International eligibility has often been a source of conversation and debate in sports. The issue has hit the headlines again recently because of news South African born former England international Rugby Union player Hendre Fourie feared he would face deportation from the country he represented 8 times. Happily for Hendre on a personal level, it seems these fears have eased.
I don’t really want to get into the politics of UK nationality and deportation rules too much because this is a sports blog, but suffice to say I find it strange that a person can represent a country and all that it stands for on the sporting field of battle when they in fact can’t represent the country as a citizen or passport holder. I find it even stranger that the rules vary markedly between different sports.
During the past few years it’s been an issue for the England football team, though more because of fears future stars of the game like Danny Welbeck, Carl Jenkinson, Rahim Sterling and Wilfred Zaha might take up offers to play for other nations they were eligible to represent, meaning England would lose out on them for good.
In rugby league, eligibility has been an issue in England with the selection of Rangi Chase in recent international squads and in Australia with James Tamou electing to wear green and gold over all black. A bigger issue and raft of questions are likely to present themselves with a World Cup on the horizon.
And the England cricket team has been filled with South Africans for a long time, as well as the odd Irishman making the switch too.
The Rugby League International Federation (RLIF) are responsible for the laws governing the international game these days. A full break down of the eligibility rules can be found on their website. The headline rules are:
A player is eligible to play an International Match for:-
(a) the country in which he was born;
(b) the country in which either of his parents or any of his grandparents was born;
(c) the country which has been his principal place of residence for a period of three years up to the date of his selection;
(d) the country that he has represented (irrespective of whether that country continues to be his principal place of residence) provided that he has not subsequently represented any other country.
They seem standard enough – but the real curiosity comes from the rules allowing a player to play for more than one senior international team. This is explained in rule 3.3, which states:
A player who is eligible to play for more than one country shall be entitled to elect for which country he wishes to play. When a player plays a Senior International Match for a country, he is deemed to have elected to play for that country. Subject to Rule 3.5, once an election is made the player may not play Senior representative rugby league for any other country until the end of the next World Cup tournament, or the expiry of two years, whichever is earlier (“Election Period”).
This law leads to players playing in consecutive World Cups for different countries. A player could play in a World Cup against the country of his birth, who he may have played for once up on a time, for a country he has been living in for three years, then theoretically play against that country for his first country the next time around.
This may seem absurd, and it certainly seems counterproductive against long term international development, but part of the problem is there are only two full-time domestic leagues comprising of 14 teams in Europe (and some say that is too many) and 16 teams in Australia/New Zealand – there aren’t a lot of players playing at a top level of competition to share around and the big three nations want to be able to pick from the best of the best to make themselves as competitive as they can.
The International Rugby Board (IRB) are the global governing body which set the sports’ international eligibility laws, the main points of which are:
A Player may only play for the senior fifteen-aside National Representative Team, the next senior fifteen-a-side National Representative Team and the senior National Representative Sevens Team of the Union of the country in which:
(a) he was born; or
(b) one parent or grandparent was born; or
(c) he has completed thirty six consecutive months of Residence immediately preceding the time of playing.
Unlike Rugby League, a player is excluded from appearing for another country (or Union as they call it) once they have played at senior level (1st team, 2nd team or Sevens team). The obvious exceptions are the representative teams that aren’t part of a ‘Union’ – The Barbarians pulled from all over the world, and the British & Irish Lions are examples.
Controversy over point (b), specifically the grandparent aspect, has been even more notable in the 15-a-side code than in league. ‘Grannygate‘ in 2000 concerned ineligible players turning out for Wales and Scotland – Wales also having question marks over other players’ eligibility around that time. With the scandals and the potential of players being eligible to represent up to 10 nations if birth, residency and 8 grandparents all lead to different nations claiming a stake, question marks have been raised over the continued use of the grandparent rules.
There have been attempts from New Zealand to introduce a law similar the that in league allowing players to represent more than one nation during their career, but these have been quashed, largely due to the fears that wealthier unions like England and France would look to poach players from smaller nations like Scotland and Wales – the countries that benefit most from the current set up.
Another issue that has recently come more into focus is the ‘next senior representative team’. For England that is clearly the Saxons, Ireland have the Wolfhounds, and other countries have the various ‘A’ teams – but not all countries do have a team at this level. For Wales, their next team could be seen as their Under 20s team. This has thrown up some question marks when players later in their career have looked to play for other countries, though maybe the word ‘senior’ in the eligibility rules has now put this to bed – I’m not sure.
FIFA controls football’s eligibility rules, although they aren’t set out in as simple and straightforward a way as the sports already discussed:
1. Any person holding a permanent nationality that is not dependent on residence in a certain country is eligible to play for the representative teams of the Association of that country.
2. With the exception of the conditions specified in article 8 below, any player who has already participated in a match (either in full or in part) in an official competition of any category or any type of football for one Association may not play an international match for a representative team of another Association.
1. A Player who is eligible to represent more than one Association on account of his nationality, may play in an international match for one of these Associations only if, in addition to having the relevant nationality, he fulfils at least one of the following conditions:
a) He was born on the territory of the relevant Association;
b) His biological mother or biological father was born on the territory of the relevant Association;
c) His grandmother or grandfather was born on the territory of the relevant Association;
d) He has lived continuously on the territory of the relevant Association for at least two years.
One curiosity immediately jumps out that applies to England – Associations (i.e. countries) sharing a common nationality (e.g. those in the UK) can amend part (d) of the above – just to complicate things!
Part (d) is also confused by the caveat of Article 7 that to acquire a new nationality, (a), (b) and (c) remain unchanged, but (d) becomes “He has lived continuously for at least five years after reaching the age of 18 on the territory of the relevant Association.”
