Beijing Olympics

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Becky Hammon

Hammon’s Russia ‘Defection’ Rankles Team USA

June 16, 2008 06:09 PM
by Denis Cummings
Becky Hammon’s decision to join the Russian Olympic basketball team has provoked debate about athletes who choose to play for foreign countries.

30-Second Summary

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Basketball player Becky Hammon grew up in Rapid City, S.D., and has no Russian ancestry, but she will be playing for the Russian national team in the 2008 Olympics.

Hammon obtained Russian citizenship last year to secure a lucrative off-season playing contract from club team CSKA Moscow. When it appeared that she had little chance of making the U.S. Olympic team, she decided to play for the Russians.

Many, including U.S. coach Anne Donovan, have labeled the WNBA star a traitor, but Hammon says her loyalties have not changed. “Will I be playing for Russia? Yes. But I’m absolutely 100 percent still an American,” Hammon said. “I love our country. I love what we stand for. This is an opportunity to fulfill my dream of playing in the Olympics.”

There have been many previous cases of athletes choosing to play for other countries, many of which have been very controversial. Earlier this month a Polish-born soccer player scored two goals for Germany against his home country, leading a Polish politician to declare that athletes playing for other countries should be stripped of their citizenship.

Hammon believes that this kind of nationalist sentiment goes against the spirit of the Olympics. “Olympic sports should be about unity, friendships and bringing the best athletes on the planet together and not about gloating over dominating other countries,” she says.

But some say that recruiting foreign athletes is entirely about dominating other countries. Since 1992, the United States has won eight medals from athletes who previously competed for other countries. “We call them migrant laborers,” says Kevin B. Wamsley of the International Center for Olympic Studies.

Headline Link: Hammon to play for Russia

Reactions: Hammon a ‘traitor’

Background: Women’s basketball players in Russia

Historical Context: Athletes competing for their non-native countries

Reference: Olympic eligibility rules

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