More than a flag of convenience

Skier's push for eligibility to represent Hong Kong at the Winter Olympics deserves to enjoy official backing

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 November, 2013, 9:29pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 November, 2013, 9:29pm

It has been downhill for freestyle skier Alexander Glavatsky-Yeadon in every sense of the word since he discovered the Hong Kong Olympic Committee will not go out on a limb for him by taking up his case for inclusion at next year's Sochi Winter Olympics.

It might be a case of putting the cart before the horse, because the former French International School student hasn't yet qualified for the Games. But desire and confidence are a potent combination and the teenager has both of these qualities in excess and believes he has what it takes to make it to Sochi.

This was fuelled by his most recent endeavour on the international piste. Glavatsky-Yeadon, ranked 64th in the world, finished four places away from the qualifying mark a couple of months ago at a World Cup Grand Prix event in New Zealand. He also beat three out of four competitors in the race from the Winter Olympics host nation, Russia. And he still has three qualifying events to go.

Surely a common-sense approach is called for rather than a blanket ban
Alvin Sallay 

But all his efforts will be in vain unless the Hong Kong Olympic Committee decides to revisit the issue of whether a Hong Kong passport should really be a pivotal criterion for representing the city at an Olympics or an Asian Games.

As it stands, the International Olympic Committee only allows into the Games athletes who hold a passport of the country they wish to represent which is all well and good for the majority of the 200 or more countries and territories that take part in the Olympics. But isn't Hong Kong a special case, especially if one were born in this city, like Alexander was?

Shouldn't the IOC grant a special dispensation for athletes if they were born in the country they wish to represent, or if they had lived there for most of their life? Surely a common-sense approach is called for rather than a blanket ban which was put in place mainly to thwart those few who competed at major Games under flags of convenience.

I met Geoff Boycott earlier this week and he had an interesting point to make on the eligibility issue in the global village we live in today, as far as cricket goes. Boycott said the England and Wales Cricket Board had recently decided to tighten the rules governing eligibility for England by increasing the number of years a foreign-born player has to be resident in the country from four to seven years.

The International Cricket Council's ruling is four years. The ECB has gone one step further and made it seven. Boycott said: "I would make it 10 years so that people truly can become part of the society they live in." Fair enough for someone coming from Yorkshire, which 21 years ago was the last county in English cricket to open its doors to foreign players. Previously, that is for 129 years, only players born in the county - not country - could play for Yorkshire.

While we wouldn't advocate such a stringent approach as Boycott proposes, it is fair to say that any foreigner who has lived in Hong Kong for seven years (and is also eligible for a permanent identity card) should be able to represent the city at an Olympics or an Asian Games, and even more in the case of those born in Hong Kong.

The IOC has changed the rules, calling for a passport-only representation because there have been many cases of countries importing athletes and blatantly flouting eligibility rules. We have seen many cases of Chinese table tennis stars, Kenyan runners and Brazilian footballers suddenly turning out for other countries. But surely Glavatsky-Yeadon does not fall into these categories.

His bid to get a local SAR passport has also been stymied with his parents saying the immigration department had turned down an initial application bid apparently on the grounds that he wasn't Chinese. We will not go into the issue of ethnicity right now, suffice to say this could raise huge problems down the road for this city, especially in sports like rugby and hockey where players are drawn from outside communities. Why must they feel outcasts if they have lived here seven years, or were born in Hong Kong?

As long as an athlete is proven to be committed to the country he or she wishes to represent, that athlete should have the right to take part. The Olympics is not like America's Cup racing - Team America won this time with Great Briton Ben Ainslie at the helm and a number of Aussies on board - yet it should be able to distinguish between a con and the truth and give special dispensation. The Hong Kong Olympic Committee must fight for that.