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Last Updated: Monday, 25 August, 2003, 11:07 GMT 12:07 UK
Does the flag matter?
Saif Saaeed Shaheen won the 3,000m steeplechase final to give Qatar their first ever World Athletics championships medal on Tuesday.

Nigerian-born Gloria Alozie
Alozie flies the Spanish flag

The 20-year-old, who formerly ran for Kenya as Stephen Cherono, opted to change his citizenship and represent oil-rich Qatar.

He will earn a $1m bonus for winning gold and is reportedly being paid $1,000 a month after switching nationalities together with fellow Kenyan, 22 year old Albert Chepkirui.

Many other African athletes are also gunning for gold in Paris, but how many others will win medals for non-African countries?

Wilson Kipketer (800m) moved to Denmark, Nigeria's Gloria Alozie (100m hurdles) went to Spain. Sierra Leone lost silver medal winning heptathlete Eunice Barber to France.

The list seems to be growing longer by the day.

The BBC's Africa Live! programme asks why Africa is losing its best to the West and does patriotism matter in sports?

Join the debate Wednesday, 27th August at 1630 and 1830 GMT.

Use the form to send us your comments, some of which will be published below.

If you would like to take part in the discussion, e-mail us with your telephone number.


Patrick Viera, Claude Makelele, Alain Boumsong, Amoebi all have represented countries other than their homeland and no one seems to have choked over that. Give the Kenyan Athletes a chance.
Joe Ntenwi, Cameroon, USA

I don't think it matters what country African athletes compete for. If these athletes are not receiving the same degree of money and support as those in other countries, then I think they have every right to seek ways of fulfilling their potential. I can imagine that it is very hard on athletes when they see the higher levels of support that competitors from different nations receive.
Marcus, Holland

Who can blame them? Blame the leadership of Africa, who have made life in Africa unbearable. The little we have is stolen and hid in Europe, and other rich countries. The athletes are just trying to make a living. Why not?
Agyenim Boateng, U.S.A

Athletes have every right to change their citizenships. After all, some of their countries governments do not appreciate them. When they can no longer perform, no one pays any attention to them and they die a miserable death as paupers. Let the athletes change citizenships while still young. Then they can make money and take care of themselves!
Mary Wanjiku, Kenyan in Germany

Patriotism? What patriotism? Who can blame these young men and women for deserting Africa, given that in virtually all cases, these are kids from very poor families who have struggled to achieve success INSPITE of the obstacles placed in their way by those who like to be called our leaders? Just imagine yourselves in this situation: You were born into a family without the necessary "connections." You went to a school where the teachers were not properly trained. You probably never had a book of your own. At home, food was not to be taken for granted. You relocated to the city in search of an elusive job, only to end up in a much worse situation than before. Within the same city, you are tormented daily by the children of government ministers who shamelessly exhibited their parents' stolen wealth - your own wealth. Sports became the only way out. Would you be proud to represent a country that denied you so much in life? This, in my view, would stretch the meaning of patriotism too far!
UE, UK/Nigeria

It is truly a shame that many African countries cannot provide enough incentives for their nationals to remain loyal to their homeland. In reality, it is a shame and nothing more. The world knows where these athletes are from and that each of these athletes has their own individual reasons for switching citizenship. The change of nationality is but a change of colours on their back in pursuit of living at a level at which they and the rest of the developing world is more than entitled. Praise them for their success and smile with them at their victories.
Kileken ole-MoiYoi, Kenya/USA/Tanzania

The flag is important but economics matter more. Individuals will take whatever steps necessary to secure their economic survival. If this involves switching citizenship or obtaining dual nationality then so be it. For people like Kipketer and others - they are selling their talent for economic stability and a future for themselves after athletics. For the buyers they are buying athletic prestige they could not otherwise produce themselves. Let us not be under any illusions where these athletes' real loyalty lies though. Good luck to the athletes and their adopted countries.
Dave - France, France

