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The Fluidity of "Olympic Citizenship": Hammon Playing Within the Rules

Much has been made of Becky Hammon’s decision to play for Russia in the upcoming Olympics, but her decision is more indicative of a larger trend in international sports than any sort of unpatriotic deed.

I don’t believe that Hammon is unpatriotic or wrong for her decision – she was not going to make the team and honestly, I don’t think she’s one of the top 12 players in the U.S. anyway. But if you do have a problem with the decision, the fault lies with the rules, not Hammon. Everyone – not just Hammon and not just Russia – is stretching our definition of "citizenship" in the name of national pride at the Olympics.

Hammon is not even the only U.S. citizen playing for Russia. In addition to Pittsburgh native J.R. Holden, who has been playing for Russia’s men’s team for years, Travis Hansen of Oren, Utah is also making a bid for the Russian team.
International rules allow only one naturalized citizen per team, and point guard J.R. Holden is widely presumed to be the man who will occupy that spot for Russia, having played for the team for several years at a crucial position and made the basket that won the 2007 European Championships. But Hansen said the Russians are trying to arrange for Holden to count as a regular Russian, rather than a naturalized citizen, potentially clearing the way for both of them to make the team - though even Hansen seems to regard that as a long shot.

Just yesterday it was announced that Los Angeles Clippers center Chris Kaman will be joining the German team. Sure Kaman’s great-grandparents were German (within the rules) but to my knowledge he grew up in Michigan.

At least Hammon, Holden, and Hansen all spend significant time in Russia playing professional basketball there – aside from his great-grandparents’ ancestry, Kaman has no tangible connection to Germany.

Although coaches have never needed to be citizens of the country they coach for, there’s a long record of coaches moving around to provide a country with a competitive edge. The coach for Holden and Hansen is David Blatt, a Farmington, Massachusetts native.

The Olympics have become a truly global event in which the teams themselves represent a shift in how we understand socio-political borders. So we can understand this in one of three ways: Blatt, Hammon, Hansen, Holden, Kaman (among others) are all a) traitors to the World War II Axis Powers, b) free agents for national teams that are using the ISOC’s loose citizenship rules for their own competitive advantage, or c) ambassadors that represent an extension of the Olympic spirit of peaceful international interactions.

Personally, I choose (b) and although I think these rules should be reexamined to clarify what really constitutes "citizenship", it’s hardly an issue of morality or patriotism worth being offended about.

Relevant Links:

For love of country (About Kenyan-American sprinter Bernard Lagat who runs for the U.S.)