Small, rich coun­tries ‘buy’ Olympic medals

Lesotho Times - - Sport -

LONDON — Af­ter Ruth Je­bet won the 3000-me­ter steeple­chase on Mon­day, she stood on the top step above fel­low Kenya na­tive Hyvin Jep­ke­moi, re­ceived her gold medal from another Kenyan, Paul Ter­gat, then turned to watch the Bahraini flag as­cend to the top of the flag­pole.

The 19-year-old Je­bet was born in Kenya, but she be­gan run­ning in­ter­na­tion­ally for Bahrain in 2013. She earned the tiny gulf na­tion’s first gold medal the same day that Eu­nice Kirwa, another run­ner from Kenya, won them their first sil­ver.

Bahrain has a to­tal of three Olympic medals, all earned by East African run­ners who switched their na­tion­al­i­ties to com­pete for Bahrain.

Ath­letes com­pet­ing for na­tions has been around as long as Games them­selves. Even in the an­cient Olympics, ath­letes would oc­ca­sion­ally com­pete for ri­val city-states. All the mod­ern Olympic Char­ter re­quires is that an ath­lete be a cit­i­zen of their new na­tion, and that they haven’t com­peted for their old na­tion for three years (the sec­ond re­quire­ment can be waived).

There are plenty of le­git­i­mate rea­sons why ath­letes choose to com­pete for other coun­tries. For ex­am­ple, if you’re a swim­mer with Cana­dian her­itage, but you can’t make Team USA, swim­ming for Canada might be the only way to get to the Olympics.

But nei­ther Je­bet nor Kirwa have any Bahraini her­itage, and they al­most cer­tainly switched over be­cause they were paid hand­somely.

In 2003, Qatar bought the ser­vices of two Kenyan run­ners, with each run­ner say­ing in re­turn they were promised $1,000 a month, even af­ter they re­tired.

Qatar also bought them­selves a team of Bul­gar­ian weightlifters and their 2016 team fea­tures run­ners from Egypt, Su­dan, Nige­ria, and Morocco.

The Bahraini team has six Ethiopian-born run­ners, six Kenyan­born run­ners, three Nige­ri­ans, and no na­tive Bahrai­nis.

Azer­bai­jan also has a team full of nat­u­ral­ized ath­letes. Small, oil­rich na­tions aren’t the only ones to do this, as the United States has a his­tory of rush­ing prom­i­nent Olympians onto their teams as well.

Of­ten, ath­letes cite dys­func­tion and lack of sup­port from their home­lands’ ath­let­ics fed­er­a­tions. But given Qatar and Bahrain’s habits of pay­ing up for ath­letes’ al­le­giances, it’s more likely that Je- bet and oth­ers are ship­ping across the Red Sea to col­lect mas­sive sums of money.

Saif Saeed Sha­heen, a Kenyan run­ner who moved to Qatar, said as much to the Guardian in 2003: “Yes, I have moved for the money.”

Be­fore the London Olympics, for­mer IOC pres­i­dent Jac­ques Rogge ad­mit­ted that he didn’t love ath­letes switch­ing coun­tries:

Legally, we can’t stop it but that doesn’t mean we love it. Legally, we can’t stop it be­cause this is a mat­ter of sovereignty. I have reser­va­tions in some places about peo­ple who have sup­port but still change.

As Rogge also pointed out, the cur­rent rules make it in­cred­i­bly easy to buy Olympic ath­letes, and there’s noth­ing the IOC can do to stop it un­less they change the rules — open­ing it­self up to a dis­cus­sion of why an or­ga­ni­za­tion it­self with a his­tory pay for play is sud­denly so con­cerned about some­one else also of­fer­ing their ser­vices to the high­est bid­der. For ath­letes who ei­ther can’t make their home coun­try’s Olympic teams or who need the pay­day, mov­ing to another team seems like a no-brainer. They get paid and they get to com­pete in the Olympics.

It’s hard to get in­censed at Bahrain or Qatar when the IOC’S rules re­gard­ing trans­fers are laugh­ably lax. Be­cause of the in­ep­ti­tude and en­demic cor­rup­tion of fed­er­a­tions like Ath­let­ics Kenya, as well as the dif­fi­cul­ties Olympic ath­letes (par­tic­u­larly fe­male ath­letes) have get­ting paid, the ath­letes are un­ques­tion­ably bet­ter off for switch­ing over.

If any­thing, the suc­cess of Je­bet and other im­ported ath­letes is a re­minder that the Olympics are, re­ally, about mak­ing money. See­ing how much in­ter­est (and dol- lars) pro ath­letes drew was what helped break down the ridicu­lous am­a­teurism rules. Mak­ing money is right there in the huge financial de­mands the Olympics makes from bid cities.

The ideal of win­ning a medal for your coun­try out of pure na­tional pride is, for the Olympics, a mar­ket­ing tool. That isn’t to take away from the pride felt by ev­ery com­peti­tor at the Olympics. But for whom should they feel that pride will, for now, re­main up to them and whichever coun­try they think of­fers them the most — cash and all. — Dead­spin

Barhain’s ruth Je­bet (cen­tre), Kenya’s hyvin Kiyeng Jep­ke­moi (left) and Usa’s Emma Coburn pose dur­ing the podium cer­e­mony for the Women’s 3000m steeple­chase Final on Mon­day.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Lesotho

© PressReader. All rights reserved.