Olympics: State-organized talent theft and mercantilism

Qatar's Marko Bagaric, left, tries to score past France's Ludovic Fabregas during the men's preliminary handball match between France and Qatar at the 2016 Summer Olympics on Tuesday in Rio de Janeiro | Ben Curtis/AP

Qatar’s Marko Bagaric from Bulgaria, left, tries to score past France’s Ludovic Fabregas during the men’s preliminary handball match between France and Qatar at the 2016 Summer Olympics on Tuesday in Rio de Janeiro | Ben Curtis/AP

August 10, updated August 19, 2016

Of the some 11,000 athletes competing in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, an unknown number are competing for medal-hungry countries that are not their birth nation. At least 23 of Qatar’s 39 member team at Rio were born outside of Qatar and transplanted – recruited in many cases with the offer of financial inducements. The Canadian Olympic team also features a number of plastic or transfer athletes recruited through the “Own The Podium” program of private big capital for support and funding on the basis that they are “winners” and “America’s best who happen to have some kind of Canadian connection.” Such developments, all in the name of high ideals, should be of concern to Canadians.

Qatar’s beach volleyball team includes Samba Cherif Younousse of Senegal

Qatar’s beach volleyball team includes Samba Cherif Younousse of Senegal

This afternoon I was watching a men’s beach volley ball match, Qatar vs Austria, at the Rio Olympics. One of the Qatar’s volleyballers bore the name “JEFFERSON” on his jersey. Hardly an Arabic name! It began to slowly dawn that both of the two Qatar athletes were not from the feudal sheikdom at all. I looked into it. JEFFERSON’s full name is Pereira Jefferson Santos, who was born and raised in Rio de Janeiro! Samba Cherif Younousse, an outstanding blocker, is from Senegal. And yes, they beat Austria.

Qatar has paid athletes from 17 countries to form its Olympic team. Qatar is only following the model perfected and legalized by the United States, Britain and a handful of other imperialist powers. For years the island socialist republic of Cuba and other smaller countries have repeatedly raised legitimate protests against the organized talent theft of young and promising athletes by the big powers and private sports empires as a means of monopolizing world sport.

“What,” asked Fidel Castro in a reflection on the 2007 Pan American Games held in Brazil, “from the technological and economic points of view, has been the worst problem faced by poor countries? The brain drain. What has been their worst problem in patriotic and educational terms? Talent theft.”

The brawn drain forms one of the dirtiest aspects of human trafficking, which the media nevertheless disinforms as “defectors.” This feeds a narrative which claims these athletes are fleeing to freedom and opportunity. The athletes are the products of the societies in which they have been raised, taught and trained to an elite level in sport, yet have been been increasingly seduced to emigrate to Europe and North America at a very young age without any return to their communities.

For their part, Fiji and New Zealand openly complain of the recruitment of skilled rugby players, a national sport, to Europe. The trafficking of child soccer players from Africa by rich European football clubs, including Manchester United, has reached scandalous proportions in what is termed “soccer slavery.” Scores of unscrupulous agents or buscones prowl the playgrounds of the world seeking innocent and talented youth who can be sold to the rich football and baseball clubs of Europe and North America.

The 2012 London Olympics featured “plastic Brits.” Along with athletes from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, who compete independently in FIFA competitions, the Olympic host recruited an unprecedented number of foreign-born athletes to compete under the British flag – some thirty in number – and swell its medal count in exchange for citizenship.

They included Yamile Aldama, a triple jumper from Cuba who competed for Sudan at the 2004 Olympics because she could not get British citizenship in time; long jumper Shara Proctor, who was born in Anguilla; and German-born cyclist Philip Hindes. The British team also included three U.S.-born athletes: 400-metre runners Michael Bingham and Shana Cox and 100-metre hurdler Tiffany Porter.

As of 2012, there have been over 50 athletes since 1992 who competed for other nations before becoming members of U.S. Olympic teams.

Not to be outdone, the U.S. Olympic Committee included some forty athletes who were born outside of the United States. Furthermore, as of 2012, there have been over 50 athletes since 1992 who competed for other nations before becoming members of U.S. Olympic teams. [1] That is, the United States, Britain and other rich powers with their boasts of athletic supremacy do not even produce their own athletes to compete, and then they deprive other countries of possibilities of competing with it for medals in international competition. This is further evidenced by a shameless and diversionary campaign using a doping scandal against the Russian Federation under the pretension of high ideals that they stand for “clean sport.”

