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August 29, 2003

Brawn drain from Africa

Article in The Economist on the migration of athletes out of Africa (and the African Diaspora) to other nations. Full text below....

The brawn drain from Africa
Aug 28th 2003
From The Economist print edition

Qatar's poaching of African champions

Exceedingly successful economic migrant

AS USUAL, the world steeplechase champion is a Kenyan. But his passport says he is from Qatar. Saif Saeed Shaheen, who until this month was called Stephen Cherono, was bought by the rich little Gulf state for $1,000 a month for life, and a new track for his home town in Kenya. Another ex-Kenyan runner, now called Abdullah Ahmad Hassan, who came fourth in the 10,000 metres at the current World Athletics Championships in Paris, was also part of the package.

Qatar, with little home-grown sporting talent, has acquired world-class athletes this way before. In 1992, it poached a few Somalis for its track team and got an Olympic bronze medal. For Sydney in 2000, it imported a whole squad of weightlifters from Bulgaria and won bronze again. Another Qatari steeplechaser, Khamis Abdullah Saifeldin, originally from Sudan, but clearly a patriot already, says that “Qatar is the best in the world in spending money on sport.”

Buying talented sportsmen, common enough at club level, is burgeoning in international sport. In March, for example, landlocked Switzerland beat New Zealand to the America's Cup, sailing's most prestigious prize, by hiring a crew of New Zealanders. Since the 1980s, European sports federations have been attracting African athletes and footballers, and obtaining passports for them.

But sport is war by other means, and changing allegiance is sometimes considered high treason. Merlene Ottey, the sprint legend who won eight Olympic medals for Jamaica before defecting to Slovenia last year, is not much liked in her native country. And athletics' world governing body, worried about the brawn drain from Africa, is now thinking of changing its citizenship rules.

Posted by razib at 02:35 PM

I think this might give people mini lessons on competition: if a key sailor is paid by a land-locked country 10x their current salary, is the sailor a 'traitor' to leave? Does the paying country accrue more than what they paid?

Posted by: eric f at August 29, 2003 06:35 PM