IAAF move against trafficking of athletes very appropriate

Saturday, August 04, 2018

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We note that even as international attention was focused on human trafficking at a major conference in Montego Bay late last month, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) was formalising new rules to eliminate, or at the very least, minimise the vulgar practice of athlete trafficking.

For many years, wealthy countries in the Middle East and elsewhere have used cash to induce athletes to switch national allegiance all because of the glory and spotlight associated with medals won at major games such as the Olympics and World Championships.

Jamaica, sister Caribbean countries and most of all, East African countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia have felt the effects of the unscrupulous approach. The loss to national federations and countries which have invested in nurturing and developing their athletes is one important aspect.

But as the IAAF has recognised, the situation is made worse since in some cases the targeted athletes are forsaken and end up losing their new nationality as soon as their medal-winning value declines or disappears. That kind of behaviour qualifies as just cynical exploitation, pure and simple.

The new rules developed by the IAAF comprise five key provisions:

• a minimum three-year waiting period before an athlete may transfer to represent another member federation;

• establishment of a review panel to make determinations on the credibility of applications;

• the provision of evidence that countries are offering full citizenship and associated rights;

• the provision that an athlete can transfer only once; and

• that no transfers take place before the age of 20.

The IAAF notes that “As there are Area Championships approaching in the next few weeks, the Transfer of Allegiance Review Panel will endeavour to process those that have been held in the system as quickly as possible.

“Athletes and member federations will be required to complete new paperwork and sign a declaration before their case is reviewed by the panel. No athlete is able to confirm they have transferred to another territory or country until the review panel has made a final decision.”

This newspaper fully supports head of the Jamaica Athletic Administrative Association Dr Warren Blake and other athletic chiefs regionwide and applauds the new rules which he contends protects national federations and athletes.

Dr Blake is reported as saying that in Africa, especially, “Ethiopians and Kenyans who switch (to other countries) are not made citizens (of their adopted countries); they are given a passport that enables them to compete but if they lose the ability to run, the passport is removed. So this (ruling) protects them from countries just interested in getting medals by any means”.

A year ago, there were reports in the international media of East African athletes alleging that they had been treated like “slaves” after switching allegiance. Back then, a horrified head of the IAAF, Lord Sebastian Coe, insisted that “we can't have an element of our sport that has descended into human trafficking...”

If we were to be hypercritical, we could argue that the new IAAF rules should have been in place a long time ago. But better late than never.

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