Providing all of the above is satisfied, a player can change which ‘association’ he plays for, but only in the following circumstances:
1. If a Player has more than one nationality, or if a Player acquires a new nationality, or if a Player is eligible to play for several representative teams due to nationality, he may, only once, request to change the Association for which he is eligible to play international matches to the Association of another country of which he holds nationality, subject to the following conditions:
a) He has not played a match (either in full or in part) in an official competition at “A” international level for his current Association, and at the time of his first full or partial appearance in an international match in an official competition for his current Association, he already had the nationality of the representative team for which he wishes to play.
b) He is not permitted to play for his new Association in any competition in which he has already played for his previous Association.
2. If a Player who has been fielded by his Association in an international match in accordance with art. 5 par. 2 permanently loses the nationality of that country without his consent or against his will due to a decision by a government authority, he may request permission to play for another
Association whose nationality he already has or has acquired.
3. Any Player who has the right to change Associations in accordance with par. 1 and 2 above shall submit a written, substantiated request to the FIFA general secretariat. The Players’ Status Committee shall decide on the request. The procedure will be in accordance with the Rules Governing the Procedures of the Players’ Status Committee and the Dispute Resolution Chamber. Once the Player has filed his request, he is not eligible to play for any representative team until his request has been processed.
All very clear and not at all bureaucratic! One strength is it refers to a nations own laws of nationality – although this has brought about controversy with players previously becoming naturalised in a short space of time to a new country, that lead to the introduction of stronger five year rules in article 7, plus the written request rules of article 8.
As with other sports, the grandparent ruling, as well as the residency and naturalisation issues, has raised questions and controversy in football. I think the issue with football isn’t necessarily a player getting a ‘better offer’ like in Rugby League, or lying about their eligibility like in Rugby Union. The issue for people is that so many national teams now are filled with players who weren’t born in the country they play for, and these national teams are doing well – France in the late 90s, Germany since, for example.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) make the rules for cricket. I’ve left possibly the most complicated for last, so for a full picture follow the link, whilst I’ll try and simplify things. The ICC, to their credit, cover both the male and female game specifically in their rules. I, to my undoubted discredit, will focus solely on the rules as they apply to men.
The parent / grandparent rule isn’t included by the ICC in the rules, although a lot of countries allow someone born abroad take their parents nationality, which explains how Dirk Nannes played for Netherlands for example. The rules stipulate birth, nationality (possesses a passport. or through residency (residing in the country for 183 days in at least the four preceding years). There are additional development criteria for players looking to qualify through residency.
A player can switch nations, but only if they satisfy all the qualificaiton criteria and haven’t played in an intenrational match for another nation in the previous four years, unless they are moving up from an associate member (e.g. Ireland) to a full member (e.g. England). Players can only switch once, unless they revert back to the first nation they represented.
All this means no restrictions applied when Eoin Morgan moved from Ireland to England, but Kevin Pietersen had to satisfy further rules when he chose to play for England instead of South Africa.
The benefit of this system is the long term nature of what is required to represent another country. A serious commitment is undertaken. The drawback, as in other sports like Rugby League, is minor nations face difficulty in advancing – as soon as an Irish player shows good form in an ICC event or has a good county season, they most likely will get picked up by England.
The main controversy other eligibility in cricket has come from the amount of non-English born players representing England. For example, four of England’s top five in the 2010 ICC World T20 final were born outside England and had qualified for the team, including player of the match and player of the tournament. The reliance of one nation on players who’ve chosen to play in their colours rather than been born to them could be criticised.
Different countries earn different revenues and can offer different contracts to the players that represent them. Financial incentives can be a big draw in cricket. The West Indies Cricket Board have been in dispute with some of its players over the money they are paid, and not all national boards pay the same.
Team sports aren’t the only area of sports where nationality, and switching of nationality, have been news worthy – athletics has a few stories to tell for example, but lets stick to what I know!
To gain British nationality, as well as passing other entrance criteria, if you aren’t married to or in a civil partnership with a British citizen you need to have had five years legal residence in the UK. So, you can represent a British sports team before you can become a British citizen. Similar situations exist in other countries.
It seems strange to me that this is the case. Although the world is a more cosmopolitan and multinational place than in years gone by, surely pulling on a national shirt should mean something more than eligibility and a paycheck. We as fans don’t want to see our sporting heroes as mercenaries switching allegiance to the highest bidder. To some extent we accept it with the club teams we support, but it’s harder to do that with the national team.
So should the nationality rules of a country play a part? The problem with this is not all countries have the same rules or follow the same processes. It may mean those looking to represent a foreign country to their own will group to the same countries with the most lax nationality rules. This could create unfair situations.
Sports could group together. They could come up with a consistent set of rules that follow the same principles. I would like to see the additional qualification requirements seen in cricket be more widely applied. I think a true four or five year commitment to the sport in the country you want to represent shows dedication necessary. I would like to see a system where a player has to formally state that he is looking to qualify for a different nation than one he already qualifies for, rather than the national coach go looking for players who qualify for selection themselves. I would like to see limits on the amount of times players can switch nationality – the options in rugby league are too unrestricted that it could make a sham of international representative games, but football gives too little flexibility. Grandparentage also offers far too wide a choice and a chance of rule breaches.
If all sports could take any one of the options presented, I’d say choose cricket’s approach.
Big sports fan (Wigan Warriors, Manchester United, Pittsburgh Steelers, Lancashire County Cricket Club, St. Johnstone). Walking enthusiast.