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Blurred Nationalities: The list of the “23” and the eligibility rules at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. A guest Post by Yann Hafner (Université de Neuchâtel)

In 2009, Sepp Blatter expressed his concerns that half of the players participating in the 2014 FIFA World Cup would be Brazilians naturalized by other countries. The Official list of Players released a few weeks ago tends to prove him wrong[1]. However, some players have changed their eligibility in the past and will even be playing against their own country of origin[2]. This post aims at explaining the key legal aspects in changes of national affiliation and to discuss the regulations pertaining to the constitution of national sides in general[3].

The 32 national associations engaged in the final competition are bound by two sets of rules, namely the Regulations of the 2014 World Cup – Brazil and the Regulations Governing the Application of the FIFA Statutes 2013[4]. Their common purpose is to ensure that players have a genuine, close and credible link with the national association which selects them on its roster[5]. This is primarily ensured by the permanent holding of the nationality of the country of the national association in question[6]. It means that nationality must not be pegged to the residence of the player in a certain country[7]. Naturally, sanctions may apply in the case of a breach of these stipulations[8].

The global race to secure talent meeting this nationality requirement is not new. It appears that it has however reached a new level in light of the Diego Costa case since FIFA regulations do not prevent nor address the issue of dual call-up[9]. Many players, such as Manchester United midfield Adnan Janujaz (who actually just elected to play for Belgium a few weeks ago)[10], are placed in a difficult if not untenable position. They are indeed denied the right to refuse an international selection according to FIFA regulations even if they are called-up by both national teams they are affiliated to[11].

The recent Diego Costa saga put this issue under intense media scrutiny[12]. To summarize the issue, the Brazilian-born player had gained very few international appearances in the preliminary phase, playing exclusively friendlies for his country of birth, before acquiring Spanish nationality and moving to represent Spain at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. His choice was portrayed as traitorous by some officials of the Brazilian football federation. In light of this, imagine for one second the headlines of the worldwide press if Diego Costa had defeated Brazil during the knockout phase (28 or 29 June) or the grand final on 13 July 2014, if both teams had qualified for the second phase of the tournament. In the eyes of many, FIFA is responsible for allowing Diego Costa to play against his country of birth. However, this is overlooking that the acquisition of a new nationality and change of national associations are strictly regulated, and that such regulations are actually decided collectively by the members of FIFA. In this respect, it should be mentioned that the Brazilian Football Federation has not made any official move to modify the rules so far[13].


Acquisition of a new nationality

Article 7 of the 2013 FIFA Regulations reads as follow: “Any Player who refers to art. 5 par. 1 to assume a new nationality and who has not played international football in accordance with art. 5 par. 2 shall be eligible to play for the new representative team only if he fulfils 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 for at least five years after reaching the age of 18 on the territory of the relevant Association”.

Under this article, the acquisition of a new nationality must be distinguished with double nationality. Dual nationals by birth may elect to represent the national association of their choice. This is notably the case of football players born in Northern Ireland for instance[14]. They can play for the Irish Football Association (Northern Ireland) or the Football Association of Ireland (Ireland) as they can claim British and Irish nationalities at birth[15]. Of note, this article applies only to player who have acquired a new nationality before their first international appearance. If this is not the case, they will not be allowed to play for their new country. 

The “granny rule” and the five-year waiting period are the most controversial eligibility regulations. Some authors find indeed that gaining eligibility through a grandparent does not offer a link close enough with the country that the player wishes to represent. Consequently, they advocate that this provision be deleted from the FIFA regulations[16]. The waiting rule was introduced in order to protect national identity and young players[17] and thus, to prevent expedited naturalization of football players. It institutes a de facto prohibition to play at international level before the age of 23 years old when naturalized. This rule was challenged twice since its coming into force in 2008. First, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Federation and the Australian Federation sought laxer rules in order to include immigrant players in their national side. The FIFA Congress rejected this bid by 153 to 42 votes and the second submission for a change was even withdrawn before being put to vote[18]. This landslide vote shows that FIFA members are favoring the status quo.

 

Change of association

Article 8, paragraph 1, of the 2013 FIFA Regulations reads as follow: “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”

Appropriately seeking to balance the interests involved, this rule serves to monitor change of eligibility and protect the integrity of international competitions while respecting the rights of players to move from one country to another[19]. FIFA did not monitor such changes until the mid-1960s[20]. The world governing body for football introduced at that time the concept of an election of nationality and banned change of national association until 2003.


