There are a huge number of important issues that need addressing in the world of athletics at the moment, including:
- Serious failures in anti-doping policy and implementation,
- Corporate governance issues, and
- Serious questions around conflicts of interest.
But one issue generated more chatter this morning during the Euro XC than all of these combined – the issue of nation hopping.
The main word that comes to mind when I think of this morning’s European Cross Country Championships is ‘farce.’ I tweeted it many times over the course of the two senior races, as first and second place in both the men’s and women’s senior races went to Kenyan athletes.
That’s right – Kenyan athletes!
Not ‘former Kenyans’ or ‘Kenyan born Turks’ as you may have heard them called on the television coverage. This is not an accurate reflection and here’s why:
- Where were they born? Kenya
- Where did they grow up? Kenya
- Where do they currently live? Kenya
- Where do they train? Kenya
- Where will they fly back to after the race? Yup, you guessed it, Kenya!
How then can they be considered ‘former Kenyans?’
How on earth can they claim to be Turkish?
The winner of today’s senior women’s race, Yasemin Can (aka Vivian Jemutai) demonstrated her proud new found Turkish-ness after winning the 10,000m at the 2016 European Track & Field Championships by telling the press that she hoped to one day win medals for Kenya too. She must really love and respect her newfound homeland and clearly plans to build her life there!
Now, this is not intended to be an attack on athletes, and Turkey is certainly not the only guilty country, but this morning they (rightly) dominated the conversation.
And the oddest thing about all of this nation hopping nonsense is that it is most certainly the easiest of of the IAAF’s current problems to fix. Most sports already have rules in place regarding change of nationality so it’s not like the IAAF needs to rewrite the rule book here. All they need to do is adopt more stringent guidelines and enforce them appropriately.
Here are my suggestions:
- An athlete must have moved to his/ her adopted country before the age of 12/ 14 (unless he/ she moves later due to war/ persecution etc)
- Once an athlete competes for one country there must be a long delay (e.g. 4 or 5 years) before he/ she can compete for another country.
- An athlete must commit to living in his/ her adopted country for a certain number of days per year.
- An athlete must commit to competing in his/ her national trials (unless injured).
It wouldn’t be difficult to implement. It wouldn’t be difficult to enforce. And most importantly, it would be a lot fairer on European athletes competing in European Championships.