Many American athletes do not even compete for their own nation. In 2016, dozens of athletes who were born, raised or trained in the United States are competing in Rio de Janeiro under the flags of other nations. [2]

United States – biggest international predator

Each year thousands of so-called “student athletes” are recruited annually by the NCAA universities in the United States, including some 2,000 from Canada, to man their lucrative sports empires. In the mid-1970s one American university signed-on and imported the entire Nigerian Olympic soccer team.

The exploitation and recruitment of foreign youth recognizes no age limit. An entire high school basketball team in Riverside, New Jersey, was composed of youth imported from the former Yugoslavia, whom were all housed together in a single apartment paid for by the school’s coach. According to an detailed investigative series of 29 articles published in March, 2001 by the Dayton Daily News titled “The Foreign Game”, this practice assumed wholesale proportions in the wake of the U.S.-NATO 1999 war of aggression that destroyed Yugoslavia, a country with a rich tradition in the sport of basketball.

From Estonia, Spain, Italy, The Netherlands, Africa, Bosnia and Yugoslavia, a sophisticated and often secret network of sports agents and middlemen are flooding American high schools and colleges with foreign athletes, most of them basketball players. Thousands of athletes have come to American schools just in the past few years.

This network, frequently using deception to conceal violations of high school and college athletic regulations, is driven by schools hungry for championships, by foreign athletes desperate to live in America, by agents and middlemen poised to make millions should a single grateful player become a star. [3]

That network also operates in Canada. Curtis Coward, with whom I co-authored The Kids’ Baseball Book (New Media Publications, 1994), once related to me that he was being contacted privately by NCAA coaches about the potential of young girls in Grade 9 when he was coaching the girl’s basketball team at Auburn High School in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.

The trend towards the privatization of talent and the globalization or internationalization of sport subordinated to big finance capital has been creating a kind of “athletic apartheid” which affects the vast majority of the world’s population.

Israel’s foreign-born teams

Olympic rules, like those of FIFA, require athletes to represent their native countries in sport competition, with some exceptions such as migration. The Olympic rules simply state that an athlete must be a citizen of the country to qualify. The countries, of course, create the rules for citizenship. The International Olympic Charter has rules (Chapter 5, Rule 41) that attempt to thwart efforts to find flag-switching loopholes.

At the Olympics, the largest proportion of naturalised citizens is found in the Israeli delegation, half of whose members traditionally come from the former Soviet Union. Israeli citizenship is automatically conferred on any Jewish immigrant as soon as they get off the plane on the basis of religion and not membership in the polity. The Israeli Olympic teams are composed on the basis of state-organized zionist racial and religious purity in violation of the Olympic Charter: not a single member of its 47 athletes at the 2016 Rio Olympics is of Arabic origin. According to Wikipedia, 20.8 per cent of the Israeli population are Arab (about 1,771,000 individuals), who are blocked from using let alone training in Israeli athletic facilities such as swimming pools.

This year, Israeli officials prevented the Palestinian Olympic Team chief from leaving the Gaza Strip to join his team in Rio. This was after the team itself was forced to repurchase new sports equipment in Brazil after Israel confiscated their supplies at customs. So many members of the Palestinian soccer team have been jailed, killed, or injured by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), that Israel was threatened with expulsion from FIFA

Not known for winter sports, Israel entered an exclusively foreign-born team at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics; three of the five Olympians on Israel’s entire team were born in the Ukraine while the other two were born in the U.S. and Belgium. [4] On the other hand, former Greek javelin world record holder Sofia Sakorafa tried to form part of the Palestinian team in Athens in 2004. But her political gesture was frustrated by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which refused her request, even though she held a Palestinian passport.

“Team North America”: “We all play for Canada” (Canadian Tire ad)

As of 2010, over 50 foreign-born athletes had been on Canada’s boxing team. Many of the boxers together with trainers were recruited from the former Soviet Union and poorer Eastern European countries and Third World countries to add to its small pool of top quality sportspeople. According to a study by the U.S. Pew Research Center in February, 2014, “Canada ranked at the top with nine foreign-born athletes in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. For example, Jamaican-born Lascelles Brown has Canadian citizenship and is part of the Canadian bobsled team. The United States tied for the silver ranked just behind Canada, with seven foreign-born athletes.”

