Picking Winners: Olympic Citizenship and the Global Race for Talent

By Shachar, Ayelet | The Yale Law Journal, June 2011 | Go to article overview

Picking Winners: Olympic Citizenship and the Global Race for Talent


Shachar, Ayelet, The Yale Law Journal


FEATURE CONTENTS

I.   THEORIZING THE TALENT-FOR-CITIZENSHIP EXCHANGE

II.  CITIZENSHIP MATTERS

III. THE INTERNATIONAL FRAMEWORK GOVERNING OLYMPIC CITIZENSHIP
     A. Institutional Structures
     B. The Olympic Dream
     C. Eligibility Rules
IV.  THE GLOBAL RACE FOR TALENT AND LEX SPORTIVA
V.   THE CORE PLAYERS IN THE TALENT-FOR-CITIZENSHIP EXCHANGE
     A. The Athletes
     B. The Recruiting Nation
     C. The Source Country
VI.  "THROWING SAND IN THE WHEELS" OF OLYMPIC CITIZENSHIP
     TRANSFERS
     A. Setting a Standard for Recognition of Hasty Citizenship Grants
     B. Regulated Transfers and Solidarity Obligations
CONCLUSION

In our increasingly globalized and competitive world, citizenship is being rewritten, and radically so. This is evident along multiple axes: the revival of cultural and religious markers of inclusion/exclusion, (1) the revamping of border control, (2) the securitization of citizenship, (3) and the more active role played by both sending and receiving countries in bringing economic considerations to bear on labor migration policies, (4) to mention but a few notable examples. The focus of my discussion is on this last category, zooming in primarily on the international mobility of the highly skilled. Here, terminology for the accretion of human capital, once the exclusive purview of economists and head-hunting firms, has infiltrated and transformed the realm of citizenship. Recognizing that "[t]he key element of global competition is no longer the trade of goods and services or flows of capital, but the competition for people," (5) countries seeking to attract Nobel Prize contenders, gifted technology wizards, acclaimed artists, promising Olympians, and other high-demand migrants have come to realize the attractive power of citizenship. This represents a significant shift in the conception of citizenship--turning an institution steeped with notions of collective identity, belonging, loyalty, and perhaps even sacrifice into a recruitment tool for bolstering a nation's standing relative to its competitors. The striking transformation of citizenship is the subject of this inquiry.

Consider the case of Becky Hammon, a superstar point guard from the American heartland. Although she finished as runner-up for the Most Valuable Player title in the WNBA in 2007, Hammon was not short-listed for the U.S. women's Olympic basketball squad for the 2008 Beijing Summer Games. (6) Instead of staying home to root for her national team, Hammon chose to pursue her lifelong dream of playing in the Olympics. Despite not being of Russian descent or a full-time resident, Hammon (who had previously played professional basketball in Russia) was fast-tracked for Russian citizenship in a process expedited by the country's officials. (7) With her brand new passport in hand, Hammon could compete in the Olympics for Russia. There is no denying that Hammon had nothing but the most tenuous ties to Russia before she was granted citizenship in an expedited process. Yet this legal exchange made her into an official representative of the recruiting nation. Some saw this exchange as representing an emerging free-agency era in the Olympic Games: a new world order in which the athlete is at center stage, empowered by the fierce competition among national teams to attract individuals with abundant talent. (80) Others saw it as an act of strategic behavior: placing oneself ahead of one's country. (9) But the distributional matrix of opportunities and responsibilities that attaches to Olympic citizenship goes well beyond any specific individual. It implicates the multiple stakeholders engaged in a global race for talent: mobile and worldly top performers, sending and receiving countries, as well as various regional and international sports regulating bodies.

The case of Becky Hammon, despite the media attention it has received, is far from unique in the world of Olympic citizenship. (10) Chris Kaman, center for the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers since 2003, was born and raised in the United States, attended college at Central Michigan State, and (by his own admission) does not speak German. …

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