Gold Diggers: Meet Some Olympic Mercenaries

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 8/31/2008 07:38:00 AM
There is a saying that "every man has his price." A few months back, I discussed how many European countries were not averse to "nationalizing" foreigners to help their cause in the Euro 2008 football competition, citing the particular case of erstwhile Brazilian Marcos Senna. Senna, of course, played a large part in Spain's eventual victory. When it comes to Olympic competition, things are no different. Some participating countries in the just-concluded Beijing Summer Games had few qualms about throwing money around to "earn" an Olympic medal haul. Somehow, I am not surprised that Georgia's president encouraged such hanky-panky himself. Nor should it surprise anyone that Gulf states literally drowning in petrodollars decided to go out and buy some of the best athletes available on the citizenship market. This gun's for hire, even if we're just dancing in the darkness of sporting principle. From TIME [1, 2]:
It might have seemed like patriotism gone wild when the two members of Georgia's men's beach-volleyball team stitched the nicknames "Geor" and "Gia" onto their uniforms, spelling out the name of their besieged nation. But there's a twist: neither of the players is really Georgian. Renato Gomes and Jorge Terceiro are towering Brazilian imports recruited by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili for the sole purpose of representing his country in the Olympics.

More athletes than ever are competing in Beijing under flags (and, in some cases, names) different from the ones under which they were born. While some see this border-jumping as a symbol of how sport transcends nationality, giving some worthy athletes a chance to escape hardship in their home countries, others see it as a potential violation of the Olympic spirit. "What is not legitimate," Jacques Rogge, the International Olympic Committee chief, has said, "is when an athlete sells himself as a mercenary."

The gold medalists in recruiting foreign-born athletes are Qatar and Bahrain, tiny oil-rich Gulf states that have shelled out millions of dollars to persuade top African runners to change their citizenship. But many other nations play this game. Russia, for example, recruited two Americans to lead its men's and women's basketball teams. The strategy can pay off. Moroccan-born Rashid Ramzi gave Bahrain its first-ever track-and-field gold on Aug. 19 when he won the men's 1,500-m. In a globalized era, even athletic excellence can be outsourced.