Wednesday, August 24, 2016


Athletes Switching Nationalities In Spotlight At London Olympics

Bulgarian-born weightlifter Boyanka Kostova caused an international squabble when she decided to represent Azerbaijan at the 2012 Olympics.
Bulgarian-born weightlifter Boyanka Kostova caused an international squabble when she decided to represent Azerbaijan at the 2012 Olympics.
By Claire Bigg
Changing passports to compete for another country has long been common practice among athletes. But as the Olympic Games prepare to kick off in London, the growing incidence of nationality switches is raising eyebrows.

Olympic host Britain, in particular, has come under scrutiny this year for recruiting an unprecedented number of foreign-born athletes.

These include Yamile Aldama, a triple jumper from Cuba who competed for Sudan at the 2004 Olympics, and German-born cyclist Philip Hindes. The British team also includes three U.S.-born athletes: 400-meter runners Michael Bingham and Shana Cox and 100-meter hurdler Tiffany Porter.

Critics have dubbed the athletes "plastic Brits" -- but the practice is widespread in other countries as well.

A number of former Soviet countries, spearheaded by oil-rich Azerbaijan, have actively adopted the practice.

Of the more than 50 athletes who will represent Azerbaijan in London, almost half are naturalized citizens.

In the run-up to the Olympics, Azerbaijan became embroiled in a bitter dispute involving two teenage Bulgarian weightlifters.

Boyanka Kostova and Valentin Hristov switched allegiance to Azerbaijan last year after Baku agreed to pay Bulgaria more than $500,000.

But Bulgaria demanded an additional fee when it became clear the duo would represent Azerbaijan at the 2012 Olympics, saying the original agreement did not allow for this and threatening to block their participation.

After months of squabbling, Bulgaria eventually gave in and agreed to let Kostova and Valentin lift for Azerbaijan in London.

'No Emotional Connection'

While naturalizing foreign athletes has proved an effective way of raising one's profile on the international sports scene, some fans are wary of the practice. Many say it contributes to the commercialization of sports and they claim to feel no emotional connection with "imported" athletes.

In comments in March, International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge maintained that some athletes had legitimate motives for changing nationalities, including family reasons or a lack of financial support in their native countries.

But some, he added, are only seeking to cash in on the Olympics.

"I have reservations in some cases where athletes who obviously don't lack any support emanating from their local sporting and government authorities still change nationality," he said. "We cannot oppose it because it's a sovereignty matter, but let me tell you very frankly: I don't love that."

Like Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan is another post-Soviet country that increasingly relies on foreign-born athletes.

Five Russian tennis players switched over to Kazakhstan in 2008 -- Yaroslava Shvedova, Galina Voskoboyeva, Andrei Golubev, Yury Shchukin and Mikhail Kukushkin. Two more Russian players, Ksenia Pervak and Yulia Putintseva, relocated to Almaty in 2011 and 2012, respectively.
Yaroslava Shvedova is one of several Russian tennis players who now represent Kazakhstan.
Yaroslava Shvedova is one of several Russian tennis players who now represent Kazakhstan.
Moreover, as many as four Chinese-born weightlifters will also compete for Kazakhstan at the London Olympics: Maya Maneza, Zulfiya Chinshanlo, Arli Chontai and Farkhad Kharki. All four have taken Kazakh-sounding names along with Kazakh citizenship.

The lifters have already distinguished themselves at international competitions and Kazakhstan hopes they will snatch more victories in London.

According to Mendikhan Tapsiruly, coach of Kazakhstan's weightlifting team, the foreign-born athletes are also helping to popularize sports that are still relatively new in the Central Asian nation:

"We brought in these Chinese athletes to raise the competition level inside Kazakhstan," he said.

"They will encourage our youths to start practicing weightlifting. Many young Kazaks [took it up] following the victories of Maya Maneza and Zulfiya Chinshanlo.

"The last two Chinese athletes to come here, Arli Chontai and Farkhad Kharki, are also very strong. They are both capable of winning medals at the London Olympics."

