Ben Bloom, athletics correspondent
Yasemin Can. Growing up and taking her first strides in the world of junior athletics, Yasemin Can could never have envisaged standing on top of the European Championships podium with a 10,000m gold medal round her neck. Barely a year ago she would not have even recognised her own name.There is little point in beating around the bush: Can is not European. In fact Can is not even Can.
Yasemin Can competed for Kenya for 18 years but now competes for Turkey CREDIT: REX
For the first 18 of her 19 years she competed for Kenya and gained a reputation as one of the world’s most promising middle distance runners under her birth name Vivian Jemutai.
Then, at some point last year, discussions took place between Jemutai and the Turkish athletics federation. Here are the facts: In March this year it was officially announced that Jemutai had switched allegiance to Turkey and would now be known as Yasemin Can.
Yasemin Can used to run under her birth name Vivian Jemutai CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES
Fast-forward less than four months and the Kenyan-born athlete who still lives in Kenya, trains in Kenya and appears to have little connection to Turkey whatsoever, made mincemeat of her 10,000m rivals to triumph at the European Championships.
“It’s unfortunate,” said Irish running great Sonia O’Sullivan while analysing Can’s victory on RTE Sport. “I don’t agree with it.
“There’s been a lot of work done by the IAAF [International Association of Athletics Federations] to get on top of doping problems but this is another area where they really need to work hard and keep athletes in the continent that they belong.”
Ireland’s Fionnuala McCormack, who finished fourth and missed out on a medal behind Can, described the situation as “a joke”. She, and most others, fail to see the funny side.
Fionnuala McCormack says the situation is a joke CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES
For clarity, current IAAF rules state that an athlete can compete for another nation after sitting out for 12 months if their original country does not object. If there is an objection then athletes must wait for three years before switching.
Can is by no means an isolated case. Turkey’s team for these European Championships contains seven Kenyans, two Jamaicans – including 9.92sec ex-Jamaican 100m sprinter Jak Ali Harvey (formerly Jacques Harvey) – one Ethiopian, one Cuban, one South African, one Azerbaijani and one Ukrainian. Plus a few genuine Turks thrown in for good measure.
Turkey is not alone in employed such methods of winning athletics medals, with Bahrain and Qatar two of the biggest perpetrators of countries stockpiling athletes from all over the world in the hope of generating success in the sporting arena.
Of course sportsmen and women changing allegiance is nothing new and it is far from an issue that is unique to athletics.
Britain has benefitted from the likes of Kevin Pietersen competing for them rather than the country of their birth CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES
From Zola Budd to Greg Rusedksi, Mike Catt to Kevin Pietersen, and Owen Hargreaves to Tiffany Porter, Britain has benefitted hugely from men and women opting to represent Britain rather than the country of their birth for all manner of different reasons.
Some of those have certainly been more legitimate than others and Porter, the American-born hurdler with a British mother, will need little reminding of being challenged to sing ‘God Save the Queen’ at one of the most memorable and awkward press conferences in recent years.
The difference with the way Turkey (along with Qatar, Bahrain and others) has gone about things is the scale of its effort to abuse the system and the shameless nature of it.
The majority of the athletes who were born and raised elsewhere but will represent Turkey at the European Championships this week have barely even set foot in the country. Prior to their transfer they could probably not pick it out on a map.
Yet a handful of them are likely to stand on the podium in Amsterdam this week with medals round their neck as the Turkish flag is raised – just as Can did on Wednesday evening.
It is a sad day when gold medals can be acquired in such a brazen manner.