The Yale Law Journal


Picking Winners: Olympic Citizenship and the Global Race for Talent

Ayelet Shachar

120 Yale L.J. 2088 (2011). 

Across the globe, countries are promoting strategic or expedited passport grants, whereby membership is invested in exceptionally talented individuals with the expectation of receiving a return: for Olympic recruits, this means medals. The spread of the talent-for-citizenship exchange, with “Olympic citizenship” as its apex, is one of the most significant innovations in citizenship practice in the past few decades. In this emerging competitive environment, countries have come to realize that their exclusive control over the assignment of membership goods is a major draw. This realization has turned citizenship itself into an important recruiting tool. The Olympic citizenship dynamic highlights the growing influence of the economic language of human capital accretion in shaping targeted recruitment policies that are designed to attract top performers, whether in the sciences, arts, or athletics. In the process, it is our very understanding of citizenship that is undergoing a radical alteration. This Feature explores the analytical, normative, and comparative dimensions of Olympic citizenship, identifying the major players and interests at stake, assessing the national and international implications of such profound transformations, and highlighting the dark underbelly to the rise in Olympic citizenship grants. It concludes by developing possible new ways to address the challenges that Olympic citizenship creates, including proposed transnational responses to ameliorate concerns about exploitation and the unearned advantages that attach to the unregulated practice of cross-border talent poaching in pursuit of national glory.