By Yi Ling JAKARTA Indonesia (Xinhua)
-- When Bahraini runners brought home
12 gold, six silver and seven bronze medals as of the end of the
athletics competition at the Asian Games, the most in the Gulf
state’s history, the team’s head coach Jose Ludwig Rubio
celebrated the achievement in an Instagram post.
“25 medals in this
historic Asian Games. Congratulations to all athletes, coaches,
federation officials and specially for Mr. Bin Jalal for his
great support to our Bahrain athletics team during the year,”
wrote the Dominican accountant.
The Mr. Bin Jalal
referred to was Mohammed Abdullatif bin Jalal, the
vice-president of Bahrain Athletics Association. And the
athletes - at least 20 of whom were born outside Bahrain and
were brought in to help the country flourish athletically - are
a source of pride for Ludwig Rubio, who has worked for the
Bahrain Athletics Federation since November 2017.
medal winners, mostly from Nigeria, Kenya, Morocco and Ethiopia,
who have won most of the medals for the country that they
changed allegiance to compete for in Jakarta, represent a
special group at the international sports events: naturalized
Although not new to
the Asian Games, naturalized athletes have had increasing
influence in recent years.
Taking the Jakarta
Asiad as an example, Bahrain, with its all 25 medals from the
track events in Jakarta, outranked the athletic powerhouses
Japan, South Korea and India in the medal tally of athletics,
surging to the second place in the medal standings behind China.
Just eight years ago at the Guangzhou Asiad, it won only five
golds and four bronzes.
athletes have given rise to mixed feelings across Asia.
The bright side is
that these elite foreign-born athletes can promote exchanges
with their native counterparts in skills and techniques.
Japanese runner Sho Kawamoto, who finished seventh in the men’s
800m final, said he was stimulated by the naturalized athletes
in the races.
“They have received
world-class training and usually they bring a higher-level
competition. Their existence here is absolutely helpful for us
to run faster,” said Kawamoto.
of women’s 100m Wei Yongli from China, despite being beaten by
Nigerian-born Bahraini Edidiong Odiong in Jakarta, also agreed
that the presence of naturalized athletes helped to raise the
athletics level of Asia, but admitted that it was “a little bit
On the other hand,
concerns are mounting over a possible wild expansion of
naturalization in Asian sports.
Xu Jiamin, head
coach of the Chinese women’s basketball 3x3, sees the practice
of naturalization as both an opportunity and a challenge.
athletes will improve their team’s performance and the sport’s
level, but if they were overused, domestic players would have
few chances to get practical experience. So to keep a balance, a
team should better be made up mostly by domestic players and
naturalized athletes can use their skills and experiences to
support the team,” Xu suggested.
“Every coin has two
sides,” said Shivani Satishi of Indian Express. Satishi noted
that Indian star female sprinter Dutee Chand was beaten by
Odiong twice in the women’s 100m and 200m to end with two
“We are proud of
Chand’s winning silvers. We can’t say it’s fair or unfair,
because they ‘naturalized athletes’ do this following the rules.
Nothing we can do about that,” she said.
Satishi agreed, and
says that the introduction of foreign-born elites is a helpful
way to promote the development of a sport in the long run.
“The point is we can
find a sort of balance by setting limits on the number of
naturalized athletes on the court and the time of their play.
But in the case of individual event in athletics, what shall we
Toshimi Oriyama of
Japan, a senior sports news writer who is here to cover the
Asian Games, is very cautious about the overall effect of
“If the level gap
between naturalized and domestic players is too big, it’s hard
for the naturalized athletes to merge into the team or to bring
strong encouragement or stimulation to their teammates,” he
Tian Bing, a senior
Chinese sports freelancer who covers athletics, has been
following the athlete naturalization for years. He believes that
uncontrolled naturalization brings moral challenges to
sportsmanship and says that taking short cuts to medals by
taking advantage of naturalized athletes will backfire in the
“Since the athletes
are often remunerated and earn their living from sporting
performance, their motivation is often to acquire, stabilize and
increase their financial gains in agreeing their naturalization.
Thus, a sporting nationality tends to turn into financial
asset,” said Tian.
condition, I see nothing but deals,” he said. “Sportsmen and
sportswomen are supposed to be role models for their spirits of
fighting till the end, fair play, or breaking records. Those who
compete for sheer benefits, but not out of love for sports, can
never win respect from others.”
In addition, Tian
says that the recruitment of foreign athletes is likely to
weaken or phase out efforts to train young domestic players.
“It’s not fair for
domestic players as they are facing fewer resources and
opportunities for competition. Thus the sports development of
host countries will suffer in the long run,” he added.
To win medals in
competitions like the Olympics, Asian Games or World
Championships in athletics, countries must boost an
already-established talent development program at the national
level. To run such a program, countries need both money and
Money guarantees the
material conditions to nurture elite talent; time allows
national talent development programs to make local alliances to
help scout prospective athletes.
Tian suggested that
the host countries of naturalizing athletes ought to put more
effort into finding and developing national talents and give
more attention to sculpting the athletes that are already there.