Wed, Nov 28, 2007 - Page 19 News List

Rider likely to have to choose between Olympics and US passport

CAKES ARE FOR EATING Jennifer Lee would like to represent Hong Kong in the Beijing Olympics, but hopes to do so without changing her citizenship

AFP , HONG KONG

Jennifer Lee practices at the Beas River Country Club in Fanling, Hong Kong, on Nov. 18.

PHOTO: AFP

Jennifer Lee is facing a dilemma of Olympic proportions.

She has the chance of a lifetime to compete in next year's Beijing Olympics right on the doorstep of her adopted home in Hong Kong.

But to get a place in the Hong Kong equestrian team, she will have to give up her US citizenship -- and officially become a Chinese national.

"It's a very serious thing to have to contemplate," the 42-year-old Virginian said.

The Beijing Games offer the former riding teacher a shot at Olympic showjumping glory because as hosts, Hong Kong automatically gets to enter riders in the equestrian events as long as they meet a minimum standard.

Lee's riding ability isn't at issue. She is under pressure to change her nationality as local sports authorities have so far failed to grant her an exemption that would allow her to ride for the local team as a foreigner.

She says she meets the conditions to win an exemption and be allowed to ride for Hong Kong.

"You have to live in Hong Kong, have a close relative who is Chinese, and have a good reason -- which the Olympics would be," she said.

"I have been in Hong Kong for 14 years, I'm married to a local, my two kids are half Chinese and were born here. I am a permanent resident," she said.

Hong Kong allows citizens to hold two passports but the territory is now part of China. And taking on Chinese nationality, she says, means giving up any other passports.

"If I give it up, I have to apply for a visa to go to the United States as a foreigner and they don't give visas easily. You have to jump through all sorts of hoops," Lee said.

Along with concerns about being able to quickly reach her mother and grandmother in case of a family emergency, there are implications for her own children, aged five and eight.

"My father-in-law is most concerned about the impact on my children and it's difficult to know about these things before you get into the situation," she said.

There is little doubt that Lee has the ability to obtain the "minimum eligibility standard" certificate to qualify to compete, said the secretary of the Hong Kong Equestrian Federation (HKEF), Soenke Lauterbach.

Lee "is riding at that level," he said. "She has a good chance and she is confident she will qualify."

But unless she is granted a special dispensation on the nationality issue -- which has been extended to athletes representing Hong Kong in the past -- she will not be entitled to represent the territory, Lauterbach said.

Her exclusion from the squad could mean Hong Kong will be unable to field a complete team for the three equestrian events -- jumping, dressage and eventing despite being granted a wild card as host.

It could also undermine efforts to drum up local enthusiasm for the equestrian events, with legislators expressing alarm at the lack of public interest in the Games, which begin on Aug. 8.

The Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC), which controls all equestrian pursuits in the territory, has provided HK$20 million (US$2.57 million) to help support and train the selected riders, four of whom were named last week.

Lauterbach said that meeting nationality requirements was a condition of receiving the Jockey Club sponsorship.

Olympic eligibility rules were designed to prevent teams buying talent from other countries, but both the International Olympic Committee and the International Equestrian Federation can grant exemptions.

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