Disturbingly blurry issue

Four years ago, Lascelles Brown marched in the opening ceremony of the Salt Lake City Olympics wearing the colours of Jamaica and the crowd responded with an excited standing ovation.

The next day, he and his teammates were whisked to a taping of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, treated as celebrities, asked to visit schools, talked with seniors -- all because they happened to be Jamaican bobsledders.

Today -- maybe tomorrow -- Lascelles Brown will find out if he is going back to the Olympics. Only this time, his colours will be red and white, his citizenship will be Canadian.

There is no trading of players in Olympic sport -- but more and more there is the granting of citizenship by athletic convenience. Players aren't transferable; passports are.

Driver Pierre Lueders is a medal contender so long as Brown is pushing his sled in Turin. Without Brown, he has no real chance of placing.

And caught somewhere in the middle of these ethical and athletic questions are Ottawa bureaucrats who have been asked to speed up the citizenship process, all in the name of potential victory.

Under normal circumstances, Brown would not be eligible for citizenship until 2007. He settled in Canada in 2004 and there is supposed to be a three-year waiting period.

But these are the Olympics and the circumstances be damned. By the definitions of citizenship, Brown's application comes under "exceptional circumstances."

The United States actually sped up the citizenship application of Canadian ice dancer Tanith Belbin, and others, with an emergency act of Congress in December. Should the skater from Kingston win gold in Turin, she will hear the Star Spangled Banner rather than the anthem with which she grew up.

And lost in all this are the ideals of an Olympic movement that is forever for sale, or in some cases, for rent. It is no longer country versus country, athlete versus athlete. The lines, forever blurry, can be moved at a given whim.

The very same country that cringed when Greg Rusedski left Quebec and declared himself British or when Lennox Lewis conveniently forgot where he learned to fight is about to do the same.

LOOK THE OTHER WAY

We are about to look the other way and welcome Lascelles Brown to the Canadian Olympic team.

This isn't a Ben Johnson story or a Donovan Bailey story, both of whom, like Brown, were born in Jamaica. Johnson and Bailey moved to the Toronto area as kids. They learned to run here. They represented Canadian teams. Like Rusedski and Lewis, the first national uniforms they ever wore were Canadian.

Competing in two consecutive Olympics for two different countries just doesn't seem right. It may be done all the time but that doesn't make it proper.

Jason Muzzatti, a Toronto kid who once was a hockey prospect and actually played for our national team in 1992, is listed as one of Italy's goaltenders for the Turin Games.

Where exactly do you draw the line?

And for what price does recruiting and need trump the buying and selling of nationalities?

In fairness to Lascelles Brown, he is the backdrop to a larger issue. He is guilty of nothing here. He left his job as a butcher in Jamaica, moved to Calgary to train with his bobsled teammates with only one problem: For reasons mostly financial, none of them showed up. But he stayed in Calgary, got married to a Canadian, had a child who is Canadian, and was recruited by Lueders to join his outfit.

"He's a quality guy," said Shane Pearsall, the head of Bobsleigh Canada who just happens to be the chef de mission for the Canadian team in Turin. "He's the kind of guy you want to become a Canadian."

That's about all Pearsall will say right now. Brown won't even say that much. Lawyers have instructed him to say nothing publicly until the matter of citizenship has been resolved.

There may be a federal election on Monday but before some politicians are defeated, they are being asked to try to speed this along. All in a race for Olympic victory.