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Imported Talent: Do Naturalized Athletes Help or Hinder China’s Sports Programs?

Naturalized athletes are becoming increasingly common in China’s sports programs, but will they help develop domestic talent?

“Gu Ailing is standing on the top of the podium, using her actions to show the whole world: Self-confident Chinese are the most beautiful of all!” shouted the exhilarated commentator for Tencent Sport as Gu Ailing, the San Francisco-born freestyle skier competing for China, stepped atop the podium to receive her gold medal in the Big Air event at the Beijing Winter Olympic Games in February.

Gu, also known as Eileen Gu, would go on to win a silver and another gold at the Games. As she gave interviews in fluent Putonghua and ate steamed buns on camera, she became the undisputed star of China’s Olympic team. But beneath the euphoria, there was a constant stream of controversy about Gu’s citizenship status on both sides of the Pacific, as the 18-year-old’s decision to compete for China (the country where her mother was born) placed new scrutiny on the country’s naturalization policies for sporting talents.

“I found that she probably has dual nationality, so my opinion of her tanked,” Wang Xinjun, a 22-year-old student from Henan province in central China, tells TWOC. While Gu’s true citizenship status is unclear, Chinese law stipulates that people who become Chinese citizens must renounce any other citizenship. “We can’t have double standards before the law,” Wang believes.

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Imported Talent: Do Naturalized Athletes Help or Hinder China’s Sports Programs? is a story from our issue, “State of The Art.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.


author Sam Davies

Sam Davies is the deputy managing editor at The World of Chinese. He writes mainly about society, sport, and culture, with his pieces touching on diverse topics from the future of China’s ski industry to efforts to prevent juvenile crime.

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