Puerto Rico And International Competition: Do We Rep PR Or U.S.A.?

Yesterday's Rio Olympics brought a moment of pride for every participating country to see its athletic delegation parade under their country's national flag. No matter the size of the delegation, the fact that your country and flag is present is enough to fill any citizen of any participating country with pride regardless of the size of the delegation.

As a U.S. citizen born in Puerto Rico many people have often asked me about the issue of Puerto Rico in the Olympics. Some would ask me why would a Puerto Rican be representing Puerto Rico in the Olympics and other international tournaments when we were American citizens?

As a youngster I too wondered about that. At the ripe age of 18 I was seriously involved in the martial arts, in the form of Shotokan Karate. I was beginning to enter and win in a few tournaments and taught martial arts to neighborhood kids on Sundays for free. During that same period there was much talk about Karate in the Olympics and for the first time I thought about that quagmire: If I was to prepare myself to go to the Olympics, would I go representing the U.S.A., or the island that I was born in, Puerto Rico?

Discussing it with my father, he had no confusion and told me that if I had the choice I should represent Puerto Rico, the place of my birth. However, I was quite confused, because during my teenage years I was still raw in my political beliefs and thought of myself with just one citizenship: American citizenship.

Karate itself was never an Olympic sports and still is not due in part to issues with the World Karate Federation (WKF), however Olympic Taekwondo (Korean form, with more kicking) has been in the Olympics since the Sydney games in 2000.

So back to why is Puerto Rico allowed to participate as an independent nation in the Olympics as we saw yesterday in the opening ceremonies in Rio, the Puerto Rican delegation marching behind the Puerto Rican flag. I believe that it's the same question that many today have been focusing on due to the much publicized Puerto Rican debt crisis that clearly showed that Puerto Rico, though a U.S. territory is basically a colony. This issue is much more complicated, so for the brevity of this article and sticking to the issue of sports I urge you to read the linked article.

So again to the question of Puerto Rico participating in international sports competitions is a murky one and perhaps can only be clarified when the political relationship between the U.S. and Puerto Rico gets defined. Given the present economic crisis that definition might come sooner than later.