By Alan Hubbard

Olga Butkevych_celebrates_a_victoryJanuary 1 - The British Government is preparing a clampdown on the number of foreign athletes seeking to represent the country at the 2012 Olympic Games.

Home Secretary Theresa May has been urged to scrutinise all new citizenship applications from sports bodies whose squads contain foreign-born athletes.

It is likely that some may now be rejected.

The argument over "Plastic Brits" – athletes brought in from abroad, often at the expense of home-grown talent – has been simmering for months.

Now the Sport and Olympics Minister  Minister Hugh Robertson has stepped into the debate, telling insidethegames that he is opposed to such fast-tracking in the quest to bolster Britain's medal haul.

The issue has been highlighted by British Wrestling's recruitment of several grapplers from Eastern Europe and blatantly trying to qualify them for Team GB.

Four of the seven-strong squad on the £3.5 million world-class performance programme are from Ukraine, and one from Bulgaria.

Particularly contentious is the issue of qualification via marriage.

Within the wrestling community there are believed to have been five marriages to Britons which wrestling bosses insist are all "above board", denying that they are a cynical exercise to win medals in an under-achieving sport.

But Robertson admits his unease.

"Broadly speaking, I think that all naturalised athletes should follow the normal citizenship requirements and I do not support fast-tracking people simply to win a medal," he said.

"Therefore while I am entirely supportive of [Kevin] Pietersen, who came here through a family connection to become English and served all the necessary qualifying periods, the wrestlers do not seem to be in the same category."

Whitehall sources say the Home Secretary will now be asking serious questions about future applications for citizenship.

Among these will be one from Ukrainian wrestler Olga Butkevych (pictured above), who won silver in the 55kg category at the recent Olympic test event.

She is one of two foreign-born wrestlers in the GB squad with a realistic hope of reaching the 2012 podium.

Yana Stadnik_in_front_of_Olympic_rings
The other is another Ukrainian woman, Yana Stadnik (pictured above), who like her compatriot came here in 2007 ostensibly as a "sparring partner" for British wresters and has married Briton Leon Rattigan, a member the five-strong men's elite squad.

That squad also features a Bulgarian and two Ukrainians, one of whom, Myroslav Dykun, has been here since 2003 and is married to an Englishwoman.

It takes five years to become a naturalised British citizen, though this can be expedited through marriage. International Olympic Committee (IOC) rules state that athletes must wait three years after a change of citizenship before competing for their new country.

But this is reduced to one year when both countries agree.

Wrestling is not unique in being heavily laced with overseas talent.

The British athletics squad at the last World Championships included two who had switched nationalities, with more in contention for 2012.

Among them are triple jumper Yamila Aldama (born in Cuba, has already competed for Sudan, but is married to a Briton); 400 metres runner Shana Cox (born and lives in the United States); long jumper Shara Proctor (born in Anguilla, lives in the US) and 100m hurdler Tiffany Porter (born and lives in the US).

Tiffany Porter_hurdling_in_Daegu_August_2011
Charles van Commenee, Britain's Dutch head coach, simply shrugs.

"If they knock on our door and say, 'I have a British passport, I can run this fast and jump this far', then we'll select them," he said.

"End of story."

Other sports affected include equestrianism, whose Laura Bechtolsheimer was born in Mainz to German parents, and basketball's American Nate Reinking, whose official profile says that his marriage to a British woman "allowed him to gain citizenship and fill the one 'foreigner' position on the national basketball team".

Of the 41 players available for Britain's first-ever Olympic handball teams, 25 were born or raised overseas, mainly in Scandinavia.

But only Italian-born Dani Sposi had to apply for citizenship.

"We don't do passport-shopping and have never asked the British Olympic Association to fast-track any passport applications," said a British Handball spokesman.

While authorities argue that medal success will provide a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ignite interest in their sports, critics complain that the policy of buying in foreign talent has had a damaging, demoralising effect on British athletes, some of whom have lost Lottery funding that is now granted to the carpetbaggers.

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December 2011: Alan Hubbard - "Plastic Brits" wrestling policy contrary to Olympic spirit