Thursday, October 10, 2013

Eligibility and National Teams

Jack Wilshire, the Arsenal and England footballer, opened up a flood of commentary when he commented, apparently of Adnan Januzaj (who introduced himself to England and the world with 2 great goals for Manchester United last week), that,
"The only people who should play for England are English people. If you've lived in England for five years, for me, it doesn't make you English. You shouldn't play. It doesn't mean you can play for that country. If I went to Spain and lived there for five years, I'm not going to play for Spain. For me an English player should play for England really." 
Wilshire's comments come on the heels of revelations that England would look favorably on Januzaj attaining eligibility to play for England, presumably via securing British citizenship:
Football Association chairman Greg Dyke has revealed discussions have started regarding eligibility boundaries as the debate over Manchester United teenager Adnan Januzaj representing England rages on.

The Belgium-born winger has risen to prominence after his two goals at Sunderland and is available to play for the country of his birth, Albania, Kosovo, Serbia and Turkey.

Januzaj could also represent the England team in 2018 on residency grounds if he remains in the country for the next five years, with manager Roy Hodgson confirming he would be interested in selecting the winger if he became eligible.
The general question here is who should be eligible to play for which national team, a question make slightly more complicated because some "national" teams don't even represent nations -- England being a prime example. There are actually 10 members of FIFA whose citizens hold British nationality and 5 members who hold US citizenship.

Nationality designation is a rule, like any other constitutive decision process in sports governance -- like rules of play, or rules governing doping or rules governing World Cup site selection. As such the rules are perceived to be better or worse, and are open to re-negotiation.

The rule that Wilshire apparently dislikes comes from FIFA, and covers the conditions under which a player can change eligibility, which was actually not possible (in the modern era at least) before 2004 (source Omar Ongaro: PDF). That language evolved up to 2008, since which time is has been unchanged:
 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 for at least five years after reaching the age of 18 on the territory of the relevant Association.
 The five year residency period used byFIFA conveniently is one year longer than the World Cup cycle, ensuring that a star player in one World Cup cannot show up playing for another team in the next. The five year period is also the same time period required under British law for acquiring British citizenship.

Showing how sensitive Wilshire's comments were, British cricket player Kevin Pietersen -- born in South Africa, has an English mother and lived in England for 4 years before playing for England -- tweeted the following:
Football obviously has meanings to people that evoke deep (and sometimes even unhealthy) feelings of nationalism and even ethnic pride. These issues get wrapped up in what it means to play for  England -- or any team for that matter -- in a way that takes the issue far beyond the bloodless texts of constitutive decision making.

While Wilshire's sentiment may be romantic, I'd guess that Dyke's pragmatism will ultimately win out. On this note Pietersen had the last laugh:


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