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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Citizenship and the Olympics

The Washington Post reports on Olympic basketball player Becky Hammon:
Hammon is playing in her second Olympics for Russia. She became a Russian naturalized citizen before the Beijing Games. Because she hadn’t played for the United States in any major FIBA-sanctioned international events, she is allowed to compete for Russia in the Olympics.

Her patriotism was questioned in 2008 when she played with Russia, which won the bronze medal. Hammon’s second Olympics isn’t drawing as much attention.

She said there’s not “so much hoopla around me and everyone’s kind of settled in. Other girls are playing for other teams, so it’s not so much focused on me.”
A previous post mentioned Olympian Lopez Lomong. At The New York Times, he writes:
As a “Lost Boy” of Sudan, having spent 10 years of my life in a Kenyan refugee camp before coming to America at the age of 16, I felt lost without a country. I never identified with any flag; instead, I was an outcast from a country at war.
In 2000, while a refugee, I saw Michael Johnson run the 400 meters in the Olympics. My world was shaken when he shed a tear during the playing of the national anthem. I realized that he didn’t run for himself or his own glory, but rather represented a country that he was proud of.
The Olympics is the ultimate show of national pride and identity. For me, competing in the Olympic games has been an opportunity to thank a country that opened its arms to me 11 years ago, showing me that I mattered.
The issue of athletes swapping countries to achieve an Olympic berth is a complicated one. In cases like Guor Marial’s, the liberal use of the Olympic flag to allow a qualified athlete to compete when their country doesn’t have an Olympic delegation is justified.

However, when athletes compete solely for personal glory, the purpose of the Games is undermined. After receiving my American citizenship in 2007, despite the odds against me and the challenges I faced, it was not an option to run under another flag. I had been accepted into a country that I was proud of and, for the first time in my life, I had an identity. In 2008, as the team flag bearer, I realized the importance of the Olympic spirit -- to unite the world’s athletes and proudly represent their countries in peace.