For many Olympic hopefuls, changing their national allegiances is the only way to keep their Olympic dreams alive.
The Olympic stage is where the world’s best athletes compete however, some teams, like the US, are full, which leaves hopeful talent off the team. At the same time, countries with a small population look abroad to recruit athletes. The practice is a mutually beneficial way to increase the chances of success.
The small Middle Eastern country of Qatar invests heavily in athletes from Bulgaria and Kenya. In 2000, the government of Qatar bought an entire Bulgarian weightlifting team in exchange for citizenship. Similarly, in 2003, it also recruited two Kenyan long-distance runners to become Qatari Olympians.
According to the bylaw to Rule 41 of the Olympic Charter, athletes with dual citizenship can represent the country they choose. The bylaw requires athletes participating in the Olympic Games to ensure at least three years has elapsed since they last represented their former country. The three-year period can be reduced or cancelled in certain circumstances.
Here are a few notable Olympians who either possessed dual citizenship and chose one nation over another, or obtained citizenship of a new country in order to participate in the Games.
Said Saif Asaad
Asaad was born Angel Popov in Bulgaria and was one of eight Bulgarian weightlifters recruited by the Qatar Olympic Committee. Asaad became a Qatari citizen and represented the country in the 2000 Olympics, in which he won a bronze medal in the men’s 105 kg weight class.
Born and raised in the United States, Hammon became a naturalised Russian citizen in 2008 after learning that she would not be invited to try out for the US national basketball team. She represented the Russian national team in the 2008 Olympics, winning a bronze medal.
Bloemen was born in The Netherlands, and holds both Dutch and Canadian citizenship and is a long track speed skater. He competed for the Netherlands in international competitions before switching his sporting allegiance to Canada during the 2014-15 season. Bloeman is an Olympic record holder for the 10,000-metre set, winning gold in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. He also won silver in the 5,000 metres in Pyeongchang, becoming the first Canadian male to receive a medal in the distance since 1932.
Born Ahn Hyun-soo in South Korea, An competed as a short-track speed skater for South Korea up until 2011. In 2011, he became a Russian citizen and started competing on the Russian team. An won three gold medals and a bronze medal in the 2006 Winter Olympics.
Schoutens is a Dutch-American speed skater. Born in the US to Dutch parents, Schoutens moved to the Netherlands when she was seven months old. She competed as a Dutch national before moving to Salt Lake City where she was elected to compete for the US. Schoutens qualified for the 2018 Winter Olympics winning a bronze medal in the Team Pursuit.
Thybulle is a dual citizen of Australia and the US and is a professional basketball player in the NBA. He was asked to represent the Australian Boomers in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, where the team obtained its first Olympic medal in men’s basketball, beating Slovenia in the bronze medal game.
Oscar De La Hoya
Born in the US to Mexican emigrants, De La Hoya became a dual national in 2002 when the Consulate General of Mexico granted him Mexican citizenship. De La Hoya was born into a boxing family and holds many titles, including a gold medal in the 1992 Olympic games in Barcelona.
Duplantis is a Swedish-American pole-vaulter born to an American father and Swedish mother. He holds dual citizenship and chose to represent Sweden in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo where he won a gold medal when he cleared a height of 6.02 metres.
Born to a Haitian father and Japanese mother in Japan, Osaka was raised in the US and held dual citizenship until 2019. Japanese law states that citizens with dual nationality must choose one before the age of 22 and because Osaka always wanted to represent Japan, she elected Japanese citizenship over American citizenship in 2019. Osaka lit the Olympic cauldron during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics.
Farah is a Somali-born British citizen. He was born in Somalia before moving to the UK at the age of eight to join his father, who was born in London and is a British citizen.
Farah is a British long-distance runner and the most successful British track athlete in modern Olympic Games history. He won gold medals for the 10,000 and 5,000-metre races at the 2012 Olympics in London. At the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, he won gold medals for both the 5,000 and the 10,000-metre races.