VILNIUS - The Citizenship Commission has recommended that President Valdas Adamkus grant citizenship by exception to U.S. basketball player Kathryn Douglas. If granted, the citizenship would allow Douglas, star of the TEO team, to participate in the upcoming world championship.
"The amended Citizenship Law provides the legal grounds for granting Douglas citizenship by exception," Justice Ministry Undersecretary Paulius Koverovas, a member of the commission, said on Aug. 10.
As he explained, citizenship may be granted by reason of public interest since sport is one of the sectors supported by the state.
Presidential spokesperson Rita Grumadaite said the president would decide on the matter in the next few days. On July 17, Adamkus decided against nationalizing Douglas on the basis of the Citizenship Commission's recommendation.
Douglas' request for citizenship has been ongoing for several months now. The application was originally rejected in accordance with the Law on Citizenship, which has since been amended.
In July, Lithuanian lawmakers fast-tracked changes to the law so that the president could legally grant citizenship to Douglas, who has expressed great interest in playing for the Lithuanian national team.
Basketball is by far the most popular sport in Lithuania and has even been described as a national obsession.
Citizenship was previously granted by exception on a merit basis 's merit being that which considerably contributes to the strengthening of Lithuanian statehood.
Without citizenship, Douglas, 27, cannot join the national team in Brazil on Aug. 12-23. She was invited to play for the U.S. national team but rejected the invitation, saying she wanted to represent Lithuania. Douglas, who is married to a Greek, was also asked to play for Greece, but she again declined.
Last May, Adamkus awarded Douglas with the Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania for her performance in the 2004-2005 FIBA Euroleague Women's Basketball Champion-ships.
Granting citizenship on terms of merit has become a touchy subject since former President Rolandas Paksas granted citizenship to Russian businessman Yuri Borisov, his largest campaign contributor.
The Constitutional Court later stated that Paksas had followed personal rather than state interests when granting citizenship to Borisov and therefore violated the Constitution. This ruling served as one of the primary reasons for Paksas' subsequent impeachment.
Since then, there have been calls for more careful background checks into persons who may receive citizenship by way of derogation.
In July, a group of famous Lithuanian athletes, politicians, scientists and artists urged the president to grant citizenship to Douglas. They noted that Douglas, one of the world's best female basketball players, had played in Lithuania for two seasons already and is recognized as one of the Euroleague MVPs for a second year in a row.
Lithuania's national women's basketball team was among the four best European teams last year and gained the right to take part in the World Women's Basketball Championship.
The national team has set itself the ambitious task of getting into the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing for the first time in Lithuania's history.