Flaw in Italian Citizenship Law saw Italian born athlete of Nigerian heritage ineligible to compete in Olympics

Great Nnachi, an Italian born Nigerian was ineligible to compete at the just concluded Tokyo Olympics as she was unable to obtain Italian citizenship. The 16 year old pole vaulter is regarded as one of the most promising athletes in Italy and broke the national record for her age category to years ago by clearing 3.70 metres.

Given her parents are Nigerian, she will have to wait till her 18th birthday to be legally permitted to apply for Italian citizenship. This is despite her being born in Italy. This stems from the descent based law of the Southern Europe country.

Giovanni Malago, the head of the National Olympic Committee of Italy, spoke against the bureaucratic challenges facing Italian born athletes who are unable to participate in global tournaments because of their lack of citizenship.

Italy does not operate on the Jus Soli rule that offers citizenship by birth. Rather people are eligible for citizenship if they can claim a single, direct ancestor. Said ancestor must not have emigrated from Italy before the 1861 unification of the country.

Italy does not offer automatic, unconditional citizenship to people born in the country to foreign parents. Those individuals are only eligible to apply for citizenship from their 18th birthday.

While Nnachi is recognised by the Athletic Federation of Italy, she is not officially recognised by the state and has been blocked from representing the country at International level.

Her younger brother, Mega, is also affected by it. He is a youth team footballer with Juventus FC but is not eligible to represent any of the Italian cadet national sides until he turns 18.

“It’s tough,” Nnachi stated. “Being unable to participate in International competitions, unlike my friends. My message to others in my situation is: don’t stop, don’t give up. Continue to do sports, and don’t let anything get in the way of your dreams.”

Find out about countries that offer birth by citizenship HERE

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