Sun, Dec 31, 2017 - Page 10 News List

South Korea naturalizes athletes for Olympics

Reuters, SEOUL

Previous hosts have also relied heavily on foreign-born players to bolster their ice hockey squads.

In 1998, Japan’s “Seven Samurai” featured six Canadians and a Swede, while Italy had nine Canadian and two US-born players in their 2006 squad.

South Korea also has naturalized athletes in women’s ice hockey, figure skating, luge, biathlon and skiing set to compete in Pyeongchang, but not everyone is on board with the policy.

Hanyang University Sports Industry Department professor Roger Park said the practice could run counter to Olympic ideals.

“In most cases, [they] maintain their original citizenship and go back to their original country after the Games,” he said. “If they gain citizenship here solely to compete and earn a lot of money, it’s also against the Olympic spirit.”

“If these foreign athletes do not have any attachment for or relation to South Korea, what is the point of them competing for the national team? If they leave South Korea after winning medals, can we still consider those medals earned by South Korean athletes?” he asked.

Several South Korean sports federations said that naturalized athletes were offered greater financial support than locals, but declined to elaborate on figures.

An official from the Korea Biathlon Union, which has four Russian-born athletes on its roster, said such athletes were in high demand.

“Internationally there is a kind of competition going on to attract athletes who are willing to be naturalized,” said the official, who did not wish to be identified.

However, ice hockey association media officer Kim Jung-min said no financial package was needed to persuade the players to take on dual citizenship, as they were already playing on professional contracts.

Kim also rejected the notion that South Korea was trying to “buy” a medal.

“Clinching qualification was our goal, because that is still such a big thing for us,” he said. “Getting a medal at the Olympics is simply beyond our reach.”

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