The Price of Olympic Competition
Here’s perhaps the smallest wrinkle of all, but one that I found fascinating. It falls under the “citizenship flexibility” category and concerns one Olympic athlete’s name.
We wrote in Freakonomics that the name a child is given seems to bear no outcome on that child’s life, as ridiculous (Temptress) or as wonderful (President) as that name may be. But in this instance, it seems that the athlete’s name made it possible for her to compete.
I watched the women’s 1,500-meter final, and one of the competitors — she wound up finishing fifth — was Maryam Yusuf Jamal from Bahrain.
Maybe it was because Bahrain had just won its first-ever gold medal, courtesy of the 1,500-meter men’s runner Rashid Ramzi, but I was curious to learn a bit more about Jamal. Ramzi, after all, is a native of Morocco; I wondered where Jamal is from.
It turns out she was born in Ethiopia, a running mecca, and that Bahrain persuaded her to race under its flag. The twist is that she was born into the Christian tribe of Oromo and was named Zenebech Tola. According to her Wikipedia page, which seems pretty well supported by other sources, Bahrain granted her citizenship …
in exchange that she change her name to an Arabic one and that she compete in the Asian Games in Doha, Qatar, in 2006. She was allowed to keep her religion though.
Here is how Jamal puts it on her own web site:
I prayed to God and my prayers were answered. After many attempts, the kingdom of Bahrain proposed a chance to change citizenship. I accepted and became Maryam Yusuf Jamal in January 2005 with [her trainer and husband] Mnashu Taye also changing his allegiances to Bahrain and to a new name of Tarek Yacqob Sabt.
We are happy with Bahrain. I get a lot of support from their Federation both morally and financially.