Football and the curious case of dual nationalities

Who do you play for- the country where you were born or the country where you were raised? FIFA has a unique heritage rule which states that if a player’s parents or grandparents were born in a particular country then that player is eligible to represent his country at the senior level internationally. In fact he can even play for his adopted country in the under-21 category and still switch over to the senior side of his birth country. This makes for a compelling case study.



Is it morally right for a player to switch over one fine morning and play for his birth country just because he thinks that he will not be picked for his adopted country? Do lots of smaller nations and even some giants in the international game take advantage of this rule to get ahead and enhance their squad quality? We can look at some curious happenings in the football world.

Wilfred Zaha actually played for the England U-21’s till he suddenly decided to play for his birth country- Ivory Coast in the recent African cup of Nations. We can look to Diego Costa, who has no inherent ties to Spain but calmly switched his allegiance from Brazil to Spain before the 2014 World Cup. Even more ridiculous is the case of Kevin Prince Boateng, who played U-21’s for Germany, played for Ghana in the 2010 World Cup and then suddenly retired after the tournament prompting calls that he used Ghana as a springboard for a high profile club move. Numerous cases like Mesut Ozil,Sami Khedira, Patrick Viera, Karim Benzema come to mind where we see players of other nationalities playing in their adopted country while holding dual passports.



There are two sides to this argument – on one hand we can say that in this new age of global interaction, boundaries between countries and cultures no longer act as barriers but instead foster a sense of multiculturalism and togetherness. On the flip side we regularly see smaller nations losing out on talent who prefer to move to established nations in the hope of winning silverware. So Surinam acts as a feeder belt for Holland- imagine if Seedorf,Kluivert, Davids had opted to play for Surinam or Klose, Podolski had actually played for Poland. Players also take advantage of this rule and ensure themselves a place in the international arena by switching allegiances at the drop of a hat. Is the heritage rule misused or is it a practical way of keeping international football relevant? Our own country, India is a prime example of this.



The Indian government has established a rule which allows only Indian citizens holding an Indian passport to play for the country. So we never get to pick the likes of Michael Chopra, Vikash Dhorasoo, Harmeet Singh, Simran Singh who might actually make our national team competitive with the experience and quality that they have. Our coaches rue the fact that all other countries take advantage of the heritage rule to boost their national team and improve their standing in international competition. There is a feeling that bringing foreign nationals might actually hamper the growth of homegrown talent and block the development of the juniors by taking away spots. On the other hand those of us who yearn for short term success and have for years been frustrated at the lack of quality Indian players will definitely welcome the influx of quality foreign stars. One can actually see the presence of a Michael Chopra being beneficial to the up and coming young generation who can tap the knowledge of these skilled veterans that have plied their trade in European leagues.



However you have examples such as Diego Costa who make a mockery of the heritage rule and pick and choose nations as if they are signing club contracts. How do you stop the misuse of rules by greedy players and federations looking for a spell in the limelight in order to enhance their reputation? Changing countries has become the equivalent of changing jobs where you can give interviews and get offers out of which you pick the best possible option. I know I would never want a Diego Costa playing for India even if it means never playing in the World Cup. Playing with your own countrymen gives you a sense of pride and joy that can never be achieved as a mercenary.



Maybe in the distant future we might see a sort of Bosman ruling in the international arena which might allow countries to sign foreign players on short term contracts. So we can fantasize about Messi playing alongside Iniesta for Spain or Cristiano Ronaldo playing with Neymar and winning the World Cup with Brazil. We might laugh at it now but if this thought actually becomes reality then it opens a Pandora’s box of questions.

A 48 team World Cup is just the beginning. Professional sport has become a murky world of politics where power games are played and rules are bended for individual gain. Eventually the World Cup is a trophy to be won that cements a player’s place in football folklore- so why not switch countries, after all we have all heard- everything is fair in love and war.