Dual Citizenship as a Game Changer in Olympic Sports

written by A. L. Hart Havens on March 1, 2021

Liberated Services consistently emphasizes the value of possessing one or more additional citizenships, as it affords an individual the luxury of relocating to a more desirable jurisdiction at the drop of a hat and the opportunity to spread political and financial risks across borders.

A second citizenship can enhance an individual’s international mobility by way of visa‑free travel and provide access to a safe haven in times of distress. It also opens up more options for employment, education, medical care, loans, voting, and welfare benefits.

In addition to these better understood benefits, there are a number of lesser‑discussed lifestyle perks of holding second citizenship that are frequently overlooked by conventional approaches, among which is the prospect of establishing a more certain and straightforward path to Olympic qualification.

Olympic Boycotts – A Highly Unethical Foreign Policy Tool

The US‑led boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics and the retaliatory Soviet‑led boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics serve to exemplify that international sports are not off limits as tools of leverage by governments in furthering their foreign policy objectives. Athletes who had dedicated their entire young lives to the pursuit of Olympic glory were abruptly barred from competing because of the political games played by power‑wielding bureaucrats.

Using the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan as a pretext, then‑president Jimmy Carter announced in March of 1980 – less than four months before the opening ceremony – that would‑be American Olympians who attempted to travel to Moscow and participate would have their passports revoked.

The reaction was understandably one of absolute outrage, but Carter and the US government were determined to stay the course and bring as many countries as possible on board. In the face of this unprecedented decree, a small handful of athletes from boycotting countries were fortunate enough to possess a second citizenship in a country outside of the 65‑nation boycotting bloc that enabled them to compete under a different country’s flag.

When Soviet premiere Konstantin Chernenko returned the favor four years later citing the threat of a dangerous anti‑Soviet hysteria prevailing in the United States, athletes from communist countries wishing to circumvent this boycott were far less fortunate than their western counterparts. The notion of a Soviet, Romanian, or Czechoslovakian athlete travelling to Los Angeles on a second passport in defiance of his home government’s directives was not within the realm of realistic possibilities.

In more recent times, the organizers of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, the 2012 European Soccer Cup in the Ukraine (a Russian ally at the time), the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, and the 2018 Soccer World Cup in Russia were covered by western media with harsh criticism and negativity across the board. In spite of this rhetoric, however, no action of any real consequence was taken against the host countries.

In the year 2021, the risk of hostile diplomatic acts extending beyond merely symbolic expressions of political protest has become an increasingly realistic prospect with US and NATO relations with China and Russia having reached a low point.

The 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics have already become a political target with neoconservative politicians led by Nikki Haley actively lobbying for a full boycott (despite the fair likelihood of cancellation or postponement due to coronavirus concerns).

And although it does not involve a NATO adversary, the 2022 Soccer World Cup set to be hosted by Qatar has been subjected to a plethora of boycott demands due to the country’s alleged human rights abuses and anti‑LGBT laws, among other things.

Political Gamesmanship Trumps Competitive Sportsmanship

Aside from the threat of boycotts, another dubious tactic applied in the arena of international sports marks the exclusion of specific countries and their citizens from competing. For example, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) imposed a participation ban on Russia covering the now‑postponed 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics and the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. The ban is the result of doping violations allegedly enabled by the Russian Anti‑Doping Agency, a finding that Russia vehemently disputes.

Although Russian competitors who can demonstrate a clean record will be permitted by the IOC to compete, they may do so only under a neutral flag with uniforms displaying the text Neutral Athlete. The announcement of this humiliating policy, which also strictly forbids any playing of the Russian national anthem or display of the Russian national flag, was unsurprisingly quite poorly received in Russia. The Russian government may in turn decide to enact its own Olympic boycotts in response to this perceived chicanery.

With the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics officially postponed by a year, it is uncertain whether the event will ever occur at all. And although it is impossible to know for sure what the future will hold, a plausible scenario could involve the postponed 2020 Olympics taking place but with certain countries barring their citizens from participation citing coronavirus risks. This would effectively equate to a boycott and quickly turn second citizenship into a valuable commodity for aspiring Olympians.

It is patently obvious that geopolitical wrangling poses a serious risk to single‑citizen athletes focused on competing on the grandest stage of international sports. The analysis provided above hopefully clearly illustrates the value that high‑level athletes could derive from acquiring one or more additional citizenships.

