Wednesday, July 11, 2007

International Eligibility

When the US U-20 national team played Poland on July 3, the match commentator made a comment touching on something I had been stewing over for a while. He said that Danny Szetela was eligible to play for Poland based on his heritage; Szetela's parents are native Poles but Szetela himself was born in New Jersey and has lived in the US his whole life.

Nigel Reo-Coker's transfer on July 5 brought up the same topic. Reo-Coker is of Sierra Leonean descent and has stated on multiple occasions that he would consider future call-ups to their senior national team, though he was the captain of the England U-21 team until recently, having become too old to play for the squad after the 2007 UEFA U-21 Championship which finished in June. He's lived in England since he was eight and played for England's youth senior teams and club teams and captained some of them along the way. Should he really be allowed to play for Sierra Leone? He's spent more than half his life in England, including the part of it where soccer played the bigger part. Ages 8-present are more important for soccer than anything younger than 8 because opportunities for rapid development and good coaching can be found as you get a bit older.

There are, of course, many other players who are in the same position as these two players; that is, they're eligible to compete for multiple countries, if their heritage allows, on the senior international level even after playing for one country on the youth international level. They can still play for another country at the senior level as long as they're uncapped with the senior team of the country they played their youth international games for. This ruled Freddy Adu out as he played for the US senior team on January 22, 2006 in a friendly against Canada. Adu could've played for Ghana even though he's lived in the US since he was eight and has played for youth international teams here, but that eligibility was terminated once he made a senior appearance with the US. It doesn't work backwards, however. A player can't play for one country's senior team and then still compete for another country's youth teams.

All of this, to me, is ridiculous. If you play for a country at the youth international level, that's the country you should have to play for at the senior level. FIFA currently organizes world championships at the U-17 and U-20 level, but countries have national teams for ages even younger than this; both the US and England have a U-16 team, for example. By that age, players should have enough maturity to decide what country (if they are eligible to play for more than one) they want to play international soccer for. Jumping from one country's youth teams to another's senior team shouldn't be permitted. That rule needs to be changed by the powers-that-be. What sense does it make?? The players that take advantage of this rule often exploit it to play for a country on whose senior team they would be able to play more for, perhaps because the country whose youth teams they played for is stacked at the senior level and there's no room for that player to play a part on the team.

How right is that? Doesn't sound logical to me. Playing for your national team is supposed to be an act of patriotism. It's not a right, it's a priviledge (as my parents said to me when I became old enough to drive). To put on that uniform is something time-honored and something that people who aren't blessed with the skills that those players have but still play the game would do anything for. You represent your country when you play for their national teams, at any level. But for some reason, it's permitted for players to, for lack of a better term, country-hop. What message does that send young players?

In Danny Szetela's case, I understand that his parents are from Poland. I'm sure they speak the language fluently and I wouldn't be surprised if Danny himself spoke it as well. Here's the reality though: He was born in New Jersey and has lived his whole life here. He shouldn't be allowed to play for Poland because he isn't Polish! His parents, if they played soccer, could play for Poland because they're native Poles, but Szetela is an American. There simply shouldn't be any way that could play for them. He's made it clear that he will only play for the US senior side if called up, and I applaud him for that, but that isn't the point.

Look, I know that some situations are different than others, some are the same, and some are completely unique. But the fact is, if you're mature enough to embrace the colors of one country at the youth international level, that's the country you should have to play for at the senior level. If there's any doubts in your mind as a player about who you want to play for as an adult, don't appear for any youth team until you've made your decision. Players take advantage of the rule that allows them to play for different teams and that shouldn't be the case.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Did you know that Chicago Illinois is the second largest "Polish city"? That's right, it has more residents of Polish birth and descent than all but Warsaw. Perhaps the announcer mistook portions of the US for Poland?