A Source Of Resentment

Not all Kazakhs, however, are thrilled. Instead of spending its money on foreign recruits, many say Kazakhstan should focus on training young Kazakh athletes and developing sporting facilities in the country.

Some also feel that Kazakhstan should be represented by athletes who were born and raised there.

"Even if Chontai and Kharki win gold medals, the fans will not recognize their victory, because they are foreigners to us," said Kazakh sports journalist Rauan Okas.

"Plastic athletes" are also causing resentment in cash-strapped nations that are seeing their best sporting hopes defect to wealthier countries.

The talented hammer-thrower Sukhrob Khodzhaev, for instance, caused a stir in his native Tajikistan when he unexpectedly switched over to Uzbekistan three years ago.

Tajikistan, which had planned to send Khodzhaev to the 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore, was outraged after learning that he intended to represent Uzbekistan at the competition.

Following almost a year of negotiations, it was agreed that Khodzhaev would not attend the Singapore Games at all -- although he will compete for Uzbekistan in London.

Nargis Nabieva, the head of the sports department at Tajikistan's Committee on Youth Affairs, told RFE/RL that the Uzbek Olympic Committee had sent a letter that said "Sukhrob had become an Uzbek citizen of his own accord."

Nabieva added that the athlete's family had been complaining about his salary in Tajikistan.

Some sports stars, however, have gone against the trend and turned down lucrative contracts involving nationality switches.

Kosovo's judoka Majlinda Kelmendi is one of them.

Kelmendi, the only Kosovar athlete who will compete in London, turned down an offer to represent Azerbaijan at the Olympics.

She will represent Albania instead after the International Olympic Committee squashed her bid to compete under Kosovo's flag.

Written by Claire Bigg, based on reporting by RFE/RL's Kazakh, Tajik, and Azerbaijani services

Claire Bigg

Claire Bigg covers Russia, Ukraine, and the post-Soviet world, with a focus on human rights, civil society, and social issues. Send story tips to​


This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Alex from: LA
July 15, 2012 22:29
Hahaha, Azeri's do the same with war, they bring in mujaheddin to fight for them because they are cowards and incapable to win anything on their own.
In Response

by: Konhstantin from: Los Angeles
July 16, 2012 12:40
Not true, all "wars" in former USSR were forged by Russia
And then manipulated it with usurped Superpower's arms,
As in Abkhazia in 1992-93, devide Europe with "Prussia".
As when they brought Hitler to power, desarming army,
And gave him Messers - make desarmed soldiers ran.

"Urartu" are allies of expanding Russia in Caucsus...
In Response

by: robertsgt40 from: San Antonio Texas
July 17, 2012 19:01
The nation state as we know it is about to be abolished. Since the planet is run by corporations, just have them buy the athletes and put their logo on their backs.
In Response

by: DinoN from: Canada
July 17, 2012 17:59
Bill Mahar said it exquisitely when he asked "Who are the cowards" the Americans who fight from hundreds of miles in the air with all their advanced millitary equipments or the Amerikan "enemy" who are kicking the Amerikan butts on the ground.

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
July 16, 2012 01:00
Article magnifying the universal problem.
USA and other countries in the West are doing it all the time.
New CIS countries, if can get some money, want to fortify their soverenty also in sports - why not?
If USA can do it to be first in Olimpics, why Kazahstan or Azerbaijan cannot get at list one or few medals?
Althought some frictions might be (as in the West) cinical,
Most of it, even frictions, are emotional:
Kazahstan is also in part in China - no surprize they invite their atlets, even some might dissagree.
Azerbaijan was once Caspian Albania - no surprize they invited an Albanian - Albania dissagreed.
Uzbekistan and Kirgizstan had a problem in Fergana not so long ago, it might explain why Tadjikistan might also change its mind.
Article simce puling for a straw...
As for Russians, they lived in many USSR republics, thus they and such republics still might have emotional and prudency connections.
Even Georgia, that has about 10% of Russians and alike, do not discriminate against them and welcome their participation.
Unfortunatly, Russian nazi ambitions do not recognize such benevolant aproach by non-Russian nations and do evil to them...

by: Sey from: World
July 16, 2012 05:59
This world is full of traitors

by: alex ringleman from: mattoon, IL
July 16, 2012 06:20
what foreign talent is USA importing, Konstantin? why dont you mention someone instead of casually tarring the United States?
In Response

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
July 16, 2012 13:26
I said that it is Universal, as for USA, a country of imigrants,
It simce look almost natural.

