Even back during the ancient Olympic Games, there were issues on race and origin.
During the creation of the Games, that were first a religious festival more than athletic, people who weren’t Greek could not compete. But Greek athletes from the colonies of Egypt, Italy, Libya, Spain, Turkey and Ukraine could compete.
During a lecture in the 22nd session of the International Olympic Academy, University of Lille (France) professor Bernard Jeu noted that even as far back as the ancient Olympic Games, there were athletes switching nationalities.
During the 99th games (384 B.C.), the long race winner, Sodates, who was from Crete, had him proclaimed an Ephesian.
Astylus of Croton, winner of the 73rd and 74th Olympic Games (488 and 484 B.C. respectively), declared himself to be competing for Syracuse and not Croton.
And they were all perfectly legal.
So naturalization isn’t something new.
Nationality is by virtue of being born into the state or they have blood ties to the state. Naturalization is the admission of individuals that is the prerogative of the state and is based on the fulfillment of certain conditions from residency, familiarity to the culture and language, moral standing and financial capability. And that includes politicians, musicians and athletes. Sometimes, this is waived to admit people of merit.
Cases in point: Madeleine Albright served under former American President Bill Clinton as Secretary of State. It should be stated that Albright was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia.
English musician John Lennon obtained his Resident Alien Registration (green card) in 1976. He would have been eligible for American citizenship in 1981 except that he was murdered in 1980.
Nigerian Hakeem Olajuwon initially tried out for the US national team but he wasn’t allowed to suit up because he wasn’t an American citizen. By 1996, he had finally become an American citizen and was allowed to play for what was dubbed Dream Team III during the Atlanta Olympics. In an article in the Baltimore Sun written by Jerry Bembry, Olajuwon was quoted as saying, "When I became a U.S. citizen, there were some people in Nigeria who criticized me. But I've been here over 10 years, my home is in Houston and a lot of family is in the United States.
"It was just natural. I'm still a Nigerian and I'm proud of it, but I'm a U.S. citizen."
It isn’t only in the United States. Singapore’s ageless football wonder Aleksandar Duric was born in Bosnia but first became Australian before settling down in Southeast Asia where he has lived for over 14 years now. He later had a choice to move but the fact that his children were born in Singapore says something of where his heart lies.
All over the world, countries – First World ones too -- naturalize people for a variety of reasons. And that brings me news about Gilas Pilipinas’ naturalizing NBA players JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche who, if their papers are processed in time, would allow them to suit up for the FIBA World Cup this August.
Let me throw my thoughts into this.
Albright, Lennon and Olajuwon spent considerable time in the United States before trying to obtain citizenship. Ditto with Duric except that he was in Singapore. American Marcus Douthit spent quite some time here before being naturalized in 2011 and playing for the Philippines.
There are arguments about short cuts and how McGee and Blatche aren’t going through the normal route. That is something that national team head coach Chot Reyes disputes: “Their papers are going through the proper route – Congress and the Senate. So I don’t know what they are talking about.”
If that is so, then there’s nothing wrong with the process. At least there is a process now and one that is being followed. During the ancient Olympics as I previously mentioned, some merely declared from which Greek state they felt they belonged too and that sometimes brought brutal reprisals. Well, we’ve come a long way from that.
I think the move to naturalize the NBA players rankles people more because pundits perceive them as mercenaries who are looking to play in the international stage because they cannot play for their own national team. There doesn’t seem to be any previous affinity to play for the country perhaps save for McGee who is a previous visitor to the country.
Let’s get something out of the way. Even our Fil-foreigner brothers carry foreign passports. Not every country accepts dual citizenship but we do. We do because we want to improve our gene pool. Remember that they carry foreign passports as well, prompting others to cry foul. But the truth of the matter is some haven’t fixed their Philippine passport or aren’t able to suit up right away because they were not able to apply for dual citizenship and acquire a Philippine passport.
Let me throw you this bone -- if they had a chance to play for their mother country (their passport of origin) believe me they would at the drop of the hat. We just argued that any one with a scintilla of Filipino blood is Pinoy but hasn’t it occurred that they too are citizens of another country. We are just so hungry to improve our pool that we accept everyone.
So what is wrong with naturalization?
If you have Filipinos constantly seeking green cards or other citizenship what’s wrong with those wanting to seek Philippine citizenship? Don’t you think those seeking green cards and American citizenship want a better life too (remember they send money back home that counts a lot in our income)? That is why other nationalities want to come to the Philippines too. Unless “it’s more fun in the Philippines” is nothing but a copied BS advertising line.
We all have our own reasons. Deal with it. It’s the way of the world.