Passport of Convenience

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Passport of Convenience

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

Martina Navratilova will be playing tennis for the United States in Athens. Martina defected from Czechoslovakia in the 1980-s, is an American citizen, an outspoken one at that, and despite her speaking with the remnant of a Slavic accent, she has without question adopted the US as her home.

But there are dozens of cases of athletes competing under a foreign flag very different from Martina-s. Athletes unable to qualify for their home team who quickly seek out what are called -passports of convenience-.

Take the Greek men-s baseball and women-s softball teams who will sport uniforms with -Hellas- blazed across their chests in Athens. Former Yankee Clay Bellinger, pitcher Kevin Pickford, infielder Aaron Miles, none of whom have ever been to Greece, speak any Greek, or can come close to singing the Greek national anthem, happen to have some distant Greek ancestry so, rather than miss out on the Olympic experience, they-ve been expedited Greek passports and will represent Greece. As a matter of fact, only two men on the Greek roster will have been born in Greece. It-s a country with no baseball history and, until preparing for the Olympics, only one rock-strewn diamond, built by an American navy man during World War II.

It-s a similar situation with women-s softball. The US team is very strong, with the last two Olympic golds on their resume. Such a strong team that many high-level American players were not selected this year. So, when the Arizona State University coach Linda Wells took the position as coach of the Greek team, she sent out an all-points-bulletin for highlight reels of any American woman who had any Greek blood whatsoever. The Greek squad will feature such All-Americans as Stacy Farnworth and Jessica and Linsday Bashor stepping to the plate against many of their usual teammates on the US team. Greece, home of the Ancient Games, traditionally marches first in the Opening Ceremonies. This year, the Greek contingency will look especially large. That-s because many of the Greek athletes have just received their passports of convenience.

In track, an American 400-meter runner named Malachi Davis knew the US team would be too strong for his talents. His mother was born in Britain, however, and he is now competing to make the British team. He ran his first Trials race just two days after he received his British passport and arrived in London for the first time in his life. A number of British runners have voiced complaints at losing the treasured spot they-ve worked all their careers for to someone outside their system.

There was a Belgian speedskater in Salt Lake City at the last winter Games, but Bart Veldkamp had never been Belgian before. He had skated in three previous Games under his native Dutch flag. Aging and a bit slower, and with a deep Dutch team of 20-or-so elite skaters at all distances, Veldkamp quickly arranged a Belgian passport and made it to his 4th Olympics. Countries will often wave their immigration standards to welcome an athlete who might win an Olympic medal wearing their uniform. Belgium is clearly not invested in the sport of speedskating. There isn-t a speedskating oval in the country. While all kinds of people go through their years of applications and series of work visas, Veldkamp became a legitimate Belgian, overnight.

Qatar is a country that actually solicits foreign athletes to switch their nationalities. Facilities and coaching are almost non-existent in their country so they go out and buy their Olympic team. At the Sydney 2000 Games, the 8-man weightlifting team from Qatar were 100 percent Bulgarian. All had their names changed and took to the mat for Qatar.

Legitimate dual citizenship is one thing. Instant presto passports of convenience are another.

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that-s The Score.



Diana Nyad