FINA Changes Sporting Nationality Rules; Now Requires a 3 Year Waiting Period

World Aquatics (formerly FINA) has announced a rule change regarding changes in sport nationality. Specifically, athletes are now required to reside in a country for three years before changing sports nationality, which has been increased from the previous requirement of one year.

As part of the biggest overhaul to World Aquatics rules in a generation, the governing body has made it more difficult to change athletic citizenship.

After obtaining initial athletic citizenship, an athlete must either hold citizenship by birth or have been a resident of the country for at least three years prior to their first international competition.

In cases where an athlete wishes to represent a country where they were not a citizen of birth or where they have not been a resident for three years, they may not represent a member of World Aquatics in international competitions and must be able to demonstrate this by the end of the qualifying period they have a “genuine, close and established connection to the country or sporting country she/he will be representing”.

The rules for changing sports nationality have also become stricter. Athletes must wait 3 years between last representation for a former World Aquatics member and representation for a new member.

In a way, however, the wait has become a bit more mellow. When changing sporting citizenship, an athlete must demonstrate continuous residence in a country for 3 years before representing him, or prove a genuine, close and established connection to the country or sport he/she will be representing.”

Editor’s note: “Sportland” refers to the fact that not all FINA members are sovereign nations. Puerto Rico is an example of this.

Historically, the standard of residence in a country has been at least half of its time there.

While the standard for a real connection to a country isn’t explicitly defined in the statutes, there are a few examples that come to mind where it might apply. One of them is two-time Olympic medalist Arkady Vyatchanin, who was denied transfer from Russia to Serbian sports citizenship because he did not spend enough time during his year-long stay in the country. He would eventually be granted US citizenship, although he never represented the US in international competition.

Another is the case of European junior champion Tatiana Belonogoff, who has lived in Britain all her life and represented her internationally, but has taken Russian citizenship and cites the “great influence” of her Russian mother.

Tnis is set to spark intriguing sociological and political debates about what defines a ‘close connection’ to a country, although the extended wait time means athletes are likely to be discouraged from making the switch so often.

There are certain exceptions for athletes under the age of 16 regarding the choice of athletic citizenship and what triggers an initial citizenship choice.

Other high-profile changes in athletic citizenship include Santo Condorelli, who represented the United States, Canada and Italy internationally, narrowly missing out on an Olympic medal with Canada in 2016 and winning Olympic silver with Italy in Tokyo in 2021; two-time short course world champion Mike Alexandrov who have swum internationally for both Bulgaria and the USA; Darian Townsendwho won an Olympic gold medal with South Africa in 2004 and two SC world titles with the USA in 2014; Mitch D’Arrigo, who transferred from Italy to the USA; And Shane Ryan who represented the USA at junior level before moving to Ireland at senior level.

With countries like Russia and Belarus barred from international competition for geopolitical reasons, this change should mitigate the risk of a series of sporting citizenship changes ahead of the Paris 2024 Olympics.

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