Sport supplies useful terrain on which to explore meanings of loyalty and identity. At the international level, the preferences of consuming publics break down along national lines. In perhaps no other context are states and their citizens as unified as they are with respect to international competition, overcoming political, social, and cultural cleavages. The Olympic Games represents an apex of this national solidarity.In his introduction Spiro comments that
This paper describes the hybrid public/private regime of Olympic nationality, the baseline of which requires athletes to be citizens of the countries for which they compete. The regime obstructs transfer of Olympic nationality in important respects. This regime has been justified as a shield against instrumental naturalization and lax state naturalization regimes, and ostensibly works to maintain some correlation between an athlete’s organic national identity and the flag for which she competes. But eligibility requirements relating to eligibility are easily gamed. They create barriers to movement and discriminate against naturalized citizens inconsistent with human rights norms.
The paper argues that nationality requirements should be abandoned. Olympic competition should move to a club sports model in which athletes can play for any national team that will have them. This change would not detract from the quality of Olympic competition nor would it diminish sentimental attachment to national teams.
Recent Olympic games have produced a litany of stories highlighting putatively anomalous national affiliations of various competitors. It is not clear, however, why these cases should be considered anomalous. We don’t insist that our professional athletes hale from the cities that they play for. Why should we demand any more from Olympic athletes?He goes on to comment that -
This chapter first describes the regime of Olympic nationality. This regime is hybrid public/private. It is largely parasitic on state nationality rules, but obstructs transfer of Olympic nationality in important respects. This regime has been justified as a shield against instrumental naturalization and lax state naturalization regimes, and ostensibly works to maintain some correlation between an athlete’s organic national identity and the flag for which she competes (by way of "protect[ing] the integrity of international competition", in the words of the statute of the International Ice Hockey Federation).
No doubt there are a mounting number of cases in which citizenship has been acquired on an instrumental basis for purposes of Olympic competition, where an athlete’s prior connection to her flag state is tenuous or nonexistent. Such activity may facilitate “muscle drain” from poor to richer countries; it may also advantage countries with more liberal or discretionary citizenship regimes. Nationality transfers have been derided as "country swapping," an exercise in flying “flags of convenience," "quickie citizenship," "passport bartering," and "athletic mercantilism." But efforts to combat these putative ills are themselves normatively problematic. To the extent that Olympic nationality is pegged to state citizenship, the rules will be variably applied. The overlay of Olympic nationality creates barriers to movement and discriminates against naturalized citizens inconsistent with human rights norms.
This is an important subject which has gone understudied. Olympic nationality is important in itself. The Games implicate huge stakes for all involved – states, particular sports, and individual competitors. Eligibility rules are a prominent feature of the sporting landscape. The Olympic nationality regime has been in an unstable condition, warranting study on its own terms. But Olympic nationality may also supply a useful optic on the condition of citizenship more generally. Put to work in this way, the trajectories of Olympic nationality cast doubt on the durability of citizenship in its traditional conception as delimiting the boundaries of human community. The chapter argues that Olympic citizenship is no longer sustainable, at least to the extent that it constrains the discretion of states in composing their Olympic representation. Olympic competition should move to a club sports model, in which athletes can compete for any team that will have them. The trajectory of Olympic citizenship supplies further evidence for the postnational proposition that citizenship is a waning institution.
As a general matter, states have been more inclined to commodify immigrant admissions than citizenship determinations. In the United States, for example, it is the green card that is (in effect) for sale, not the naturalization certificate. Global mobility breaks down along class lines; transnational elites can travel without restriction (for many a green card would add little value) where the nonpropertied face high barriers to entry. Citizenship itself except at the margins commands little market value.
In the Olympic context, citizenship is valuable only to the extent that it facilitates eligibility. In a hypothetically free market, some athletes would be willing to pay for citizenship, especially where it made the difference to allowing an individual to compete (primarily among second-rank athletes disadvantaged by the national quota system). With respect to top athletes, the market value is reversed, and some states would be willing to pay the athlete to accept citizenship by way of establishing Olympic eligibility. But citizenship is a formality. There is no reason why citizenship needs to be extended to the athlete beyond the requirements of the Charter and statutes of the sporting federations. It serves no purpose beyond eligibility. The individual is not being made a citizen on the expectation that she will establish or maintain a connection in any other way. There is no pretense of social membership