During the Opening Ceremony for the Olympic Winter Games, athletes enter the stadium waving their country’s flag in a show of national pride. Starting with Greece and then alphabetically by country, spectators get a chance to see all of the world’s greatest athletes. However, eagle-eyed viewers, you may notice a few groups that aren’t countries, including the island of Puerto Rico. For 2022, Chinese Taipei (Taiwan), Hong Kong, Puerto Rico, and ROC (Russian Olympic Committee) are not technically countries but are competing independently in the Games—let’s look at Puerto Rico.
Even though Puerto Rico is officially known and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, a name that Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia also carry, its status is unique. Unlike the latter four, the federal government treats Puerto Rico as an “organized but unincorporated” United States territory. In practice, this means that while Puerto Rico has its own governor, legislature, and court system, the U.S. still manages “military and foreign policy matters” on behalf of the island.
Residents of the island are granted some of the benefits and responsibilities of living in the U.S. but not others. For example, Puerto Ricans have full freedom of movement throughout the fifty states and are U.S. citizens. On the other hand, they can’t vote for the U.S. President, nor do they pay federal taxes.
How does this history influence whether Puerto Rico has its own Olympic Team?
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is the sole authority to recognize a National Olympic Committee (NOC), and they reasoned that since Puerto Rico governs its own internal island affairs, it should have its own NOC. This has been the case since 1948 when the IOC officially recognized the Comité Olímpico de Puerto Rico as the National Olympic Committee for the island. Since Puerto Rico has never asked to have their NOC dissolved, they continued to compete independently from the U.S.
Puerto Rico at the Olympics
Since 1948, Puerto Rico has had eight Olympic Winter Games and nineteen Olympic Games. Interestingly, while the United States boycotted the 1980 Moscow Games, Puerto Rico sent a three-person delegation.
Because of the smaller island population and the lack of opportunities for winter sports participation, their success at the Winter Games has yet to produce any medals. That said, the team has won ten medals in the Summer Games, the latest in the women’s 100-meter hurdles, marking the island’s first gold medal in track and a second gold in Olympic history.
Into the future
In 2020, Puerto Rico voted for statehood, but that is still yet to be approved by the U.S. Congress. Although even should they, Congress cannot dissolve Puerto Rico’s team, only the IOC can make that change. So who knows if they will keep their own delegation or not.