The FIFA Congress introduced a limited right to change national affiliation but it was first reserved for U-23 players only[21]. In 2008, FIFA extended this right to any player provided that they were dual nationals when they had played for their first country and had not played in an Official Competition at “A” level (i.e. with the first team of a national association)[22]. The chart indicates that the number of requests to change association increased dramatically after 2008. However, it has now stabilized at approximately 30 requests per year. In this respect, the 2014 FIFA World Cup does not seem to have had any effect compared to the 2010 edition combined with the new set of rules.

To date, 237 players have taken the opportunity to change national affiliation and 24 of them are currently participating in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. This represents approximately 10.10% of the 237 players and only 3.26% of the 736 players engaged in the competition. This figure is line with the 2004 Athens Olympics Games for instance where 2.6% of the athletes had change their sporting nationality[23]. It shows that the concerns of Sepp Blatter have not materialized and that the situation is currently under control. Therefore, there is certainly no urgent need to further strengthen the existing regulatory framework.


[1]For a mapping of ancestral and international connections between teams, see: Brazil 2014: Visualising ancestral and international connections between teams (http://codehesive.com/wc-ancestry/).

[2] If he had been fielded, Eduardo Alves da Silva would have been the first to play against his country of birth during the opening match (Brazil – Croatia: 2 – 1).

[3] This post will not address the issue of shared nationalities (art. 6 Regulations Governing the Application of the FIFA Statutes 2013) and change of association due to states authorities nor its process (art. 8 par 2 and 3 Regulations Governing the Application of the FIFA Statutes 2013).

[4] Available at FIFA.com.

[5] McCutcheon, National eligibility rules after Bosman, in: Professional Sport in the EU: Regulation and Re-regulation TMC Asser Press (Den Haag) p. 127.

[6] Article 5 par. 1 Regulations Governing the Application of the FIFA Statutes 2013.

[7] Article 5 par. 1 Regulations Governing the Application of the FIFA Statutes 2013.

[8] Fielding an ineligible player is sanctioned by the mandatory forfeiture of the game and a CHF 6’000 fine (article 8 par. 3 the Regulations of the 2014 World Cup – Brazil and article 31 FIFA Disciplinary Code).

[9] A situation of dual call-up may occur when a player, dual national and who has not elected a sporting nationality, is called by both associations he belongs to. This raises the issue of the right to refuse an international selection.

[10] According to the project Brazil 2014: Visualising ancestral and international connections between teams, Adnan Janujaz is the most connected player.

[11] Article 3 par. 1 – Annexe 1 – Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players 2012.

[12] See for example: Páez Romero, Regulations: Player eligibility: the Diego Costa case, in: World Sports Law Report, Vol. 12 issue 1 (January 2014); Margaritis, The Dynamics of nationality and football, in: LawInSport, 28 April 2014; Lovatt, Changing nationality in football: the FIFA rules that helped Brazilian Diego Costa play for Spain, in: LawInSport, 4 November 2013.

[13] This is probably due to the fact that the Brazilian Football Federation has lost only one player to the current FIFA regulations. It should be noted that Brazilian players who have never been selected nor have played in friendlies are not cast by FIFA statistics on change of eligibility.

[14] Hafner, La qualification des joueurs en équipe représentative au regard de la réglementation de la FIFA : le cas de la Coupe du monde 2010, n° 35.

[15] Cf. CAS 2010/A/2071 Irish Football Association v/ Football Association of Ireland, Daniel Kearns and FIFA, award of 27 September 2010.

[16] For instance: Hall, Fishing for All-Stars in a Time of Global Free Agency: Understanding FIFA Eligibility Rules and the Impact on the U.S. Men’s National Team, in: Marquette Sports Law Review, Vol. 23 Issue 1, p. 205.

[17] FIFA Congress 2011 – Minutes, p. 64.

[18] FIFA Congress 2011 – Minutes, p. 64 and FIFA Congress 2013, Minutes, p. 85.

[19] McCutcheon, National eligibility rules after Bosman, in: Professional Sport in the EU: Regulation and Re-regulation TMC Asser Press (Den Haag) p. 138. A general prohibition of change eligibility is likely to be deemed illegal. Cf. Oswald, First conclusions of the lecturers, in : La nationalité dans le sport : Enjeux et Problèmes, Editions CIES (Neuchâtel) 2006, p.201.

[20] Hall, Fishing for All-Stars in a Time of Global Free Agency: Understanding FIFA Eligibility Rules and the Impact on the U.S. Men’s National Team, in: Marquette Sports Law Review, Vol. 23 Issue 1, p. 194. Van den Bogaert, Practical Regulation of the Mobility of Sportsmen in the EU post Bosman, p. 348.

