Fair Play: The crazy rules on nationality in international sports

(This is my Fair Play column for Sun.Star Cebu's Sept. 11 issue)
FOR the Fiba World Cup, the former Brooklyn Nets center Andray Blatche was Filipino enough to represent the Philippines in basketball’s showcase event.

But weeks after leading the Philippines in scoring and in minutes played in the World Cup, the Olympic Council of Asia has disqualified the naturalized Filipino from playing in the Asian Games.

OCA, which organizes the Asian Games, is essentially saying, “Blatche may be Filipino enough for the worlds, but for the Asian level, he’s not.”

Welcome to the strange world of sports and nationality.

Why? There are basically two clashing ideas, and whether who is right isn’t clear.

One is the fine print in the OCA rules that says all naturalized athletes must meet the three-year residency requirement before playing for their new country and the other is that basketball competition is ran by Fiba and the international body has the final say on who’s qualified or not. Fiba also said that the three-year residency rule only applies to naturalized athletes who have represented other countries in international competitions.

As to who has the final say, I really don’t know, but while Fiba, OCA and the SBP argue over the fine print, the clock is ticking as the Asian Games is just a couple of weeks away.

But what rankles Pinoy fans is that this year’s host is South Korea, our rival in the Asian basketball scene. They say it’s a case of the host cooking things in their favor.

If we are to compare this in the local sports scene, it would be like DepEd disqualifying a football athlete and the Cebu Football Associaiton, which runs the football tournament, saying that athlete is qualified to play. Who has the final say?

Is this one of those things when who is right depends on who is saying it? Writer Ronnie Nathanielsz, whose points I disagree with nine out of 10 times, pointed out numerous cases when the OCA allowed naturalized athletes to shift countries without complying with the three-year rule.

I think, an issue like this could have been avoided had the IOC, which has under its umbrella, all the international sports bodies like Fifa and Fiba, taken a stand on naturalized athletes.

But in 2012, IOC president Jacques Rogge said, “I have reservations in some cases where athletes who obviously don’t lack any support emanating from their local sporting and government authorities still change nationality. We cannot oppose it because it’s a sovereignty matter, but let me tell you very frankly: I don’t love that.”

Because of that, we have this crazy scenario, a player who was Filipino enough a few weeks ago, is no longer qualified to play for the Philippines.

Some are mulling a boycott, but I agree with what some are pushing for, comply with the rules and beat the Koreans black and blue in the hard court.


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