12 Jul Yasemin Can: should a Kenyan born athlete be allowed to compete for Turkey?

Article by Christian von Eitzen

Turkey fell into disrepute earlier this week after reportedly having ten athletes competing at the European championships for them who were not Turkish born. They topped the medal table very early on and finished fourth overall with 4 gold, 5 silver and 8 bronze medals. One Kenyan born athlete in particular serving quite the up raw. Yasemin Can, formerly known as Vivian Jemutai, has only been eligible to compete for Turkey since the 29th of March 2016 and won gold in both the 5000m and 10000m events despite being sick. Allegedly, Yasemin has no ties to Turkey, still lives and trains in Kenya and up until 4 months ago she was a Kenyan resident, yet had never competed for Kenya. Additionally, she claims that ‘’I [Can] would also be very happy if I could earn gold for my home country Kenya one day.’’ She went on to say “That’s because my fans from Kenya knew about my conditions today and they were cheering for me.” (see article HERE)

She was able to change her countries affiliations because she had never competed for Kenya before. IAAF rules state that athletes, if having represented a country in the past, must undergo a three year ban from all major championships after being granted citizenship from another country in order for them to be allowed to compete in another major international event. In exceptional circumstances, for example if the athlete receives refugee status or both countries agree on the change, the athlete must only undergo a one year ban from all major championships. However, as Can had not competed for Kenya all she had to do was receive Turkish citizenship and turn up on the day of her races.

I think we can all agree that she is a phenomenal athlete however, people are questioning the moral of the whole affair. Why should a Kenyan born athlete be able to compete for another country? The same reason why Mo Farah, an Somalian born athlete, can compete for Great Britain and Bernard Lagat, another Kenyan born athlete, can compete for the US – because the rules say they can. Andy Vernon was heavily criticised after publicly making a joke about Mo Farah’s heritage not being European two years ago, yet here we are doing the exact same thing 24 months on. Of course these are three very different and individual cases, however one thing remains the same – all athletes followed the rules set out by the IAAF. An official statement was made by the European Athletics President, Svein Arne Hansen yesterday. He says ‘’This is, of course, a matter where the IAAF is the ultimate authority and in my role as an IAAF Council member I will be raising this at our next meeting.’’ While he agrees that athletes with refugee status should be granted special treatment, he states that ‘’…we in European Athletics believe there is a need to look more closely at the appropriate conditions for a change of nationality and the length of time before eligibility is granted to compete.’’ Henceforth, we may see some big changes within the rules very soon.

The full version of the statement can be found HERE.