It depends on one's perspective, doesn't it? For a country, the loss of one of their star athletes wounds the national pride. For an athlete, there are probably financial incentives that will make life easier for them if they change nationalities. It seems better to put the emphasis on the individual. After all, countries have been known to take their citizens for granted. A compromise arrangement might be for the athlete's home country to be given the chance to propose a counter offer. Otherwise, the individual athlete should have the final say. After all, it is their talent that commands attention, not the flag on their uniform.
Chris, US

Most of these African athletes left their countries because they did not feel like they had stake in them. African sporting bodies are so corrupt and nepotic that it is even better for the careers of these athletes to be out of there.
Osagie Ayanru, USA

Due to economic problems and government officials mismanaging public funds most, if not all African countries neglect their athletes. There are not good incentives for athletes in Africa compared to their Western counterparts. Most of these countries does not even have conducive training facilities for their athletes to make adequate preparation for their events.
Chris Ekwonye, Raleigh, USA

If they change their nationalities, don't forget that they are AFRICANS. Tell the non-African countries to leave us alone. We are African and athletics (the long or short distance) is for Africans. You have to look at the blood where that person is from. Not the nationality.
Elias, Ethiopia

It is lamentable that our athletes are agreeing to be poached. Kenya's athletics programs are not the great but this is not a good enough reason. The IOC needs to enact rules that prevent such poaching. The rules currently in place are not strict enough or they are not enforced properly.
Wairimu, Kenyan in US

Flag matters to me. The colonial brain drain continues, be it in academics, athletics, or otherwise. I think the rules should be changed. People should sport on behalf of their countries of birth. If they were born in a different country other than that of their native country, they should declare at age 18 which country they would prefer to represent. If these changes and stealing goes on, no African country can ever shine in any world event. Ultimately, we should have no reason to participate in them.
Yao Ababio, USA

A country buying gold medals is like cheating to beat your four year-old sister in the game of Monopoly, a shallow and belittling victory.
Geoff, Canada

Of course the flag matters and I am sure if you ask the athletes themselves, they would rather be representing their country of birth. But unfortunately, lack of funds and facilities in their home countries tends to be the motivating reason for the change. However, this is unlikely to be the case with the Kenyan athletes so I would say that it might also have something to do with the way they are treated by their athletics federations. Certainly in the case of Nigeria, the officials of the federation are so inept as to be laughable. Any success that Nigerian sportsmen achieve is 'despite' their sports federation. How about the various Nigerian footballers who have been called to represent their country and have had to pay their own air fare despite the promise of reimbursement. So I think African countries need to look within themselves as opposed to labelling these sportsmen as disloyal.
Bayo, UK

Of course it bothers me to see any athlete not representing their actual country while competing in international competition, especially black athletes of African countries! It provides much needed positive exposure to the plight of some countries. Sad. Athletes today have become like mercenaries of yesterday, using their specific talents to fight the battles of other countries. Will countries like France and Spain ante up to the economic, social and myriad other problems facing Africa? I do not think that is likely. On the flip-side of this phenomenon, why should I, as a black athlete, represent my country on a world stage when my country is continuously plagued by corrupt leaders? There's enough guilt for all involved to share in this matter.
Andre L.P. Coe, US

Africa is losing these talented athletes to other foreign countries for lack of responsibility from the presidents of their respective countries who fail to put pressure on their ministers of sports to encourage and give good incentives to these people to fly their national flag higher. I have seen in certain cases where these athletes pay their own air tickets just to partake in these events without the due contribution of his or her country.
Sheku Mohamed Jalloh, Gambia

Even though it is not the right thing to do they still do it as a result of financial needs. They can not be blamed. I think IOC should have some sort of rule about defecting from your country and competing for another.
Solomon, USA

This is globalization, which seems to be the economic fad of the 21st century. These folks have a product to sell, their speed. Why should we begrudge them? Those who are fans of globalization should be careful what they wish for; they just might get it.
Paul Wimmer, U. S. A.

