Rogge concerned about Olympic nationality switches

IOC President Jacques Rogge is concerned about Olympic athletes who switch nationalities for personal or material gain, an issue that has put several members of the British team under media scrutiny before the London Games.

Rogge said Wednesday that some athletes have "legitimate" motives for changing nationalities, including family reasons or a lack of financial support in their countries of birth. But he criticized those who change allegiance "because there is a bigger gain to be made."

"I have reservations in some case of athletes who obviously don't lack any support emanating from their local sporting and governmental committees who still change nationalities," Rogge said at the close of a two-day International Olympic Committee executive board meeting in Lausanne.

"We cannot legally stop that because it is a sovereign matter. But let me tell you that, very frankly, I don't love that."

Rogge spoke in the wake of a media storm in Britain over what the tabloid press dubbed "Plastic Brits," foreign-born athletes who changed nationality and are competing for the national team. However, several have family connections with Britain and Rogge said he was not singling them out.

There have been other high-profile cases in recent years, including African runners and Bulgarian weightlifters who received lucrative financial deals to switch nationalities to compete for Gulf countries.

Athletes usually have to wait three years after new citizenship is acquired before competing for their new country. The waiting period can be reduced to two years if both national federations agree.

Attention in Britain has centered on several members of the track and field team, especially U.S.-born Tiffany Porter, who won a silver medal in the 60-meter hurdles at last weekend's world indoor championships in Istanbul.

After being named captain of the British team on the eve of the meet, Porter was asked by a British reporter if she knew the words to "God Save the Queen" and was challenged to sing the anthem. She declined.

Porter was raised in Michigan but has a British mother and a Nigerian father and has held a British passport since birth. She represented the United States as a junior before switching to compete for Britain in 2010.

Referring to Porter, Rogge said, "I believe the athlete has a mother or a father who is of British nationality. There is already then a good reason maybe to switch nationality."

The British team also included Cuban-born Yamile Aldama, who won gold in the triple jump; American-born 400-meter runner Shana Cox and long jumper Shara Proctor of Anguilla. One of Britain's best hopes for a gold medal at the London Olympics is Somali-born distance runner Mo Farah.

Aldama, who has also competed for Sudan, received British nationality two years ago. She has a British husband and has lived in the UK since 2001. On Tuesday, the IOC board officially approved her nationality switch, clearing the way for her to compete at the games. The IOC waived the three-year waiting period because of the agreement of both national bodies and the international federation.

"I understand the fully legitimate reasons like study or marriage or family reasons," Rogge said. "The issue of the athletes of the poor countries who get no support you can understand. Maybe you don't love it, but you can understand it.

"The athletes from other countries who just switch allegiance for money reasons, you cannot stop it, but we don't like it."

On other issues, Rogge said the IOC received assurances that the London Olympics remain within budget despite claims of possible major cost overruns. With the games less than five months away, London organizers delivered their latest progress report to the IOC board.

Rogge said the public sector budget stands at $14.6 billion, including a contingency fund of $785 million.

Last week, a British parliamentary oversight committee said the Olympics risk going over budget because of rising security costs, which now exceed more than $1.6 billion.

"We are not concerned," Rogge said. "Authoritative sources tell us the budget stands at ($14.6 billion)."

Denis Oswald, who heads the IOC's coordination commission for London, praised the financial situation.

"It's very rare that the investment budget made by the city and the government remains what it was at the beginning," he said. "In most cases there has been an increase."

Asked if he had any message for London organizers going into the final months, Rogge said: "Keep focused. No complacency. Your job will be over at the closing ceremony of the Paralympics, not before."

"They will deliver," he said. "I have no doubt about that."