The Chairman of the Finance Commission of the International Olympic Committee said that statehood would not cost Puerto Rico its representation in Olympic games.
Richard Carrion, a member of the International Olympic Committee since 1990 and a member of its Executive Committee since 2004, was quoted by a Puerto Rico newspaper as assuring, “Do not be nervous. Not at all. That will not happen,” referring to Puerto Rico losing its participation in the Olympics if Puerto Rico becomes a State.
Carrion was the runner-up in last year’s election of a new president of the International Olympic Committee and is thought to be a serious prospect for the presidency in the next election.
He heads Puerto Rico’s largest financial business, Popular, Inc., which also has banking operations in the States, and he is a member of the boards of directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Verizon.
Carrion made the comment after statehood activist Franklin Lopez wrote a opinion article rebutting a claim that “sports sovereignty is the Achilles’ heel of statehood” for Puerto Rico.
Many Puerto Ricans are serious sports fans and proud of the territory’s teams and athletes. In addition to the Olympics, the territory competes in other international games, such as the Central American and Caribbean Games, the Caribbean Football Union’s Caribbean Nations Cup (a FIFA qualifier for women), and the Pan-American Games.
Puerto Rican athletes also play on U.S. teams in the Olympics and on U.S. teams in many sports. Puerto Rico’s teams also participate in competitions against teams from various States.
The minority of nationalists in Puerto Rico have hoped that pride in insular teams will further nationalize Puerto Ricans and develop opposition to statehood — but they have been disappointed.
In fact, Puerto Rico participates in international sporting events not as a nation but as a territory of the U.S., as do other U.S. territories.
A master’s thesis of Pennsylvania State University graduate student Rafael R. Díaz-Torres, speculated that Puerto Rico’s sports personality could have political meaning but concluded that it did not because of national news media coverage.
“American mass media’s intervention in Olympic sports undermine the possibility of political power and mobilization for symbolic sports sovereignties that operate in colonial territories like the island of Puerto Rico, ” he wrote.
A 2009 ruling by Justice O’Connor of the U.S. Supreme Court specifically addressed the question of “sports sovereignty.” She wrote:
Without diminishing the pride Puerto Rico rightfully should enjoy in light of its place in the pantheon of international sporting events, we reject as meritless the proposition that classifications made in the context of the organization of such events find application to the construction of federal law.
In short, participation in international sporting events has emotional but not legal or political significance.
A classroom website from the University of Michigan suggests that Puerto Rico’s international sports participation is, instead, a source of cultural identity, and should be maintained if Puerto Rico becomes a State.
David Wallechinsky, Vice President of the International Society of Olympic Historians, explained in reaction to the efforts of some Native American tribes to gain spots at the Olympics that Olympic teams are not intended to recognize ethnicity. As reported by NativeVoices.org,, he explained that colonies are recognized — the classification that enabled Puerto Rico’s present participation.
It does not appear that the theory of sports sovereignty is more important than the issues of equality, democracy, and the economy that are the foundations of the movement of Puerto Ricans towards statehood — epitomized by statehood winning a plebiscite on status options held along with the November 2012 elections.