Alpine skier Vanessa Mae – the elite violinist who was born in Singapore and raised in the United Kingdom – is not the only athlete carpetbagging the Olympics by competing under Thailand’s flag.
The data crunchers at Pew Research Center have found at least 4 percent of the athletes competing in the 2014 Olympics – 120 of the nearly 3,000 present in Sochi – were born in a country other than the one they are representing. (Pew assumed that the third of the athletes who did not indicate a country of birth were representing their birth nations, meaning that number could actually be higher.)
Hanna Kozlowska and Catherine A. Traywick at Foreign Policy took a deep dive into how athletes get around the International Olympic Committee requirement that athletes be citizens of the country for which they compete. Some have legitimately spent their lives in the countries they are now representing. However, other cases are more nebulous, with countries being happy to give passports to athletes who could boost their medal counts.
Cross-country skier Angelica Morrone Di Silvestri was born in Italy and lives in Staten Island, N.Y. But she and her American husband Gary were given citizenship to the Caribbean nation of Dominica after they did some philanthropy work there, and were not even thinking about competing in the Olympics until they received a call from the Dominica Olympic Committee asking them to represent the tropical country. (Neither ultimately finished their events.)
New York-born and raised ice dancer Isabella Tobias, who is representing Lithuania in the Olympics, had to appeal directly to the Lithuanian people – thousands of whom signed a petition – to pressure the Lithuanian government to grant her citizenship so she could skate with her partner, Lithuanian Deividas Stagniūnas.
The United States is known to fast-track promising athletes to citizenship through EB-1 visas.
Others – like Mae, whose father is Thai – find a loophole through the ancestry of their parents: German skiing siblings Manfred and Ornella Oettl Reyes are competing for Peru, the country of their mother. (The Reyes caused an extra stir by wearing clothing provided by their sponsors to the opening ceremony, rather than the Peruvian uniforms.)
The Pew analysis finds that Canada has the most foreign-born athletes on its team (nine), with Russia and the United States tied for second (seven).