Rashid Ramzi ran a terrific race to win the blue riband event of the Beijing Olympics – the 1500 meters. He was wearing the Bahrain vest as he did so and his win will go down in the record books as Bahrain’s first Olympic medal. But Mr Ramzi is really no more Bahraini than any other of the competitors in that final – including “Belal Mansoor Ali” who finished eighth – also in Bahraini colours. Mr Ali is a Kenyan whose real name is John Yego! Ramzi is a Moroccan and like the ex Mr. Yego he only became a Bahraini when he was offered cash to do so. They are essentially transferees – as much as a footballer that switches from Real Madrid to Benfica is a transferee.
Germaine Mason was the winner of the silver medal for Great Britain in the High Jump on the same day. Mason is marginally more British than Ramzi and Ali are Bahraini – but only just – he was born and grew up in Jamaica and he only switched sporting allegiance to Great Britain two years ago having won a medal at the 2003 Pan American Games for Jamaica. Mason is eligible to represent Great Britain because his father David was born in London.
Look across the other teams in Beijing and you will see plenty of other examples of athletes whose primary allegiance to their country is a financial one. The Gulf States like Qatar and Bahrain are particularly guilty in this deception. Quite why they do it is unclear – maybe it’s a form of brand promotion. Perhaps Mr Ramzi will have satisfied his new paymasters by having his Bahrain emblazoned chest visible as he ran his race so skilfully. But Bahraini he most certainly is not.
It is a complicated area and worthy of more detailed analysis then there is time for now. But it seems to me that there is one sine qua non about nationality and sport. Except in the most exceptional circumstances surely if you have competed at a seriously competitive level for one country (as Ramzi, Ali and Mason have) you should not simply be allowed to switch nationalities and compete for just another because someone waves a chequebook at you?