Saturday, August 11, 2012

Africa's Olympic 'Body Drain': Matters of Citizenship

Special Olympics
The Olympics is a chance for African nations to build national pride and prestige. There is a need for greater strategic planning in athletics in order to remain competitive (Photo credit: MikeBlyth)
Olympic Strategy and Citizenship (part one)

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. 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 Fafathata and Charlton Nyirenda or runners Mike Tebulo, and John Kayange are more inclined to switch citizenship in order to advance their careers. 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. 

Competitive Advantage and Citizenship (part two)

Taking advantage of Dual Citizenship is important for African nations wanting to have a competitive advantage in athletic games. Being competitive at the Olympics in a globalized world is just as much about having an effective athletic management strategy as it is about the athletic ability of the Olympians. For African countries, getting medals is not just a matter of poor training facilities, or lack of financial resources.Its a matter of leveraging all available or potential human resources. Part of an effective global strategy is is inclusive of all of the nations people and thus increases the chance of a country to bring home medals. Therefore, citizenship matters. In the past few years alone, there has been an increase in African athletes competing for non-African teams. There has also been an increase in non-African nations coveting successful African athletes. There are numerous examples of African players that have changed their citizenship in order to compete at the Olympics i.e. South African born runner Zola Budd competed for England; Kenyan born  runner Bernard Lagat competed for the USA; Kenyan born cyclist Chris Froome competed for Great Britain.  Many countries in Africa have realized that lack of Dual Citizenship is costing them players and  decreasing their competitiveness. Many countries have now taken the important step towards leveraging their athletes. Both Kenya and South Africa now offer Dual Citizenship to their nationals.  It is  in the best interest of these countries in Africa to offer Dual Citizenship so that they can increase their competitiveness at international events through policies that encourage the retention of athletes.


LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31:  Tony Skinn #4 of N...
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: Tony Skinn #4 of Nigeria shoots in the Men's Basketball Preliminary Round match between Lithuania and Nigeria  in London, England. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)
Many countries strategically provide citizenship to African athletes as an incentive for these athletes to immigrate to their country and compete for them in the Olympics. They offer the athletes additional attractions like training facilities or an opportunity to qualify for the Olympics in cases where they would not have qualified in their own countries. In the USA alone, fifty athletes migrated to the USA between 1992 and 2008 to compete for their Olympic team that previously competed for another country. At the London 2012 games, over 40 foreign-born citizens ran for the United States. This 'body gain' increases the chance for the USA to earn medals, money, national pride and prestige that comes with winning Olympic events. For the African countries that have lost a potential Olympic medal athlete, this is a tremendous loss.  Many African athletes also strategically maintain the citizenship of their country-of-origin or acquire citizenship of new nations so that they can compete in the Olympics. Nigeria was able to send its first qualifying Basketball team to the Olympics 2012 due to the contributions of Nigerian Dual Citizens in the USA.  Both Nigeria and USA recognize Dual Citizenship. As Dual Citizens with both U.S.A and Nigerian citizenship, these athletes are able to compete for Nigeria or USA. However, basketball is very competitive in the USA and there is a saturation of qualified players therefore it is more difficult to qualify in the USA team. Many of these players therefore opted to try out for the Nigerian Olympic basketball team (D'Tigers) and where able to qualify to compete alongside other Nigerians. A handful of the players were from the NBA professional league, the remainder were from college. Nigeria benefits by having a Basketball team comprised of all of its best athletes and qualifying for the first time in this event. It also benefits by having athletes compete for them at little or no cost to Nigeria. 

Olympics in Barcelona
Olympics in Barcelona (Photo credit: cliff1066™)
Although Nigeria's defeat by the USA's dream team was the focus of many, Nigeria's ascendency to the Basketball arena was commendable.  They managed to establish Nigeria as a Basketball powerhouse.They beat established teams like Lithuania, Greece and the Dominican Republic to qualify for the Olympics. Even though the team did not bring home medals for Nigeria, they won one out of four games. They also  lifted the profile of African Basketball. The world hasn't seen the last of teams like D'Tigers that are made up of all of Africa's human resources.  Addressing issues of citizenship for all their nationals as part of an athletic strategy is important. Dual Citizenship is important for competing at the international level and building a winning country brand.  If African nations want to increase the number of medals that they have, African nations need to leverage their athletic human resources. This will create a situation where both players and the country can benefit. It is a step in countering the 'body drain' of our athletes. It will also create a situation where more Olympic medals can be awarded on the African continent ... and one where more happy Olympic memories can be created for Africa.

This article originally appeared August 1, 2012 and August 11, 2012 on: www.rebrandafrica.org

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for visiting our page. Please share your thoughts, ideas, and opinions with us in the comment box below:

There was an error in this gadget

Search This Blog