FIFA eligibility rules
As the governing body of association football, FIFA is responsible for maintaining and implementing the rules that determine whether an association football player is eligible to represent a particular country in officially recognised international competitions and friendly matches. In the 20th century, FIFA allowed a player to represent any national team, as long as the player held citizenship of that country. In 2004, in reaction to the growing trend towards naturalisation of foreign players in some countries, FIFA implemented a significant new ruling that requires a player to demonstrate a "clear connection" to any country they wish to represent. FIFA has used its authority to overturn results of competitive international matches that feature ineligible players.
FIFA's eligibility rules also demand that in men's competitions, only men are eligible to play, and that in women's competitions, only women are eligible to play.
Historically, it was possible for players to play for different national teams. For example, Alfredo di Stefano played for his country of birth, Argentina (1947), for Colombia (1949) and for Spain (1957–61).
Di Stefano's Real Madrid team-mate Ferenc Puskás also played for Spain after amassing 85 caps for Hungary earlier in his career. A third high-profile instance of a player switching international football nationalities is Jose Altafini, who played for Brazil in the 1958 FIFA World Cup and for Italy in the subsequent 1962 FIFA World Cup.
Other 20th century examples of players officially representing more than one country – excluding those resulting from changes to geopolitical borders e.g. East Germany/Germany, Soviet Union/Ukraine, Yugoslavia/Croatia – are:
- Law Adam – (Switzerland and Netherlands)
- Joe Gaetjens – (United States and Haiti)
- Marius Hiller – (Germany and Argentina)
- László Kubala – (Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Spain)
- Raimundo Orsi – (Argentina and Italy)
- Luis Monti – (Argentina and Italy)
- Michel Platini – (France, and later 21 minutes in a friendly for Kuwait on invitation by the Emir)
- José Santamaría – (Uruguay and Spain)
- Alberto Spencer – (Ecuador and Uruguay)
Furthermore, some international players have played for another FIFA-recognised country in unofficial international matches, i.e. fixtures not recognised by FIFA as full internationals. This category includes Daniel Brailovsky who played for Uruguay youth teams, was featured in camps for Argentina and years later officially represented Israel; England international Gordon Hodgson, who has an amateur cap for South Africa, and the aforementioned di Stefano, who also has four caps for Colombia. These caps are not officially recognised due to a dispute between FIFA and the Colombian Football Federation at the time.
Since 2004, FIFA has implemented a series of significant changes to the rules covering international eligibility. The new rulings are more stringent and set additional requirements that determine which country a player may represent in international football.
In January 2004, a new ruling came into effect that permitted a player to represent one country at youth international level and another at senior international level, provided that the player applied before their 21st birthday. The first player to do so was Antar Yahia, who played for the France under-18s before representing Algeria in qualifiers for the 2004 Olympic Games. More recent examples include Sone Aluko, who has caps for the England under-19s and Nigeria, and Andrew Driver, a former England under-21 representative who is committed to the Scotland national team.
In March 2004, FIFA amended its wider policy on international eligibility. This was reported to be in response to a growing trend in some countries, such as Qatar and Togo, to naturalise players born in Brazil (and elsewhere) that have no apparent ancestral links to their new country of citizenship.
An emergency FIFA committee ruling judged that players must be able to demonstrate a "clear connection" to a country that they had not been born in but wished to represent. This ruling explicitly stated that, in such scenarios, the player must have at least one parent or grandparent who was born in that country, or the player must have been resident in that country for at least two years.
In November 2007, FIFA President Sepp Blatter told the BBC: "If we don't stop this farce, if we don't take care about the invaders from Brazil towards Europe, Asia and Africa then, in the 2014 or the 2018 World Cup, out of the 32 teams you will have 16 full of Brazilian players."
The residency requirement for players lacking birth or ancestral connections with a specific country was extended from two to five years in May 2008 at FIFA's Congress as part of Blatter's efforts to preserve the integrity of competitions involving national teams.
