Hong Kong-born skier shut out of Winter Olympics over passport issue

Alexander Glavatsky-Yeadon has the ability and will to represent the city at Sochi Games but can't because he lacks the right passport

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 November, 2013, 10:42pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 November, 2013, 10:42pm

Freestyle skier Alexander Glavatsky-Yeadon has conquered some of the world's toughest pistes but has now come across an obstacle that is threatening to derail his dreams of taking part at the Sochi Winter Olympics - the vexed issue of a local athlete needing a Hong Kong passport to represent the city.

"I have represented Hong Kong since 2006, but today I find myself frustrated knowing that I might not be able to take part unless I give up my foreign passports, and this even though I was born here and hold a permanent ID card," said the 19-year-old.

Glavatsky-Yeadon is on the verge of qualifying for the Olympics. But he is in limbo as far as his eligibility is concerned, and in a place that has been occupied by many local athletes in the past, most notably swimmer Hannah Wilson, who had to get special dispensation from the International Olympic Committee to take part at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics.

Glavatsky-Yeadon, a former French International School student, is ranked 64th in the world. At a recent World Cup Grand Prix leg in New Zealand, he was placed 34th in the half-pipe, beating three out of four of the Russian team who are the hosts for next year's Winter Games.

"I need to finish in the top 30 at a World Cup, and there are three more events remaining to win a qualifying berth for the Olympics. I'm very confident I can do that, but it might all be in vain," said a dejected Glavatsky-Yeadon, who holds both Canadian and British passports.

"I would love to apply for a Hong Kong passport but the thing is that I would have to then give up my other passports and that would make it difficult for me as far as training and competing around the world goes. For example, most of my training is done in the United States and I would need to get a visa," he lamented.

His parents did apply on his behalf for a local passport two years ago. That was turned down, apparently because he was not Chinese.

Retired Olympic swimmer Wilson faced a similar quandary at the 2004 Athens Olympics and the 2008 Beijing Games. In 2004, Wilson was 15 and as a minor, couldn't give up her British passport, even if she wanted to. But the IOC gave her special dispensation after the Hong Kong Olympic Committee lobbied successfully on both occasions.

Glavatsky-Yeadon's parents are now hoping for a similar miracle. "We have sent a letter to Mr Fok [Timothy Fok Tsun-ting, president of the Hong Kong Olympic Committee] explaining the situation. As he is a member of the International Olympic Committee he is well-placed to address the issue," said Glavatsky-Yeadon's mother, Alexandra Vermala. "This issue is something the Hong Kong Olympic Committee should address. He was born here and brought up here, but just because he is not an ethnic Chinese and doesn't have a local passport, he cannot represent this city and fulfil his dream," she said. "We had applied for a Hong Kong SAR passport for him before he was 18 but his application was refused."

The Hong Kong Olympic Committee ruled out any possibility of asking for a dispensation. In a letter sent to Vermala on Wednesday, it pointed out the IOC ruling that says: "All athletes who take part in any qualification events and/or who might represent the NOC Hong Kong, China in the Olympic Games (Summer and Winter) should be in possession of a valid HKSAR Passport beforehand, thus ensuring that requests of this nature [dispensation] are no longer submitted to the IOC."

Pang Chung, secretary general of the Hong Kong Olympic Committee, added: "This issue has been well discussed by the IOC in 2004 and 2008. They have ruled out any other possibilities and stated that in the future, Hong Kong athletes should possess a valid HKSAR passport."

Wilson gave up her British passport in 2009 and got a Hong Kong passport so she could represent the city at the World University Games in Belgrade, where she won a gold medal in freestyle. She also took part at the London Olympics.

"[My son] has taken part in many events representing Hong Kong simply because he has a licence given out by the Federation of International Skiing. But when it comes to the Olympics, he is shut out. This is an issue the Hong Kong Olympic Committee must address because in the future it might affect many other athletes, especially now that rugby sevens is an Olympic sport," Vermala added.

"Many of Hong Kong's best rugby players are not ethnically Chinese and, although they may be permanently resident here, they would not qualify for a Hong Kong SAR passport. The Hong Kong Olympic Committee should use Alexander as a test case to address this issue."