Fair play to naturalized athletes who promote sportsmanship
In the competitive world of sports, athletes can choose to compete for other nations for good reasons, including an aspiration to excel in a world-class event.
Whether they eventually win or lose a game, they deserve our respect so long as they have demonstrated sportsmanship -- competing for the sake of sport only. Jeers at them are unwarranted, especially when they suffer a setback.
The men's and women's hockey teams in Beijing have 30 naturalized players.
US-born figure skater Zhu Yi represents China at the ongoing Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. The 19-year-old Zhu won the 2018 US national novice title before switching allegiance in 2019. But when it came to the big moment at the Beijing event, she failed to deliver and ended up in tears.
Some foreign media seized the opportunity and rolled out headlines such as: "Zhu gave up her US citizenship to compete for China. Now she's being attacked by Chinese social media users after falling in her Olympic debut."
Gu Ailing, a naturalized athlete and gold medalist at the Games for China, defended Zhu.
"As someone who uses Chinese social platforms, I'm going to say right here that over 90 percent of comments are positive and uplifting," she said. "It's part of the sport and everyone understands that."
John Hou Saeter, a native of Norway, became China's first naturalized soccer player in 2019. Ever since, China has accepted several foreign-born players into its national squad.
At one point, powerhouse Guangzhou Evergrande had seven naturalized players. Some of them, including Alan Carvalho and Aloisio Goncalves (Luo Guofu) were selected for the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers. But manager Li Tie was criticized for failing to give them game time as China's World Cup dreams evaporated.
Even if Li had good reasons for ignoring them, I found that supporters tend to back athletes who represent China, whether naturalized or not. I think it is fine for an athlete to change their nationality if it allows them to compete at a top-tier event.
For example, it is said that for a Chinese table tennis player, it is more difficult to become a national champion than a world champion.
And so players like He Zhili (Koyama Chire) and Zhang Yibo (Chan Kazuhiro) moved abroad. In a way, it also helps to promote the sport worldwide.
Li Juan, the sister of women's table tennis team head coach Li Sun, took up Japanese citizenship and became their national coach, developing several talented players.
As long as an athlete is passionate and devoted to sportsmanship, it should not matter which country he or she is representing. In the end, sports is the winner.