The relevant current FIFA statute, Article 17: Acquisition of a new nationality, states:
Any Player who ... [assumes] a new nationality and who has not played international football [in a match ... in an official competition of any category or any type of football for one Association] shall be eligible to play for the new representative team only if he fulfills 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 the criteria generally, it is possible for a player to have a choice of representing one of several national teams. Defender Nikola Vujadinović, for example, would be eligible to play for the senior teams of Serbia, Montenegro or Bulgaria. It is not uncommon for national team managers and scouts to attempt to persuade players to change their FIFA nationality; in June 2011, for example, Scotland manager Craig Levein confirmed that his colleagues had started a dialogue with United States under-17 international Jack McBean in an attempt to persuade him to represent Scotland in the future.
In June 2009, FIFA Congress passed a motion that removed the age limit for players who had already played for a country's national team at youth level to change national associations. This ruling features in Article 18 of the Regulations Governing the Application of the FIFA Statutes.
Players are generally not allowed to switch nationalities but friendly match appearances do not commit a player to one country; Jermaine Jones played three friendlies for Germany in 2008 but has played for the United States since 2010. Thiago Motta has three caps for Brazil in matches deemed friendlies for Brazil (participation in the CONCACAF Gold Cup as a non-conference guest team) and now represents Italy. A third instance is Belgium-born midfielder Mehdi Carcela-González, who has two caps for Belgium in official friendly matches, but has played for Morocco since 2011. A FIFA Player's Status Committee is responsible for making such judgements.
FIFA takes punitive action against teams that field ineligible players. In August 2011, FIFA expelled Syria from the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualification process following the appearance of George Mourad in a senior qualification match against Tajikistan. Mourad had made friendly match appearances for Sweden earlier in his career, but had not requested permission from FIFA to change national associations prior to playing for Syria.
Although, not explicitly stated in the FIFA statutes. There are seemingly no restrictions on players who wish to switch national associations at youth level providing they play in non-official matches.
- Alex Zahavi has represented the Portugal under-17 national team in the 2007 UEFA European Under-17 Championship qualifying round (an official). He later represented Portugal U18 and U19 teams in friendly competitions. In October 2010, he represented US U-20 and scored in a friendly game versus Colombia.
There are 25 FIFA member associations that share a common nationality with at least one other FIFA member association.
In these instances, under Article 6.1 of the Regulations Governing the Applications of Statutes, FIFA Statutes, (Nationality entitling Players to represent more than one Association), if a player was not born in the member associations' territory and does not have a parental or grand-parental blood relative that were born in the territory, the player is able to represent another member association that shares the same common nationality after two years residency.
|U.S. nationality||American Samoa||Guam||Puerto Rico|
|United States||U.S. Virgin Islands|
|British nationality||Anguilla||Bermuda||British Virgin Islands|
|Turks and Caicos Islands||Wales|
|Chinese nationality||China PR||Hong Kong||Macau|
|Danish nationality||Denmark||Faroe Islands|
The exception to this are the 'Four British Associations' of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Together the four associations have decided that they do not want to offer eligibility to represent their national team after two years residency to otherwise-ineligible British players. (see Home nations 2009 agreement)
Home nations agreement
Due to the United Kingdom's position in world football as a sovereign state that has four national teams, there has been a series of additional agreements between national football associations of the United Kingdom; England (FA), Scotland (SFA), Wales (FAW) and Northern Ireland (IFA). The latest agreement came in 2010 and was ratified by FIFA.
The purpose of the agreement is two-fold, it lays down the conditions determining which of the home nations a player from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales may represent and also prevents players without sufficient ties to Britain representing a home nation, even though they may hold or acquire British nationality.
In 1990, Nigel Spackman wanted to be called up by Scotland during his time at Rangers F.C. through his Scottish grandfather. However at the time, the four British Associations did not choose to accept players without parents pertaining to the nation. The Herald reported that "until recently that would have been enough to give him qualification to play for Scotland. But under an agreement by the four home associations it is not enough any more."