Leveraging Multiple Citizenships for Success in Olympic Sports

In addition to providing considerable protection against the fallout of foreign policy disputes, a second citizenship can also prove beneficial to top‑caliber athletes facing stiff competition from their fellow countrymen.

In some individual disciplines such as swimming, a predetermined cut‑off time must be achieved at a qualifying meet held in the run‑up to the Olympics. However, a country is permitted to send no more than two competitors per event irrespective of how many swimmers from that country achieve the qualifying cut‑off time. It is not uncommon for a large country with ample resources like the United States to produce 10 or more qualifiers in a single event and for a small country with few resources to produce none at all.

Hence, a dual‑citizen swimmer fast enough to make the qualifying cut for the 200‑meter butterfly but too slow to place among the top two Americans could still secure a trip the Olympics competing under the flag of a country producing no other Olympic‑caliber swimmers.

Aside from the standard Olympic Qualifying Time (colloquially referred to as the A-Cut), swimming also features the slightly slower Olympic Selection Time (the B‑Cut). Depending on the availability of unclaimed spots after the Olympic Trials, a B‑Cut can be sufficient for Olympic selection as long as no other competitors from that country achieved the A‑Cut in that particular event. Countries are limited to only one competitor per event in which a B-Cut qualifier is invited to compete.

Olympic Selection Time (B‑Cut) qualifiers should not be confused with universality participants, who compete in largely untelevised side‑show exhibitions throughout the course of the Olympics. Universality places are granted to athletes from severely underrepresented countries in a lame attempt to make international sports seem more inclusive. To put things in perspective, the times swum by the majority of universality competitors at the Olympic Games would typically be far too slow to earn a blue ribbon at an American high school dual meet.

The notion of securing a universality place invitation by way of acquiring a second citizenship can be patently dismissed, however, as any such attempt would be considered pathetic and highly unsportsmanlike by the IOC, sports media, and spectators alike.

With the above considerations in mind, it is easy to see that an aspiring Olympian holding two or more citizenships naturally has options at his disposal that could produce an easier path to genuine Olympic qualification.

Uneven Competition Across Countries, Continents, and Climates

The Winter Olympics serve as a prime example of the extremely uneven competition across countries in international sports, as no country in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, or southern Asia has ever won a medal at any Winter Olympics dating back to the inaugural iteration in 1924.

In spite of romanticized stories of Jamaican bobsled teams portrayed in Hollywood movies, an unfortunate truth of the Winter Olympics is that around half of the countries in the aforementioned regions have never even sent a single competitor. Hence, a top US speed skater, luger, or alpine skier who acquires a second citizenship in a warm climate would unquestionably have a more viable path to qualification.

With regard to team winter sports, a far‑fetched but nonetheless feasible strategy could involve the assembly of a four‑man Olympic curling team consisting entirely of native‑born Canadians all in possession of a second citizenship in the exact same tropical country. This ambitious undertaking would obviously require an extraordinary amount of meticulous planning and coordination.

It is also noteworthy that no country outside of South America or Western Europe has ever won a men’s soccer world cup in the 21 times that the tournament has been held since 1930. In light of the obvious unequal distribution of talent, a Brazilian soccer player on the cusp of selection to his national team could easily make the starting roster of most other countries, an option that only a second passport would make possible.

Interestingly, top‑caliber athletes in popular sports are sometimes wooed by less competitive foreign countries with the prospect of citizenship, which can take the form of a government decree that waives the normal naturalization requirements.

An eyebrow‑raising arrangement of this sort was brokered for the US‑born‑and‑raised NBA center Chris Kaman of the Los Angeles Clippers, who was placed on a fast track to German citizenship prior to the 2008 Beijing Olympics (allegedly made possible by some long‑lost German ancestry). Kaman had failed to make his home country’s exceptionally competitive roster, and the lackluster German basketball squad was in dire need of a respectable starting center to complement its star player Dirk Nowitzki.

Second Citizenship as a Selfless Gift to Children

It stands to reason that most of this essay’s readers are not chiseled athletes in their physical primes who dream of basking in the glory of an Olympic gold medal. Nonetheless, a significant portion of the readership may have children or plan to at some point in the future.

As acquired citizenships can usually be passed down to minor children without much additional effort, a second passport is undoubtedly one of the most thoughtful and precious gifts that a parent or grandparent could give a child. And because there are often no restrictions on passing down citizenship to future descendants, the gift of second citizenship is definitely one that has potential to keep giving.