Author – Parth Mehta, III Year, BBA LLB, Symbiosis Law School, Pune.
Athlete Purchasing- The Controversy of ‘Transfer of Allegiance’
Athlete purchasing by India comprises two considerations.
Should India purchase athletes?
Can India purchase athletes?
The former being an ethical, economic and social consideration, the latter being the legal one. Notwithstanding the morality of the issue, I shall aim to study the legality of the issue.
What is purchasing of athletes? Purchasing of athletes is a process in which the government of one country offers money to an athlete of another country to change his nationality and play for them. This usually happens when richer countries, look to promote sport and maybe even the tourism and business opportunities they bring along with them by offering athletes from countries which produce a glut of athletes especially in a particular sport financial incentives to renounce the citizenship of their native country and shift to the new country offering them citizenship. Bahrain and Qatar are highly dependant on this strategy for their national participation in sports along with Turkey and Morocco which have a significant number of transferees from Africa and eastern European nations like Bulgaria and Serbia. Every Olympic medal won by Bahrain is by an athlete from Africa. Qatar too, has met with success in athletics, football, handball and athletics using this strategy.
Rule 41 of the Olympic Charter is the cornerstone of laws pertaining to change of nationality by sportspersons. It stipulates a three year break for athletes who have competed in the Olympic Games, in continental or regional games or in world or regional championships recognized by the relevant International Federation after they acquire citizenship of another Member of the concerned International Federation.
Transfers of allegiance are most common in athletics. The International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF), responsible for international athletics, after noticing the increasing number of athletes apply for transfers of allegiance, had temporarily frozen the transfer of athletes from 6th February, 2017 to July 27th, 2018. It then set up a comprehensive network for regulating transfer of athletes. It unfroze the same with restrictions on the transfer of citizenship. These restrictions include setting up a review panel of the IAAF to review the applications, the host nation offering citizenship and the subsequent rights along with it, athletes who have played IAAF tournaments to take a break of three years from international competition after acquiring new citizenship and one year in case they have not participated in IAAF recognised tournaments and that such a transfer can be made only once. The athletes apply for a ‘transfer of allegiance’ to the IAAF which requires the approval of the National Sports Federations of both nations and the IAAF via its’ Nationality Review Panel, which considers these requisites before approving the same.
Similar rules have been adopted by other International Sports Associations such as AIBA (the international association responsible for conducting international amateur boxing) and United World Wrestling by adopting Rule 41 of the Olympic Charter. Rule 188.8.131.52 of the AIBA Technical Competition Rules, effective as of February 9th, 2019 discusses the change of nationality of boxers and subsequently refers to the adoption of the Olympic Charter. United World Wrestling also released a document titled ‘International Rules for Change of Nationality’ on March 1st, 2019, Article 5 of which makes a reference to the Olympic Charter.
If scouts were to wisely select athletes in this regard, a one year break or even a three year one could still leave plenty of time in a sportsman’s career for them to participate for a long period of time wearing their host nation’s colours.
This leaves the option of purchasing athletes to the Indian Government as well, which may even come at the cost of compromising funds to raise sports at the grass root level and before we dwell into the morality and other aspects to it, we must question whether we can do much better internationally with our dismal allocation of funds for sport.
 Rule 41, Olympic Charter as in force from 2nd August, 2015.
 Rule 184.108.40.206, Association International de Boxe Amateur Technical Competition Rules.
 Article 5, United World Wrestling International Rules for Change of Nationality.
Eric Chemi, Mark Fahey, How some Middle East countries are ‘buying’ Olympic medals, CNBC, https://www.cnbc.com/2016/08/16/how-some-middle-east-countries-are-buying-olympic-medals.html- accessed on 5.3.2019.
Peter Baron, Weightlifting: Silver for Bulgarian tainted by his team, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/4772313/Weightlifting-Silver-for-Bulgarian-tainted-by-his-team.html- accessed on 06.03.2019.
Jonathan Gault, IAAF Unfreezes Transfer of Allegiance Process, Wants to Fix Problem of Identical Kits, Russia Still Banned, & Budapest 2023?, www.letsrun.comhttp://www.letsrun.com/news/2018/07/iaaf-unfreezes-transfer-allegiance-process-wants-fix-problem-identical-kits-russia-still-banned-budapest-2023/- accessed on 06.03.2019
Sarah Barker, The IAAF Seeks To Restrict The Market For African Runners, www.deadspin.com https://deadspin.com/the-iaaf-seeks-to-restrict-the-market-for-african-runne-1792229793- accessed on 06.03.2019
https://newfanzoneblog.wordpress.com/tag/iaaf-transfer-of-allegiance-rules/- accessed on 06.03.2019.
Transfers of allegiance- decisions of the IAAF Nationality Review Panel in 2018 as of 19th December. 2018, https://www.iaaf.org/about-iaaf/documents/transfer-of-allegiance.
IAAF Press Releases
Joot Jansen, Gijsbert Oonk& Godfried Engbersen, Nationalization in the Olympic field: Towards the marketizatrion of citizenship – accessed on 06.03.2019
AIBA Rules- Qualification System – Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018
IAAF Competition Rules 2018-2019, in force from 1st November, 2017, https://www.iaaf.org/about-iaaf/documents/rules-regulations.
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The whole idea is to grow sports culture where sports are not only about playing but also about those heroes working off field to develop country through sports, bringing change to the society through it and making India a better place for sports lovers.
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