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IOC chief hits out at mercenary athletes

1 December 2005

International Olympic Committee chief Jacques Rogge has hit out at the increasing number of mercenary athletes who change nationalities for non-legitimate reasons.

The winter Olympic Games will be held in Torino next February, and Rogge - although referring to athletes from all sports - was speaking after Austrian skier Josef Strobl was set to change nationality and ski for his great grandfather's native Slovenia.

"There are many legitimate reasons to change one's nationality, and we respect them: changing one's nationality because of marriage or because one moves permanently to a country where he or she is about to spend his life," Rogge told Eurosport's Olympic Magazine.

"In that case, we know that it is not temporary, for six months, two years, three years, four years, we know that the athlete will keep this country's nationality and it is absolutely legitimate.

"What is not legitimate is the case when an athlete sells himself as a mercenary and goes to a country of which he does not know the language, the culture, a country where he has no attachment and not even a guaranteed professional future.

"In this case, we know the athlete will keep the nationality only for the time of his career and then, only God knows what he will do. According to us, this kind of mercenary attitude is not appropriate."

Strobl's move could be understood by many athletes who struggle to make it to their national teams. Despite the dominance of some individuals such as American Bode Miller, Sweden's Anja Paerson and Janica Kostelic of Croatia, the Austrian men's team boasts the cream of the world's alpine skiers.

Strobl nevertheless was in gratitude to an understanding Austrian ski federation who gave the green light to the Slovenians. Otherwise, he would have had to wait a mandatory three years.

Other athletes in other sports to have made the move have done so for a variety of different reasons.

Kenyan-born Wilson Kipketer switched allegiances to Denmark in time for the 1996 Olympic Games after it became apparent he would not be going to the Games despite his world championship win a year earlier.

At least Kipketer lived in the northern European country for five years before his switch.

Another Kenyan, steeplechase champion Stephen Cherono, runs for Qatar. He had no previous links to the Gulf state but was quick to take the name Shaheen Saif Saaeed.

Cross-country skier Johann Muehlegg, who was banned for doping after the last winter Olympics in 2002, switched to Spanish nationality after being left out of the German national squad but continued to live and train in Bavaria.

AFP