26 May 2006

Passports row: FIFA tells IFA to go British

Belfast Telegraph

By Geraldine Mulholland
25 May 2006

FIFA, governing body of world football, today insisted that footballers playing for Northern Ireland must carry British passports, the Telegraph can reveal.

A political storm erupted since it emerged last month that the Irish Football Association (IFA) advised internationals to carry British identification to ensure eligibility, with SDLP Assemblyman for Foyle, Pat Ramsey, threatening legal action and the Northern Ireland team this week receiving an angry reception when they arrived at GAA grounds in Chicago for an official engagement.

Mr Ramsey said the demand was contrary to the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

IFA chief Howard Wells sought clarification from FIFA after facing criticism from nationalist leaders.

But FIFA has made a ruling which, it claimed today, is based solely on "practical sporting reasons", although it said it is aware of Northern Ireland's "unique" situation.

A spokesman said: "FIFA has sent a letter to the Football Association of Northern Ireland yesterday on the subject.

"As you know, the nationality of a player is the first and foremost criterion to establish whether he or she is eligible to represent a football association.

"Consequently, it is the match commissioner's duty to ensure that each and every player on the pitch meets this requirement. In order to do so, the match commissioner is dependent on an official document that proves the nationality of the player.

"The situation of players born in Northern Ireland is, indeed, rather unique, since these players can, as a general rule, be entitled to represent various associations, namely the four British and the Irish Republic.

"FIFA is aware of the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement.

"However, the mere fact that a person is a holder of an Irish Republic passport does not constitute a conclusive evidence for a match commissioner to know that this player is entitled to represent Northern Ireland.

"Consequently, FIFA requires players to hold the passport of the association that they are wishing to represent, in order to allow the match commissioner to verify their eligibility."

Mr Wells said he has received notification of the ruling.

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