Borders for Olympic Athletes, Not for Coaches

Over at Rings, the NYT’s Olympics blog, Duff Wilson examines competing nations’ employment of foreign coaches. It’s curious to me why this practice raises no one’s ire, but when it’s an athlete who toils for another country, then it’s treated as a high crime.

Part of this is structural: the Olympics doesn’t require coaches to be citizens of the countries they represent, but the athletes have no such freedom. It’s this way in any number of international sports. In FIFA, for instance, the importing of coaches is so routine as to approach banality, but players are bound by citizenship. International competitions are, of course, exercises in tribalism to some extent, and that’s not a bad thing necessarily (so long as no racial ugliness goes along with it). So it’s interesting that coaches, because of their mercenary status, are above the fray and as such are rarely criticized for guiding other nations to the medal dais at the expense of their own.

Getting back to the Becky Hammon controversy, this sort of thing makes Anne Donovan’s comments all the more regrettable. Considering the latitude the process affords coaches, they should probably keep their mouths shut in those rare instances when dual-citizenship players exercise their rights.

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