Of note, however, is that the Canadian Olympic national team at Rio features a number of American athletes including at least three women swimmers and the entire women’s pole vaulting team, whose sole connection with our country is as the birthplace of a parent. [5] What is taking place here is something quite different than the pillage of the human resources of smaller countries through “defections.” More and more one hears the phrase “Team North America.” As part of the whole annexationist project of the USA for Canada, the monopoly sports media is releasing a stream of articles to justify a supra-national Olympic team and the abandonment of genuine sports sovereignty and development; the Toronto Star exclaimed that the American uber athletes transferring to the Canadian Olympic team compete “in a way few Canadians have ever matched.” In “How an American became Canada’s newest young soccer star,” the National Post pushes the American pragmatic ethos, allegedly personified by the imports, as “that superb American DNA too, the mindset that doesn’t brook anything but winning” – as if the American imperialist line of “winning is everything, the only thing” is something genetic.

The selecting, recruiting, naturalizing and funding of talented American athletes by Canada, a developed capitalist country, has been raised to an organized system. In another article, Postmedia reports that the athletes are being selected by a private entity, the megalomaniac Own The Podium, for support and funding of its choosing on the basis that they are aggressive “winners” and “America’s best”:

Anne Merklinger, the CEO of Own The Podium, admits without shame or trepidation that Canadian coaches and individual sports organizations in Canada now recruit by birthplace. They don’t only search for Canada’s best. They target America’s best who happen to have some kind of Canadian connection.

Postmedia, in which U.S. professional sports dominate its sports pages, considers Canadian sport and athletes as second class. It openly presents the rationale that continentalism is the only alternative: 

For a middle-of-the-road, athletically challenged country such as Canada looking for more opportunities, this is part of the new price of trying to stay competitive at the Games.

Instead of promoting the need for the development of facilities and training in Canada, the media in turn promotes the U.S. as the go-to country where talented Canadian youth must go to train to develop their skills.

Own The Podium, wrote Peggy Morton in TML Daily during the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, “seems to follow the model of ‘making Canadian monopolies internationally competitive’ – in other words that the state mobilizes the resources of the society behind the monopolies that can be winners internationally and shut out the competition. It picks the athletes it considers the “winners” and provides the funding and resources so that they can become the winners internationally. The noose of monopoly right to decide everything has been tightened… Does this mean that from now on, corporate sponsorship will determine which athletes get funding and a whole apparatus dedicated to their “success in the international market” and which do not?” [6]

Canadian athletes also represent foreign countries. Bobsledder Lascelles Brown represented Monaco. A Canadian-born gymnast, Marisa Dick, who represents Trinidad and Tobago in Rio, is from and resides in Toronto; she was selected over their leading champion, Thema Williams, a big scandal on T&T, resulting in a lawsuit. 

Qatar buys an Olympic team

Qatar’s recruitment of foreign-born athletes is among the most brazen. Its first Olympic medal was won in 1992 by Somali runner Mohammed Suleiman. In 2000 Qatar fielded an entire weightlifting team comprised of Bulgarians, helping the athletes change both their citizenship and their names so they could compete at the Summer Olympics in Sydney. At least 23 of Qatar’s 39 member team at Rio were born outside of Qatar and transplanted – recruited in many cases with the offer of financial inducements. Only two of the 39 athletes are women.

According to the Washington Post, “Perhaps nowhere is the mercenary approach more pronounced than the handball arena, where Qatar is fielding an Olympic team for the first time. Of its 14 players, 11 were recruited from other countries. Even their coach, Valero Rivera, is from Spain. Handball is a team sport, especially popular in parts of Europe, and Qatar was able to lure some of the game’s top players.

“Hassan Mabrouk previously competed for Egypt in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Bertrand Roine helped his native France win gold at the 2011 handball world championships. Rafael Capote, originally from Cuba, was in the running last season for the International Handball Federation’s player of the year award.”

We changed their names so they sound Arabic because their names are hard to pronounce. . .

“We changed their names so they sound Arabic because their names are hard to pronounce,” the president of the Qatar Weightlifting Federation told the Orlando Sentinel at the time. “If you bring something good to Qatar, then you will get citizenship, too. This is a prize for you if you do something good for us.” This prompts a question: If they have not won or “do something good for us”, do they confiscate their passports when they get back to Qatar, so they can’t leave, like they do to the million+ slave labourers they have in that country?

Qatar – the U.S. military and sports hub  

The governments participating in this unsavoury practice are in the main the United States and its bloc of “allies”. [7]

For self-serving reasons, apart from the Washington Post, the British press – the English Football Association alone spent £21m bidding for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, which went to Russia while the 2022 FIFA World Cup went to Qatar  – has done its best to unearth the dirty backdoor politics of Qatar as part of trying to reverse both FIFA decisions. What it found is not pretty.