Before Bella and his Romanians came to USA, USA was trailing USSR, because of hymnastics, now USA is stadily first.
Same happened when a sweamer from Odessa came to USA.

When I write something on Forums, I am always just, except here and there, a rude word, under influence of telepaths arround my residence that try set me up, or, not unlike you are doing now - to provoke.
What would be meaning of freedom of speech, if one would bush one country, while glorify another country?
Is anybody, beside me, dare to say truth?
"Just" doesn't mean to lacker for USA or for Russia.

What "ring leman" are you?

The ring of criminals murder 7/7/2012 my only mother in Presvetarian Hospital in Los Angeles, using euthinasia and just murder, against my will.
They threatened to kill her, if I would refuse be their intellectual
slave and lie on Internet to lacker USA and smear others by their
I refused and they murdered her!

They said similar thing to what you said:
Thought summary I am just and OK, sometimes I casually criticize USA, if it is called for, thus they might use on me some old "anti-American" label practice by CIA to murder my mother and than me too - trying make me a slave!

Foreign talent imported to USA?
Many talents, like Nicolos Tesla, like Einshtein, Bor, Kartvelishvili, Balanchini, Stravinsky and many others...

Or worse, sold by invading Russia or its agencies, as they did to some 200,000 Hungarians in 1956, or a famous painter from Kiev, inslaved and murdered in New York during Auction of his paintings for (stolen) 100 millions dollars, or song writer Dvernik,
inslaved and murdered in California, last of his 7 alboms were
given to Mike Jackson and Moscow Russian composers,
or pure me...

The people like you and those that murdered my mother with label and inslavement mental and phisical torture are real enemies of USA.
My mother is cold in grave...
God, bless her soul...

by: Sal from: NY
July 17, 2012 15:11
Corrupt olympics, yet another violation of our rights. The gov’t constantly violates our rights.
They violate the 1st Amendment by caging protesters and banning books like “America Deceived II”.
They violate the 4th and 5th Amendment by allowing TSA to grope you.
They violate the entire Constitution by starting undeclared wars.
Impeach Obama, support Ron Paul.
Last link of “America Deceived II” before it is completely banned:

by: Human Being from: Inhuman Planet Earth
July 19, 2012 06:30
This is era of Globalisation !

Investments from one country go to another for better returns.

Terrorists of varied ethnicity and nationalities accumulate in foreign countries for cause of Jihad which are funded by various Govt (USA , Saudi Arabia) and Terrorist haven (heaven) PAK.

So why to blame Athletes they are en cashing their product.

Communism Dead Capitalism rules.

Numbers(Medals) matter not Nationality (Even in Olympics).

by: from: Free Artsakh
August 02, 2012 06:54
Azeri Turks ethnically cleansed hundreds of thousands of Armenians and other native non-Turkic people from what is now Azerbaijan.

So many of these who survived Azeris' brutal attacks became very productive citizens of the countries that sheltered them.

In sports, there are many examples of Armenians who escaped Azerbaijan as children and now bring medals to Russia and other countries.

For example, Karina Aznavuryan (born in Baku in 1974) escaped Baku pogroms in 1990 and became Olympic champion in Sydney and Athens bringing medals to Russia. David Airapetian (born in Baku in 1983) escaped pogroms and became 6-time champion in Russia. Sergei Petrosian (born in Baku in 1988) escaped pogroms and became European champion twice, won silver for Russia in 2006 World Championship.

Even Arsen Galstyan himself was under Azeri Turk fire when he was just two years old living in his village in Tavush district of Armenia that was shelled by Azeri Turks.

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