World Champion Kipketer May Miss Olympics over Danish Law
JAN M. OLSEN
Feb. 16, 1996
COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) _ Wilson Kipketer is the reigning 800-meter world champion, the favorite to win Olympic gold medal this summer in Atlanta and a man who loves his adopted country.
But he is not a Danish citizen, and for that reason may not get a chance to compete for Denmark's first Olympic medal in track and field since 1948. Time is running out for members of Parliament to grant the Kenyan-born runner citizenship in time for the Olympics, just five months away.
For Kipketer to become a citizen, the parliament would have to exempt him from a provision of Denmark's citizenship law, something it seems unlikely to do in a country where track is not a high-profile sport.
``It's not because you can run fast that you'll be allowed to jump the queue,'' said John Vinther, chairman of Parliament's citizenship committee, which twice a year grants a new passport to a select group of foreigners.
``He hasn't been here long enough. He won't get a special treatment,'' said Vinther, adding there is no majority in the assembly to fulfill Kipketer's dreams.
Under Danish law, a foreigner with a work permit can only be granted citizenship after living seven years in Denmark. Kipketer is one year short.
Kipketer, 23, arrived in Copenhagen in 1990, leaving the famed highlands region of Kenya, which has produced numerous world and Olympic champions over the past two decades.
Kipketer was spotted in Kenya by a talent scout working for Copenhagen's main track club, Sparta. The runner immediately moved to Copenhagen, where he studies electronics and lives with his Danish girlfriend.
Since winning the 800 in Goteborg, Sweden, last year, he has stated repeatedly he doesn't want to run for Kenya anymore.
``Where you are, you belong,'' he has told local newspapers.
Kipketer has refused to comment on the citizenship issue, said Niels Joergen Holdt, Sparta's manager. The runner declined to be interviewed for this story.
The International Amateur Athletic Federation allowed Kipketer to compete for Denmark at the World Championships last August. He became eligible because he had lived in Denmark for the past five years.
``Unfortunately, IAAF rules don't apply for the Olympics, where full citizenship is required,'' said Bent Agerskov, secretary-general of the National Olympic Committee and Sports Confederation of Denmark.
A backdoor attempt even was made to ask the International Olympic Committee to look into a special dispensation for Kipketer.
At the IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, sports director Gilbert Felli said that ``in principle, it's `no.' Athletes must have the citizenship.''
What could be Kipketer's last chance at becoming eligible to run for his adopted country comes in March, when the IOC executive committee meets.
As for Danish lawmakers, only once previously did they make an exception for citizenship.
In the 1980s, Canadian hockey player John Galbraith became a Danish national six months ahead of time. But he had one legislator actively lobbying in his favor.
In one of the most famous cases of an athlete jumping from one country to another, distance runner Zola Budd left South Africa, then banned from the Olympics, and was granted British citizenship on an accelerated basis, allowing her to compete in the 1984 Los Angeles Games.
There has been no debate in the Danish media about Kipketer's fate or any popular pressure in favor of the African runner. His manager thinks the reason is that Kipketer is relatively unknown in Denmark.
``Another theory,'' Holdt said, ``is that track and field isn't a big hit here.''
Lawmakers fear making an exception for Kipketer could create a precedent, leading other foreigners to demand to become Danish nationals, said Peter Bistrup, spokesman for the Danish Athletic Union.
``I believe there is a general skepticism regarding import of foreigners,'' he said.
Even marrying his Danish girlfriend now won't help. Kipketer still wouldn't get his new citizenship in time. The registration deadline for the Olympics is May 5.
``It would give Danish track and field a needed kick _ both at home and internationally,'' Bistrup said. ``But I doubt Kipketer will get it. ... What a pity.''
End advance for Feb. 17-18