which, all, have the same answer: Kenya. 
(However, I think that Ali Kaya really lives in Turkey).

There is even the shocking confession of Can-Jemutai after her victories in the Amsterdam Europeans this summer, where she said that she hoped one day to win medals for Kenya.

Probably the greatest mercenary: Saif Saaeed Shaheen (Stephen Cherono) of Qatar 

Louise makes a series of recommendations concerning the measures that should be taken. You can find them in her post. As far as I am concerned I do not blindly object to the presence of foreign-born athletes in continental championships. There are several cases where this is perfectly natural but also cases, like for instance Zola Budd's, where nationality hopping can provoke raucous objections. A case that, for me, should be accepted without discussions is that of people coming from old colonies of some country and living in that country for years but who have only recently acquired the citizenship. 

The case of the double nationality is more delicate. Some people marry and as a consequence they (may) change their citizenship (Wilson Kipketer is the best such example). Also there are people who emigrate and decide to pursue their career in the new country. But here some constraints should apply. People should really live in their adoptive country for some time before being allowed to compete under its colours. The question of time between participations under the first and the second nationalities should also be settled (two or four years should be the typical answer).

And, after all, if people decide to change nationality for personal reasons we should let them do so. It is doing it for money, even if we live in an era of absolute professionalism, that I cannot condone. This is hurting athletics and makes the competitions what Louise, with her legendary outspokenness, her franc-parler, is calling a 'farce'.

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