Most athletes change nationalities because of the opportunities they get in other lands. Many of the African athletics associations regard these athletes as property and do not seek to improve their lot. While it is a shame, at some point self preservation takes over. There are many stories of African athletes living and dying in pathetic circumstances simply because their athletics associations worked them to the bone, milked all they could and then discarded them.
Salo, Kenya

Patriotism becomes a void rhetoric when people fail to use their talents to help themselves pull out of an innate cycle of poverty. Other factors such as archaic bureaucracy, corruption, unappreciative authorities, stressful and an ever ending political chaos all add up to the lose of hope so people would opt out to seek greener pastures to express and utilise their talents to the optimum with due appreciation from their adapters. Brain-drain from Africa has been the topic of discussion for a while. Athletes are not an exception to this trend.
Debebe D, UK

As an African residing in Canada, I find it heartbreaking to see so many of my fellow Africans leaving their homeland in pursuit of a better career or life, often draining their country of much needed expertise. These athletes are no different. In this day and age, it seems my dear Africa is bound to lose, in the athletic world or otherwise. Oh, what a waste!
Mohamed Benjamin, Canada

Of course the flag matters. This is disgusting. Foreign countries have been looting Africa's natural resources for centuries why not also steal their athletic resources.
Ismael, Canada

What athletics and other sports need is a harsh system like in football whereby once you play internationally for one country in a non-friendly, then that is it. No more changes of allegiance.
Richard West, Australia

It is a sin. In the Holy Books, the Quran and the Bible, it is stated that it was God who divided us into nations and tribes. So it becomes a sin to go against God's divine wish. But on the other hand, that is what poverty does to us in the global south; it makes you lose your sense of dignity and pride. At worst it makes others lose the greatest gift to mankind - citizenship.
Henry Mbawa Jr, Freetown,Sierra Leone

They are simply told by their respective governments to wear the flags. You can buy them for a little money. You can offer them freedom and keep them in London. Especially the Ethiopians, they can become citizens of Britain if you just give them asylum.
Jelil, US

Country is a name of identity to some people but when it comes to the question of Patriotism, even those who have denounced their citizenship feel for where they were born depending on the circumstances. The world is becoming a small global village and people should be prepared in the not so distant future to see only one country representing the entire world.
Kwame Boakye, Ghana

Should patriotism come first in athletics? I think you are making a mountain out of a mole-hill. Athletes who change nationalities are only following the examples of other professionals who have left for other shores to earn better livelihood. As far as I am concerned there is no difference between an athlete who changes nationalities and the hordes of African journalists who are fleeing broadcasting houses in Ghana and Uganda to the BBC to present Africa Live for better remuneration!
Emmanuel Akpowhe, Accra,Ghana.

Flags are symbolic. What we feel inside is what matters. I am an Ethiopian whatever but I am an American because of financial needs. There are tons of us in the Western world. So why should athletes be different from the rest? There is no pride in poverty. Poverty and pride do not go together. Pride has no financial quotation. It does not sell. It does not feed children.
Teddy, Ethiopia/USA

As an African residing in Canada, I find it heartbreaking to see so many of my fellow Africans leaving their homeland in pursuit of a better career or life, often draining their country of much needed expertise. These athletes are no different. In this day and age, it seems my dear Africa is bound to lose, in the athletic world or otherwise. Oh, what a waste!
Mohamed Benjamin, Canada

I don't understand, you have obviously done the same?
Trystan, Wales

I call that self-preservation. Who has ever blamed the chameleon for changing its colour? Humankind possesses this uncanny ability to survive in the face of adversity!
Emmanuel Nwaimah, Texas, USA (Cameroon)

Please Please give these athletes a break.They deserve a praise for working their ways to the heights they found themselves today,despite all the deplorable conditions they went through in their African countries.Please blame it on African leaders who embezzled funds that are allocated to such programmes. I think question should be: DOES AFRICAN LEADERS CARE ABOUT ATHLETICS IN AFRICA?
Alimamy Kheiyo-Sesay, Sierra leone/US





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