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
However, some players have changed their eligibility in the past and will even be
playing against their own country of origin.
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.
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. 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.
This is primarily ensured by the permanent holding of the nationality of the
country of the national association in question.
It means that nationality must not be pegged to the residence of the player in
a certain country.
Naturally, sanctions may apply in the case of a breach of these stipulations.
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.
Many players, such as Manchester United midfield Adnan Janujaz (who actually
just elected to play for Belgium a few weeks ago),
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.
Diego Costa saga put this issue under intense media scrutiny.
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.
of a new nationality
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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
The waiting rule was introduced in order to protect national identity and young
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.
This landslide vote shows that FIFA members are favoring the status quo.
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”
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.
FIFA did not monitor such changes until the mid-1960s.
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.
Congress introduced a limited right to change national affiliation but it was
first reserved for U-23 players only.
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
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
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.
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.