Two ice hockey players obtain Korean passports
|Michael Swift, 27, left, and Bryan Young, 28, right, smile on Tuesday as they hold up their Korean citizenship certificates. They will play on Korea’s national hockey team if it qualifies for the 2018 Olympic Games. Provided by High1 Resort|
Michael Swift, 27, and Bryan Young, 28, are professional ice hockey players for High1, a Korean team in the Asia League Ice Hockey (AHL). But as of this week, the two Canadians are no longer men in a foreign land.
Swift and Young were granted South Korean citizenship on Tuesday, which gives them the opportunity to play on the country’s national ice hockey team.
The Ministry of Justice recognized the athletes as “exceptional personnel,” approving their applications for naturalization in accordance with a revised immigration law that allows foreign nationals to hold citizenship in multiple countries.
This special naturalization policy was first implemented in 2011 after the Korean Nationality Act was revised in May 2010. The practice relaxes review procedures, allowing those with exceptional talents - athletes, musicians and business professionals, among others - to hold South Korean passports.
The Korean Olympic Committee first suggested Young and Swift’s naturalization in December, hoping they would improve the national team’s chances of qualifying for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
Young, from Ennismore, Ontario, Canada, is a defenseman who previously played for the Edmonton Oilers of the National Hockey League (NHL). Swift, from Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, was the AHL’s leading scorer in 2011.
Eligibility for the men’s ice hockey tournament at the Winter Olympics is determined by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) following the Ice Hockey World Championships. The top nine teams in the IIHF World Ranking advance to the Games, while the remaining three teams must pass the qualification tournament.
Even though Korea is the host nation, it is not automatically eligible for the 2018 Games. However, sports officials hope that Swift and Young’s presence on the national team will help it advance to Pyeongchang.
The two men have both said they would be glad to represent South Korea in the Olympics.
For Young, who came to the country in 2010, this was his second attempt at naturalization. His first application was rejected early last year.
“I love Korean people, food, everything,” he said. “My wife loves Korea, too, so she supported me when I wanted [to apply for] naturalization.”
Swift signed with AHL in 2011.
“My mother in Canada visited Korea two years ago and she fell in love with it,” he said. “I guess it’s time to find a Korean girlfriend.”
Canadian forward Brock Radunske, 30, was the first ice hockey player to obtain a South Korean passport. His application was accepted in March last year, and he joined the national team in April.
So far, 46 foreign nationals have obtained citizenship under the special naturalization process.
“We will promote the special naturalization practice so that even more talented people can obtain Korean citizenship,” a ministry official said.
BY LEE GA-YOUNG [email@example.com]