Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Africa's Olympic Body Drain (Part One): Olympic Strategy and Citizenship

Special Olympics
Special Olympics (Photo credit: MikeBlyth)
The Olympics is the biggest global sporting event that offers countries an opportunity to show their talents. It allows nations to brand or promote themselves through sports in a way that expensive advertising cannot – It is what a sport like basketball has done to raise the profile of the USA, or short distance running for Jamaica or long distance for Ethiopia and Kenya, respectively. Winning a medal at an Olympic game is the root of envy from other nations. It is a source of pride from the country's citizens. National glory is important for the people of a nation. It is therefore an arena where questions of citizenship are important and can quickly become contentious. The Olympic Charter requires that an athlete is a national of the country they compete for. However, there are restrictions for athletes that change or switch citizenship whereby an athlete a losses citizenship from one country in order to gain citizenship of another country. There is a three year time frame that needs to pass in order for these athletes to compete for a different country. Exceptions to this rule can be made though by the Olympic governing bodies. Dual Citizens though have no such restrictions and can compete for either country where they hold citizenship. 

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 27:  Richard Banda, Fir...
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 27: Richard Banda is the  First Gentleman of Malawi and a former Olympic athlete for Malawi. He arrived in England for the London 2012 Olympic Games to support the Malawi athletes   (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)
Malawi is one African country that doesn’t recognize Dual Citizenship. For a country like Malawi that has had Olympic athletes compete but no Olympic medals, lack of Dual Citizenship laws means that Malawi is decreasing its opportunity of becoming a medal bearing country. Athletes that have two Malawian parents but live outside of Malawi are prevented from competing for Malawi at the international level after the age of twenty-one. Football (soccer) players like Tamika Mkandawire, who has one Malawian parent but is a British citizen, is not able to compete for Malawi even though he plays for a professional league in Europe. Although an athlete like Cate Campbell, a Malawian-born Australian Olympic swimming medalist, does not have Malawian parents, she should have the option to compete for Malawi (Even if it is under a special category of Dual Citizenship for those without Malawian parentage but has an exceptional talent). There is little doubt that Campbell must have used some level of Malawian resources in the first nine years of her life whilst physically living in Malawi. Therefore it is in the best interest for Malawi to leverage the use of those resources for the benefit of Malawi. This includes human resources. Lack of Dual Citizenship also means that there is an increasing chance for up and coming Malawian players to be poached by other countries and thereby creating a situation where Malawi trains athletes but their contribution to Malawi can not be maximized. We need to consider that the ‘body' drain is just as real and just as problematic as the ‘brain drain’ on the continent. Malawian Athletes such as swimmers Joyce Tafathata and Charlton Nyirenda or runners Mike Tebulo, and John Kayange are more inclined to switch citizenship in order to advance their careers due to aggressive recruiting by the Global South. Rather than abandoning Malawian citizenship altogether, Dual Citizenship would allow these players to compete for Malawi when needed. Countries like Malawi need to have an Olympic strategy that is beyond the physical aspects of the game. The Olympic games are not just about competing harder, they are about competing smarter. 

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