Foreign-born British nationals
The agreement is often erroneously thought to be a response to cases similar to Maik Taylor, who was born in Germany to an English father and chose to represent Northern Ireland at international level despite having no ties to the nation. Taylor was called up to Northern Ireland in 1998, five years after the 1993 (gentlemen's) agreement was in place. The agreement was forgotten about when Taylor was called up.
Taylor was eligible to play for Northern Ireland due to FIFA regulations allowing him to. The relevant statute of the time read: "Any player who is a naturalised citizen of a country in virtue of that country’s laws shall be eligible to play for a national or representative team of that country." As there is no Great Britain national team, he was eligible to choose a "representative team of the country" and opted for Northern Ireland. Players in the same situation today would only be allowed to represent the territory of their (grand)parent's birthplace as the clause has been amended to refer to the Football Association's "territory" and not "country".
On the occasion of the meeting of the International Football Association Board on February 27, 1993 the four British associations ratified the following agreement, which came into force on February 1, 1993, on the criteria which should determine the eligibility of the player to be selected for one of the national teams of the British associations:
- His country of birth.
- The country of birth of his natural mother or father.
- The country of birth of his natural grandmother or grandfather.
- Where the player, both natural parents, and both natural grandparents are born outside the UK, but the player is the holder of a current British passport, he may play for the country of his choice."
— Scottish Football Association
David Johnson was a Jamaican international who had played four games for the Caribbean nation, his most recent games was a friendly against United States on 9 September 1999. He had previously played for the England B team and had been an unused substitute for the England under-21s. In late September 1999, the Ipswich Town forward was called up by Wales (and withdrew from the squad due to injury) and later Scotland. The Welsh and Scottish FAs believed he was eligible to play for them. Johnson was a Jamaican immigrant who was raised by foster parents in England, and he believed he could choose which UK nation to represent, the (English) Football Association (FA) had advised the player's agent that the international change of allegiance could go ahead.
However the SFA discovered that as he had an English mother, he was not able to represent any Home nation other than England as a result. The SFA had chosen to abide by the agreement, unlike the Irish Football Association (IFA), who in addition to courting David Johnson had capped German-born Maik Taylor the previous year. Taylor was in the same situation as Johnson, he was born outside of the UK with one English parent. The Herald reported that: "It is important to highlight, that under the agreement signed by the four British associations, the UK passport clause is only operative in the event that the player, his natural mother and father and his natural grandparents, are all born outside the United Kingdom." 
A Football Association of Wales (FAW) spokesman Cerri Stennett said that they were "extremely puzzled by this development" and they thought "he was eligible to play for any of the four home countries and that's why Lawrie McMenemy wanted him for Northern Ireland as well." Stennett stated that FIFA gave clearance to Johnson switch allegiance to Wales' national squad and "he was on the substitute's bench for a match." 
Speaking in January 2000, Craig Brown clarified issues "I was told by FIFA that David Johnson was totally eligible and twice I called his club manager George Burley and he told me he was totally eligible. But I was assuming that FIFA were aware of our home countries agreement and apparently they weren't. I did not think I could get any higher authority than FIFA so if we play David Johnson tomorrow they would not complain and if we played him at Wembley, there would not have been a problem with FIFA. But there was the agreement with the four nations."  Johnson never played at full international level again.
Under Lawrie McMenemy's stewardship, Northern Ireland went through a phase of trying to call-up players who had no links to a UK nation, Northern Ireland attempted to call up Germany-born Maik Taylor, Nigeria-born Dele Adebola and Jamaica-born David Johnson. McMenemy's successor Sammy McIlroy was not pleased with his predecessor's policy, upon being appointed as Northern Ireland manager he said: "It's farcical chasing players with absolutely no connection to our country,"
Former FA executive David Davies confirmed that England had once considered calling up Italian Carlo Cudicini, Brazilian Edu and Frenchmen Steed Malbranque and Louis Saha during Sven-Göran Eriksson's time as England manager.
