Spiro: The End of Olympic Nationality

Peter J. Spiro (Temple Univ. – Law) has posted The End of Olympic Nationality (in Allegiance and Identity in a Globalised World, Kim Rubenstein ed., forthcoming). Here's the abstract: 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. 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.

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