[21] Hafner, La qualification des joueurs en équipe représentative au regard de la réglementation de la FIFA : le cas de la Coupe du monde 2010, n° 44.

[22] Hafner, La qualification des joueurs en équipe représentative au regard de la réglementation de la FIFA : le cas de la Coupe du monde 2010, n° 45.

[23] Poli/Gillon, La naturalisation de sportifs et fuite des muscles. Le cas des Jeux Olympiques de 2004, in : La nationalité dans le sport : Enjeux et Problèmes, Editions CIES (Neuchâtel) 2006, p. 59.


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Asser International Sports Law Blog | International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – April 2017. By Tomáš Grell

Asser International Sports Law Blog

Our International Sports Law Diary
The Asser International Sports Law Centre is part of the T.M.C. Asser Instituut

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – April 2017. By Tomáš Grell

 Editor's note: This report compiles all relevant news, events and materials on International and European Sports Law based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. You are invited to complete this survey via the comments section below, feel free to add links to important cases, documents and articles we might have overlooked.

 

The Headlines 

The CAS award in RFC Seraing v. FIFA

On 10 March 2017, FIFA published a short press release which praised the long-awaited award delivered by the CAS in the appeal of the Belgian football club RFC Seraing against FIFA’s decision. The French version of the award is now available on the CAS’s website.

The dispute in question emerged from agreements concluded between RFC Seraing and Doyen Sports Investments Limited, a private investment company known for its engagement in the acquisition of professional football players’ economic rights (Doyen). These agreements allowed Doyen to (i) influence the independence and the policy of the Belgian club; and (ii) receive an indemnity payable in connection with the future transfer of certain players. In September 2015, the FIFA Disciplinary Committee held that by entering into these agreements, RFC Seraing violated Articles 18bis and 18ter of the Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (RSTP) prohibiting the third-party influence on clubs and the third-party ownership of players’ economic rights. As a result, the Belgian club was banned from registering players on a national and international level for four consecutive registration periods and obliged to pay a fine of CHF 150,000.

On appeal, the CAS Panel has confirmed that Articles 18bis and 18ter RSTP are valid under European law and Swiss law. Having considered the sanction imposed by the FIFA Disciplinary Committee on RFC Seraing disproportionate, the CAS Panel reduced the transfer ban from four to three consecutive registration periods. For an in-depth analysis of the award, we invite you to read the recent blog written by our senior researcher Mr Antoine Duval.

The CAS award in Olga Abramova v. International Biathlon Union

On 1 January 2016, WADA prohibited the use of meldonium for the first time. A few days later, Ms Olga Abramova, a Russian-born Ukrainian biathlete, underwent an in-competition doping control which revealed the presence of meldonium in her body. An independent investigation was conducted by the Anti-Doping Hearing Panel (ADHP) of the International Biathlon Union. On 14 November 2016, the ADHP rendered a decision in which (i) Ms Abramova was found to have committed an anti-doping rule violation (meldonium); and (ii) a one-year period of ineligibility was imposed on her. Eventually, Ms Abramova appealed the said decision before the CAS.

In its press release dated 19 April 2017, the CAS announced that the appeal filed by Ms Abramova had been partially upheld. The CAS Panel has found to its comfortable satisfaction that Ms Abramova fulfilled her obligation to ensure that meldonium did not enter her body after 1 January 2016 (i.e. the date when meldonium was added to the list of prohibited substances). In other words, Ms Abramova ‘could not reasonably have known or suspected even with the exercise of utmost caution that meldonium could still be detected in her blood after 1 January 2016’. Accordingly, the CAS Panel has cancelled the one-year period of ineligibility imposed on Ms Abramova. It should be noted, however, that, in accordance with WADA Guidelines, the CAS Panel has confirmed the disqualification of any results achieved by Ms Abramova between 10 January 2016 and 3 February 2016.

France investigates potential corruption linked to the selection procedure for the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cup

Following the United States and Switzerland, France has recently become the third country to open a criminal investigation into potential corruption relating to the selection procedure for the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cup finals which are scheduled to take place in Russia and Qatar respectively. The Parquet National Financier, a French authority responsible for law enforcement against serious financial crime, has reportedly interviewed the former FIFA President Mr Joseph Blatter. The former UEFA President Mr Michel Platini, who admitted in the past that he had eventually decided to cast his vote for Qatar following a lunch with the former French President Mr Nicolas Sarkozy and senior Qatari officials, has not been interrogated by French authorities yet.

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