In February 2004, there was a lot of media speculation in Scotland about the possibility of Frenchman Didier Agathe and Italian Lorenzo Amoruso playing for Scotland. Berti Vogts, the German head coach of Scotland, appeared to be in favour of fielding the players. Scotland's playing captain Christian Dailly felt differently, telling the Daily Record newspaper that "I don't care if they call in Zinedine Zidane. I would rather lose with a team of Scots than win with a team of foreigners. This is not a club side we're talking about it's SCOTLAND...I know the players will definitely be against it".
Ahead of a meeting with the other home associations, SFA executive David Taylor urged caution ahead of calls to opt out of the agreement, he said: "We have to watch it does not become a free-for-all with the home countries trying to get the best players available," "It goes to the heart of why we exist as a separate country and could force people into asking why we do not have a UK football team."  On 1 March 2004, the four British associations voted to retain the agreement.
In January 2006, Northern Ireland manager Lawrie Sanchez had his hopes of bringing in players, born outside Northern Ireland but who hold a British passport dashed. Irish FA chiefs told Sanchez he could only select players who have a history with Northern Ireland. Sanchez spoke of his frustration with the rule: "I must stick by the British agreement which says that you shouldn't approach a player unless he has family ties with that particular country.
"It's frustrating but my job is to manage the Northern Ireland international team and theirs (the Irish FA) is to make policy.
"I must continue to work with the players I have and I'm very happy to do that.
The wording of the agreement was adjusted and published by FIFA in December 2006.
3. British associations
- 1 There is a specific agreement, stipulating the conditions to play for a national team, for the four British associations134. Besides having British nationality, the player needs to fulfil at least one of the following conditions
- a) he was born on the territory of the relevant association;
- b) his biological mother or father was born on the territory of the relevant association;
- c) his grandmother or grandfather was born on the territory of the relevant association.
- 2 If a player has a British passport, but no territorial relationship as provided for in conditions a-c above, he can choose for which of the British associations he wants to play135.
- 134 England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
- 135 e.g. a player who was born on the Cayman Islands and holds British nationality
In October 2008, Spanish striker Nacho Novo said that he would apply for a British passport if it meant he'd become eligible to play for Scotland. The SFA stated that he would not be eligible as they would abide by the agreement.
The agreement was completely revised in 2009 following a rewrite of the FIFA statutes in 2008. The loophole regarding British players born abroad and selecting a national team had been closed and then reopened. The revised ruling also removed the possibility of ineligibility due to a foreign-born adopted player having no parental or grand-parental links to a nation, as it is based on where the player is educated before the age of 18.
- Removal of residency clause
The home nations have agreed to remove a clause that enables players to gain eligibility for one of the eight national teams due to residency. The FIFA statutes state that "Associations sharing a common nationality may make an agreement under which item (d) of par. 1 of this article is deleted completely or amended to specify a longer time limit". The clause removed is:
(d) He has lived continuously on the territory of the relevant Association for at least two years—FIFA Statutes (August 2014 edition)
If the home nations' associations had chosen not to remove or alter the 'd' clause and instead use the default FIFA statute clauses, players with a home nation nationality would be able to transfer to a club in another home nation and be eligible for that national team after a period of two years (providing they have not been capped or played in an official competition for a nation).
- The education clause
In February 2009, the Scottish FA's Gordon Smith put forward a proposal that would allow players educated in the FA's territory who otherwise had no blood connections to the nation to become eligible to represent the nation. The rule was ratified by FIFA in October 2009.
In June 2010, FIFA approved a minor rewording of the criteria. The introduction of the new clause allows a player to gain eligibility for a British national team if he receives 5 years of education in the territory of the relevant association:
d) He has engaged in a minimum of five years education under the age of 18 within the territory of the relevant association.—Home nations agreement
As a direct result of the clause change, English-born Andrew Driver became eligible to play for the Scotland national team in June 2012. Driver was initially only eligible to represent England's national team despite living in Scotland since the age of 11. Andy Dorman, who had previously been ineligible for Wales despite living in Hawarden for most of life became eligible to represent Wales. He was called up in November 2009 and made his début for Wales on 23 May 2010 against Montenegro at the Stadion Gradski.
