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Gold Coast Commonwealth Games headhunts athletic migrants and refugees

RENEE VIELLARIS LEGAL AFFAIRS, THE SUNDAY MAIL (QLD) AUGUST 11, 2013 12:00AM

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Ex-Slovakian player turned Australian citizen Jarmila Groth has been a boon to Australian tennis .Source: News Limited

 

ATHLETIC migrants and refugees could be headhunted to represent Australia at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.

Commonwealth Games chiefs have held discussions about asking Immigration Minister Tony Burke to relax immigration laws for overseas-born sports stars who could compete for Australia in 2018.

Australian Commonwealth Games Association chief executive Perry Crosswhite told The Sunday Mail he would sound out the nation’s 18 sporting bodies to determine whether they needed help facilitating citizenship for some athletes.

Mr Crosswhite, an American who played basketball for Australia in three Olympic Games, said there could be refugees and migrants already in Australia who cannot compete in 2018 because of residency issues.

The changes could help Australia boost its medal count.

While Australia wins many medals in Commonwealth sports such as swimming and athletics, it rarely wins in wrestling, weightlifting and boxing. Those sports are popular in African nations, as well as Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan

Mr Crosswhite said the move could open doors for migrants and refugees already in Australia and attract sports stars from other countries.

He said it was “reasonable” to expect he would write to Mr Burke.

“They may be some argument that we should have home-grown athletes,” Mr Crosswhite said.

“But a country like Australia is based on migration and it’s something we’ve always done.”

“There’s no reason why we wouldn’t do it … it gives you a better chance (of winning).”

“This is nothing new.”

Mr Burke said he was open to the idea.

“I will have a look at any proposal from the Commonwealth Games committee or sporting bodies once they have put it to me,” he told The Sunday Mail.

“I certainly have no objection to how these issues have been dealt with in the past.”

Mr Crosswhite said there were a variety of reasons why people would leave their country and play for another

“In some cases they’ve come from political regimes that are oppressive,” he said.

“Sometimes it’s lifestyle and in some cases it’s economic. Some may not be able to make the team in their home country.

“There have been athletes who have defected in the past.”

In 2009, new laws were introduced to help Russian-born speed skater Tatiana Borodulina represent Australia in the 2010 Olympic Winter Games qualification events. She later returned home.

The new laws cut in half – from four to two years – the time migrating athletes needed to live in Australia before they could become citizens.

Melbourne-based tennis players, Slovakian-born Jarmila Groth and Anastasia Rodionova from Russia also benefited from the changes.

Weightlifter Simplice Ribouem, who left his home country of Cameroon, won gold for Australia in the New Delhi Commonwealth Games in 2010.

Fearing for the safety of his family in Cameroon, he hoped his win would spark the Immigration Department to resettle his family in Australia.

This year new laws gave the Immigration Minister even more discretion to apply alternative residence requirements.

It enabled Pakistan-born legspinner Fawad Ahmed to play for Australia A on tour this year. Ahmed is expected to be a contender for the Australian Test side within the year.

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