For Rio, “Qatar are creating a fake team,” Christer Ahl, a high-level referee, told the London-based Sunday Telegraph. “They are putting together players with no apparent connection to the country and are kicked out if they don’t contribute to a medal or other success. They become some sort of all-star team.”

An artist's impression of the Lusail City stadium, designed for the Qatar 2022 World Cup final. Scots of migrant workers toiling in slave-like conditions have reportedly died constructing such monstrosities,

An artist’s impression of the Lusail City stadium, designed for the Qatar 2022 World Cup final. Scores of migrant workers toiling in slave-like conditions have reportedly died constructing such monstrosities,

The many factual accounts of inhuman abuse, exploitation and rising fatalities of migrant workers preparing emirate stadia for the 2022 FIFA World Cup building sites in Qatar makes for an explosive cocktail and an intensification of the now open imperialist rivalry for control over global sport and broadcasting and its politicization.

The recent allegations about Qatar’s World Cup bid also threaten its concerted effort to position itself as a global sports hub. It submitted an unsuccessful application for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games and still has Napoleonic ambitions to host an Olympic Games. Qatar is hosting 89 major sporting events this year. Brazil 2014 was set to be the most expensive FIFA World Cup so far. But compared with the $120 billion Qatar is spending for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, it is loose change.

Qatar has never won an Olympic gold. But having its fake teams was a caché for Qatar is a means to buy themselves a football World Cup from FIFA and position itself as an international sports hub and entertainment centre.


But what exceeded any threshold of irony and impudence about the origin of athletes and the immorality associated with this outlook on migrants, is that of Bahrein, like Qatar a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

The delegation of Bahrain at Rio consists of 35 athletes, of whom 10 were born in Kenya, seven in Ethiopia, six in Nigeria, three in Morocco, two in Jamaica, one in Russia and only six in their country. This is no more than a vulgar theft of talent by a corrupt and shameless monarchy.

I do not blame these athletes. Most Olympic athletes live in the poor house.

The question arises: Have the rich countries given massive bribes to the IOC and other international sport governing bodies such as FIFA so they would not change existing rules governing

  1. how long a person had to be a citizen before they could compete internationally; and
  2. the number of persons “recently” granted citizenship who could compete on any one international team?

In the midst of this nation-wrecking, cosmopolitan concepts are put forward of the “globalization of sport” and of a “postnational state,” i.e., the nation-state is finished and we are living in an age of “supranational states,” to justify the attack by the imperialist powers and their private sporting empires on sports sovereignty.

The drive to produce “winners” emerges at a time when, as the TV ad declares, one in three Canadian youth cannot afford to participate in any sport. The refusal to renew the political arrangements by the nation and new definitions for international sport gives rise to a view that there is no alternative. Canadians can never accept such things as Canada’s integration into the U.S. imperialist sport empire with, among others, continentalist teams and annexed sport. The international talent theft in which the ruling bodies of our country are implicated highlight the necessity for Canadians to stand for human-centred sport as part of the democratic renewal of society and a nation building-project, a mass sport motivated by the highest ideals of amateur sport to be enjoyed by the people as a right. It is a problem to be taken up for immediate solution.


1.During the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, four naturalized athletes competed for the Russian Federation; in London, that number rose to 14.

2.For example, the Serbian women’s basketball includes American Danielle Nicole Page from Colorado Springs. She has played professionally in the United States, Bulgaria, Israel, Hungary, and France. In March 2015, Page received her Serbian citizenship in order to represent the Serbian national basketball team in the international competitions. She represented Serbian national basketball team at the EuroBasket 2015 in Budapest where they won the gold medal, and qualified for the 2016 Olympics, first in the history for the Serbian team.

LaToya Antoinette Pringle, aka LaToya Antoinette Sanders, is an American professional basketball player formerly with the Washington Mystics of the WNBA. Currently, she is a forward for Kayseri Kaski S.K. in Turkey since the 2010–11 season. After obtaining the Turkish citizenship during the 2012–13 season, she adopted the name Lara Sanders. For the 2014 FIBA World Championship for Women, she was admitted to the Turkey women’s national basketball team.