The criteria for eligibility to represent a home nation is:
- 1. A Player who, under the terms of art. 5, 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 engaged in a minimum of five years education under the age of 18 within the territory of the relevant association.
— Home nations agreement
It is worth noting that the historic county of Monmouthshire, sometimes claimed to have been legally part of England from the 16th century until 1974, has been "on the territory of the association" of Wales since 1890. The South Wales and Monmouthshire FA was formed in that year, and was answerable to the FAW from the start.
The Irish dispute
Players born in Northern Ireland have a right by birth to Irish and British citizenship which entitles them to be selected for the representative teams of the Irish Football Association (IFA - Northern Ireland) as well as of the Football Association of Ireland (FAI - Republic of Ireland). In contrast, players born in the Republic of Ireland do not have such dual-nationality from birth and, as a consequence, are confined to playing for the teams of the FAI and cannot play for Northern Ireland unless they have a parent or grandparent who was born there. This has been a long-running cause for concern for the IFA.
Belfast-born Daniel Kearns, a player who was not born within the Republic of Ireland, had not lived in the Republic of Ireland and had no parents or grandparents from the Republic of Ireland chose to represent to Republic of Ireland having previously represented Northern Ireland. This was a cause for consternation for the Irish FA who subsequently complained to FIFA that they felt the player should be ineligible to represent the Republic of Ireland.
IFA complained to FIFA about FAI calling upon players from within Northern Ireland. FIFA responded: “As the FIFA Legal Committee understands it, the situation in Northern Ireland is such that all Northern Irish footballers could opt to play for your association teams, given that they have a birthright to an Irish passport. Evidently, the same is not applicable to the footballers of the Republic of Ireland, who do not have such a claim to a UK passport. This means that the [IFA] is exposed to a one-way situation, where players can choose to play for your association teams but the vice versa is not possible. This circumstance is rather unique and the FIFA Statutes and regulations do not provide for a solution”.
In 2007, the FIFA Legal Committee invited the FAI voluntarily to confine itself to selecting for its association teams Northern Irish players who meet one of the following requirements: a) the player was born in the Republic of Ireland, b) his biological mother or father was born in the Republic of Ireland, c) his grandmother or grandfather was born in the Republic of Ireland, or d) he has lived continuously, for at least two years, in the Republic of Ireland.
FIFA also proposed an agreement between the Irish FA and the Football Association of Ireland which read:
"(…) every player born on the territory of Northern Ireland, holding the UK nationality and being entitled to a passport of the Republic of Ireland or born on the territory of the Republic of Ireland and holding the Irish nationality could either play for the [FAI] or the [IFA], under the condition that all other relevant prerequisites pertaining to player’s eligibility for a specific Association team are fulfilled"
FAI favoured the proposal, the IFA did not. Following the IFA's rejection, FIFA told the IFA that they had "concluded to adhere to the status quo".
In 2010, the IFA challenged the FAI in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). CAS concluded that the Irish FA "cannot reasonably claim that Mr Kearns’ situation is to be equated with shared nationality as provided under Article 16 or that he requests a changed of association from a starting point of a shared nationality. His situation, with respect to his Irish nationality, is not governed by Article 16, but by the general principle set forth by Article 15 par. 1 of the said Regulations. No further connection (as described by Article 16) has to exist between Mr Kearns and the Republic of Ireland to make him eligible to play for the FAI’s representative team."  In other words, despite Kearns not being born in Republic of Ireland or having parents or grandparents from Republic of Ireland, he was eligible to represent the Republic of Ireland, by virtue of articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution of Ireland and sections 6 and 7 of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956, as he was born on the island of Ireland and is entitled to Irish citizenship.
According to FIFA's gender verification policy agreed on 30 May 2011, 'for FIFA men’s competitions, only men are eligible to play. For FIFA women’s competitions, only women are eligible to play'.
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