Why Did The ISA Revoke Erin Brooks' Spot On Team Canada? - Stab Mag

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Erin Brooks en route to a Silver medal for Team Canada at the recent ISA World Surfing Games in El Salvador. Photo: Sean Evans

Why Did The ISA Revoke Erin Brooks’ Spot On Team Canada?

Here’s what it takes — legally — to compete on an Olympic surf team.

news // Jul 4, 2023
Words by Christian Bowcutt
Reading Time: 6 minutes

A couple weeks ago, 15-year-old Ladybird Erin Brooks was invited to throw the first pitch at a Toronto Blue Jays game…

She was a on a multi-week media bender through Canada after placing second out 132 female surfers at the 2023 ISA World Surfing Games in Surf City, El Salvador.

But, during this media blitz, phones began buzzing as the ISA sent out an email with the subject line: “ISA Statement Regarding Erin Brooks”. It said, essentially, that in March 2022 the ISA had allowed Brooks to compete for Team Canada even though she wasn’t yet a citizen because her, “citizenship had been filed, but not completed.”

Erin and Team Canada had applied for special approval four separate times to compete before each ISA competition and had received it every time, as they had taken every legal step necessary to be granted citizenship but were only being held back by the immigration backlog in Canada — a country that prides itself on following rules and avoiding favoritism, even in the case of athletics.

15 years old, second in the world. Photo: Pablo Jimenez

Nevertheless, the ISA’s email concluded that because Erin had not yet received citizenship (despite applying three years ago), she would be “suspended” from competing in future ISA competitions for Team Canada until her citizenship was completed. This includes the up-coming Pan American Games, where Canada will have a shot at qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.

Three days later, the ISA sent out a follow-up email saying that none of Erin’s individual results (including her medals) would be revoked, but all of her points for Team Canada would be retroactively annulled. “Given this mistake was of no fault to the individual athlete,” the email said, “the ISA believes this is… the legally proper and correct decision.”

The ISA took responsibility for the incident citing it as an “administrative error” and stated that the four prior requests for Erin to compete without citizenship “should have been rejected”.

The genesis of this whole incident was a tip to the Canadian news network CBC, who then published this article on June 22nd. Other competition nations took note and complained to the ISA, who were then forced to address the issue, hence the mass emails and Erin’s ultimate suspension.

Erin won the Ladybird division at Stab High Costa Rica.

Despite the setback, the Brooks family is adamant that they’ve done everything by the book and remain hopeful that the Canadian government will soon process Erin’s paperwork and declare her a legal citizen. While they’re disappointed with the ISA changing their ruling, they understand the decision and know what needs to be done to secure Erin’s eligibility moving forward.

So, what does it take to compete on an Olympic surfing team?

The ISA’s rules for competing on a team are the same as the Olympics. The ISA rulebook states: “A competitor may only represent a country if he/she holds a passport or national identification card issued by the national government of that country.”

There are no stipulations for years that the surfer must have grown up in that country, no requirements for tax-paying in that country, no blood tests, etc.

If you have legal citizenship for a country — including dual-citizenship — you can compete for them.

Erin’s situation works like this: she was born in Texas but moved to Hawaii with her family when she was nine years old, meaning she’s lived in the US her entire life. Erin’s father Jeff, however, is a dual-citizen of the US and Canada, and his parents and extended family still live in the Montreal area. This, along with a few other requirements (for instance, Erin is learning French), is enough to theoretically grant someone in Erin’s position dual citizenship.

Meet team Afghanistan’s Afridun Amu, who we interviewed last year. He moved away from Afghanistan as a political refugee with his family when he was a young boy. Because all the ISA/Olympic committee requires is citizenship, he is able to compete for Afghanistan and represent a country he loves, despite having not grown up there.

Country-swapping is a major theme in international sport, especially when the Olympics are involved. Surfing’s already had its fair share of this, even with just one appearance in the Games. The public reaction to this phenomenon has been…mixed.

When Kanoa joined Team Japan, the keyboard knights started jousting.

Then Tati joined team Brazil — more chitter-chatter from the horde.

Then Jesse Mendes shacked up with Team Italy… and on, and on, and on.

Last year in Huntington Beach, walking around the 2022 ISA World Surfing Games, it was surprising to see just how many athletes did not grow up in the countries they were competing for. It seemed — in a qualitative way — that nearly every team had at least one surfer who did not grow up in the nation they were representing.

Surfing isn’t the only sport that causes nationality changes for Olympic qualification — competing for “another” country is nothing new. In last year’s Winter Olympics, two California-born athletes — skiier Eileen Gu and hockey player Jieruimi Shimisi — made headlines and received major hate for changing their nationality and competing for Team China. Photo: Olympics

We often hear the negatives about this, but there are positives. For instance:
1. Lesser-known, non-endemic countries get introduced to surfing
2. There is more representation at the ISA’s than ever before (63 countries)
3. More of the world’s best surfers are able to compete in the Olympics, rather than being stifled by a country’s athlete quota limits (for instance, if 2021 silver medalist Kanoa Igarashi was competing for Team USA, he wouldn’t be in a position to qualify for the 2024 Olympics because despite being one of the top 20 surfers in the world, he’s not one of the top two American men in 2023).
4. Professional surfers are getting more financial opportunity by competing in the Olympics through more obscure surfing nations. And heaven knows money is tight for professional surfers right now.

According to Jeff Brooks, Erin’s been courted by Teams USA, Germany, and Italy to compete for them. But in the end, she’s opted for Team Canada, citing the training opportunities they provide for young surfers such as herself, and the joy on her grandparents’, great-grandparents’, and extended family’s faces when she competes for the motherland.

Photo: Pablo Franco

But, the clock is running out for Erin to compete for Team Canada at the 2023 Pan American Games in Chile (Oct 24 – 30) — an event that could grant Brooks her maiden ticket into the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Canada’s immigration legalese — like all immigration legalese — is complicated. The Brooks family, alongside Team Canada, is currently working with a law firm that is handling the paperwork. Team Canada originally approached Erin about the opportunity of her surfing for their team, so they are footing the bill. Due to Erin having family in Canada and being a national “asset” due to her Olympic potential, there is a chance that Erin gets citizenship in time. But with Canada’s main immigration focus on Ukrainian and other refugees, athletes are, understandably, not as far up on the line as they would be in “peacetime”.

Worst case scenario, Erin misses out on qualifying at The Pan American Games, thereby not being able to compete at Teahupo’o. She would then set her sights on the Los Angeles 2028 Olympics. If Canada never grants her citizenship, there is a bylaw in the ISA rulebook that states that a surfer can surf for another nation provided they have legal citizenship there and take a three-year hiatus from surfing for their prior represented nation. So, by 2028 Erin will — barring armageddon — be on tour anyways and could qualify with another Olympic team for 2028.

But, given what we know about her prowess in big left tubes, it’s in Team Canada’s best interest to clear away the red tape as soon as humanly possible.


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