3.The signing by the buscones of 12-year-old talented youth and their recruitment to so-called baseball “academies,” many of which are filthy hovels, in the Dominican Republic and other Caribbean countries under the supervision of the Major League Baseball cartel is an ouitrageous scandal widely documented by academics and journalists such as the 2003 work, Stealing Lives: The Globalization of Baseball and the Tragic Story of Alexis Quiroz. (Fidler & Marcano, Indiana University Press). It chronicled Major League Baseball teams’ systematic abuse of Latin American teens in their efforts to find the next Sammy Sosa in a brazen violation of international law on children and the sports sovereignty of other countries. Each year, hundreds of boys, aged 15 to 19, were being signed to meagre contracts – many illegally – and being sent to so-called “baseball academies” in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. Alexi lived in a house that crowded 10 players to a room, without running water. Their daily meals amounted to two small bowls of plantains and rice. His nightmarish story culminated in a second tour at the academy where he dislocates his shoulder. The team – unwilling to pay for a proper medical attention – brings him to a utility shed where a “doctor” stomps on his shoulder to pop it into place. Not only was Quiroz never able to play again, but never regained full use of his arm.

Of the 6,624 minor leaguers under contract as of spring, 2005 some 1,537 were born in Dominica. Only one US state, California, which has four times the population, sent more players (190 in 2000) to the US Major Leagues than Dominica.

On Yugoslavia, see “Rich states poach former Yugoslavia’s sporting talent”, December 11, 2007.

4.A so-called Israeli bobsled team did their best to get into the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake. They were Americans, not Israelis. Israel denied they had a bobsled team. Given FIBT rules, there were loopholes, which they took advantage of. Though good athletes in other sports, they sucked at bobsled. They mostly crashed and did not qualify.

5.American transfer athletes competing on the Canadian Olympic team include Cynthia Meyer (shooting, from NYC); Annika Newell and Kelsie Ahbe (woman’s pole vault, from Texas and Ohio, finishing 29th and 12th respectively); Shawn Barber (defending world champion, men’s pole vault, born in New Mexico); Taylor Ruck (part of the two bronze-medal winning relay teams at the Rio Olympics. Born in Kelowna, she has lived in Scottsdale, Arizona since nine months old); Johnathan Cabral (sixth placing in the 110-metre hurdles in Rio, born in Oregon, grew up and starred in high school in football and track at Agoura Hills, Calif., where he was coached by his father, an American. His mother, Ghislane, who divorced her husband 15 years ago, was born in small town Quebec.); Santo Condorelli (fourth place in 100-metre freestyle in Rio; born in Japan, grew up in Oregon, swims at the University of Southern California); and soccer player Janine Beckie (top scorer for the Canadian team in Rio; born in Highlands Ranch, Col., went to Texas Tech University, played professionally in Seattle). 

Ahbe had previously competed for the United States at the 2010 world junior championships and Beckie with the U.S. under-20s soccer team.

6.The Government of Canada colludes in talent theft just as it does in human trafficking: to provide cheap labour for private monopolies and the corporate sponsors. The heavy gates of “Fortress North America” open wide if a visitor or immigrant is an athlete or coach. According to Wikipedia, Lascelles Brown applied for Canadian citizenship on July 28, 2005; it was awarded to him by special exemption just prior to the 2006 Winter Olympics, enabling him to compete for Canada at the games in Turin. Immigration Canada stipulates that foreign-born professional or amateur athletes may participate individually or as a team in Canadian sporting events without having to get a work permit. A nightmarish situation for immigrants and visitors including biometrics just to obtain a temporary visa. But if they show great talent to win medals for Canada and corporate sport, the barriers disappear as if by magic.

7.For their part, Qatar and its fellow Persian Gulf despotisms are client states of Anglo-American imperialism. Qatar is a member state of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – all feudal monarchies, including three constitutional monarchies (Qatar, Kuwait, and Bahrain), two absolute monarchies (Saudi Arabia and Oman), and one federal monarchy (the United Arab Emirates), which in fact is composed of seven member states, each with their own emir. Qatar hosts the huge Al-Udeid Air Base, headquarters for U.S. air operations in the region and the directing centre of the air war in Syria and Iraq. It has been one of the leading funders of the terrorist forces aiming to subvert the sovereign government of Syria. The Qatari emirate is, after all, a Sunni Wahabi institution whose new ruler, Emir Sheikh Tamim, like his father, the former Emir Sheikh Hamad, is pouring weapons and cash and resources into al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, at the same time it is being embraced by Washington, Ottawa and London as “moderates.” Kuwait hosts a “military hub” for the Canadian Government, which is providing unprecedented federal subsidies for arms exports by the U.S. General Dynamics military monopoly to Saudi Arabia for aggression and intervention.

For further information, search the archive of amateursport.wordpress.com using the tag “talent theft” and “brawn drain”.

On Wikipedia: 

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