Switching Teams: Changing Citizenship to Compete in the Olympic Games

By English, Colleen | Proceedings: International Symposium for Olympic Research, Annual 2010 | Go to article overview

Switching Teams: Changing Citizenship to Compete in the Olympic Games


English, Colleen, Proceedings: International Symposium for Olympic Research


At the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver many great accomplishments took the spotlight while countries throughout the world celebrated victory. While tragedy and triumph reigned center stage during the Olympic coverage, one event in particular causes some question over Olympic ideals. In the ice dancing competition, Allison Reed competed. Born in New Jersey, she has lived in the United States her entire life. (1) Along with her brother and sister, Reed began ice dancing at a young age with dreams of becoming an Olympic champion. (2) In 2010, she got that chance, though she competed for the Republic of Georgia. (3) This event raises questions about citizenship and its relationship with eligibility to compete in the Olympic Games. Specifically, should Allison Reed have been allowed to become a Georgian citizen so quickly, solely to compete in the Olympic Games? (4) In this paper, I will argue that this question cannot be answered without first looking at questions more central to the spirit of the Olympics. National identity and the overt displays of nationalism raise interesting questions concerning the role of nationalism in the Games. Also, questions concerning the ongoing issue of amateurism and professionalism can aid in understanding how the International Olympic Committee (IOC) can be expected to act in cases like Allison Reed's. Furthermore, questions concerning personal identity and personal gain must be considered before decisions about changing citizenship can be addressed. This paper intends to show that the issue of changing citizenship to compete in the Olympic Games cannot be answered simply; the question itself causes more fundamental questions about Olympic values to arise, which must be answered before one can decide whether athletes should be allowed to change citizenship for the purpose of competing in the Olympic Games.

Many aspects of the Olympic Games contain displays of nationalism. In the Opening Ceremony, each participating country takes part in a Parade of Nations. Each of these nations walk through the Olympic Stadium, while one chosen athlete carries their country's flag. Behind the flag bearer, the rest of the nation's athletes follow, dressed in outfits meant to represent their home nation. The Opening Ceremony also elicits nationalism from the host country. Sport sociologist John Hargreaves states that the Opening Ceremony has become an event for the host nation to project an image of its national culture to the entire world. (5) Today, the Closing Ceremony represents a similar ideal. Hargreaves also argues that the Award Ceremony is perhaps the greatest display of nationalism at the Olympic Games. (6) When the winners stand atop the podium their nation's banner flies above their heads while the gold medalist's national anthem plays. Overall, the Olympics offer numerous opportunities to display nationalism.

Although the Olympics do allow nationalism, this was not the intended purpose of the Games. In the late 1800s, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympic Movement, did not intend for the Games to be an arena for nations to prove their greatness. Rather, Coubertin hoped to spread values of internationalism. He wanted to bring the nations of the world together peacefully to share in athletic competitions. Coubertin believed that athletic competitions between nations could foster peace and hoped that the Olympics could celebrate national and cultural differences. (7) He stated:

   Healthy democracy, wise and peaceful internationalism, will
   penetrate the new stadium and preserve within it the cult of
   disinterestedness and honor which will enable athletics to help in
   the tasks of moral education and social peace as well as of
   muscular development. (8)

Coubertin did not intend for the Olympics to become an arena for nationalism and competition between nations to discover which country is greatest. Rather, he hoped to promote international harmony and peace. …

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