Many dream of competing for their country at the Olympics, but for some Olympians the games offer an even bigger opportunity: the chance to escape to a better life. The Olympic Games have been and continue to be a vehicle for people to leave behind places where ineffective rules hold them back.
Often, people defect due to perceived danger or oppression in their home country, according to a 1992 study by professors at the University of Wisconsin and University of Missouri. While scientists, activists and politicians are more common, athletes are known to defect, too, such as when the entire Ethiopian men’s soccer team took off while at a tournament in 1997, or the 600-plus East Germans that fled during the Cold War.
Cuba has a substantial defection record as well:
Prior to competing in the 2008 Olympics, four Cuban boxers ran away at various times. Seven members of the under-23 soccer team fled from a hotel while competing in the Olympic qualifying tournament. And the Judo team suffered a blow when gold medal favorite Yurisel Laborde deserted the team in Miami less than three months before the Beijing Games were set to begin. This year, footballer Yosmel de Armas defected during an Olympic qualifying tournament in Tennessee, while two women’s soccer players defected while competing in Canada.