Naturalized players for ice hockey? It’s all cool

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Naturalized players for ice hockey? It’s all cool


Brock Radunske, left, Mike Testwuide, second from right, and Michael Swift, right, salute the national flag at the Ice Hockey World Championship on April 19. Provided by Korea Ice Hockey Association

On April 19, the Korean men’s ice hockey team won the International Ice Hockey Federation Division I Group B tournament in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, and was promoted back to Division IA of the Ice Hockey World Championship.

In this tournament, there were three “blue-eyed” Taegeuk Warriors on the team: Canada-born Brock Radunske and Michael Swift, and U.S.-born Mike Testwuide.

The 32-year-old Radunske acquired Korean citizenship in March 2013, becoming the first Western-born athlete to wear the national uniform. Swift, 28, received Korean citizenship in January 2014 and Testwuide did so last month through a special naturalization authorized by the Ministry of Justice.

Although he didn’t play in the tournament, the national team also has Bryan Young, a Canada-born defenseman who became a Korean citizen in January 2014.

In addition, Canadian goalie Matt Dalton, who plays for Anyang Halla, also is reportedly considering Korean citizenship.

Whereas the naturalization of Brazilian Enio Oliveira Junior to play on the national football team caused a huge controversy in 2012, the ice hockey national team has welcomed naturalized Koreans with hardly a peep from the general public.

“People think of football as the national sport and have a mind-set that the national football team is ‘our team,’?” said an official from the hockey team who asked for anonymity. “But for ice hockey, not many people pay attention as some even don’t know how many players are in the game.”

The ice hockey community says Korea needs foreign-born players to boost the national team’s competiveness.

For instance, Italy’s hockey team in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics had 12 Canadians of Italian descent on its roster. In the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, Japan had nine naturalized players from Canada and the United States on its national team.

As host nation of the 2018 Winter Olympics, Korea, ranked 23rd in the world, has an automatic berth, but is under pressure at home to produce results.

Some Koreans worry that without naturalized players, the country could lose all its games.

Kim Jeong-hyo, a sports philosopher who teaches at Seoul National University, agrees that naturalization is becoming a global trend and is a good way to raise competiveness, but points out there is a rite of passage.

“In the case of Enio, he played in the K-League for seven years, but couldn’t speak Korean fluently, which raised questions about him adjusting to the local culture,” said Kim. “The reason for the naturalization should not be making money, and we should also have the mind-set that ‘they are not different than us’ if foreigners are taking proper steps to become Korean citizens.”

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