Soccer asylum - Xtratime Community
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post #1 of 1 (permalink) Old November 5th, 2004, 03:53 Thread Starter
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Soccer asylum

Imagine Canada accepting immigrants to save them from the persecution of not being able to play soccer for their homeland. Far fetched? Not really.

Three Brazilians get off an airplane in Qatar - and it's not a joke.

A very strange story emanates this week from the sweeping sands of Arabia, and while it may not ever affect the highest levels of international soccer, it has the potential to really stir things up further down the table.

The basics: FIFA recently relaxed some of its famously strict rules governing eligibility for international play. Under the new standards, anyone holding the nationality of any nation is eligible to don the national colours and go out for a kick-around.

Time was you had to play for the country where you were born. You could also play for your parents' homelands, as Canadian fans famously found out when Calgary soccer prodigy Owen Hargreaves chose England over his home and native land.

Pressure has been mounting for a new standard in recent years, mostly to ease the plight of players who have defected from countries living in the grip of tyrannical regimes. Why should they not be able to represent their new homes, they argue, when they cannot safely return to their old ones?

Good question. But opening that new and deserved door has - as it always will - opened other doors as well. Behind one of those less-deserving slots stands Qatar.

Currently ranked 57th in the FIFA world rankings, Qatar is a fabulously wealthy land on the Arabian peninsula. There's lots of ambition here to make big moves up the world soccer ladder, but this dry, desert nation is hampered by the fact that it produces world-class footballers about as often and easily as it sprouts wheat fields.

Money, however, is absolutely no problem. But how can money help them? Big-name soccer clubs buy and sell mercenary superstars all the time, but that's not possible in the international game.

Or is it?

The three Brazilians in question all play professional club football in Germany. None has ever represented Brazil internationally. That makes them eligible, Qatar argues, to play for any nation on earth willing to grant them citizenship - and a nice, fat packet of Petrobucks, besides.

Unless the rules get changed again, welcome, potentially, to the new world order. Nations like Qatar are now free to scour the world for that vast crop of hugely talented soccer players who will never be able to play for their incredibly talented national teams.

The numbers are enormous. How many Argentines know they'll never play for Argentina. Germans? Englishmen? Italians? Spaniards? There are literally scores of great players roaming the globe, permanently excluded from the World Cup. Why wouldn't they be tempted by a phone call from the Arabian desert?

Or, for that matter, from Canada.

Okay, the Canadian Soccer Association doesn't exactly have the money to lurk in the back corners of airports looking for disenfranchised soccer stars. And it certainly wouldn't be ethical to go shopping for citizenships.

But would we have to? Canada is one of the most desirable places on the planet to live. Clean, modern, rich, no wars - there are people all over the world who would drop everything and emigrate here on a half-second's notice. Canada currently sits 29 spots behind Qatar in the FIFA rankings. If teams above us are worming through loopholes in the rules to bolster their international soccer squads, can we afford not to?

Famous 14-year-old phenom Freddie Adu is not from the United States. But he will represent them internationally. Are the brightest future stars of Canadian soccer currently kicking taped-up footballs across dusty drought-stricken fields throughout the third world?

The huge ethical question: is it right to bring someone to Canada for the sole purpose of playing for our national soccer team?

Personally, I'm very uncomfortable with this. In these days of impure, imperfect professional sports, international soccer made it into the 21st century with much of its purity intact. Nothing's perfect, obviously, but it's still pretty much our guys against your guys, and you can't ship talent in from out of state.

But what if you can? What if all this is perfectly legal, both on the pitch and in the immigration hearing rooms? Do we content ourselves with watching Qatar try to pull away with their chequebooks? Do we answer with our democracy and lofty standard of living?

FIFA can end this entire conundrum by clarifying the rules. Sepp Blatter, the famously erratic president of soccer's world governing body, said recently he believes Qatar's actions contradict the spirit of the soccer laws. He has promised the loopholes will be closed.

But what if they aren't? Will Canadian soccer scouts currently prowling Malton and Moose Jaw have to jet off to Mali and Mauritius instead?

My deepest sense is that this is wrong. And I'll bet the vast majority of Canada fans agree with me. Yeah, we'd love our teams to be stronger, but we want to get there with Canadian kids.

No one wants to turn away a deserving immigrant who has come to our blessed land for any of a thousand valid personal and political reasons. If they happen to be great footballers, as well, bless your hearts and come on down. But we shouldn't have to scour the world and lure players with cash and citizenships. That may be fine for Arsenal and Real Madrid, but it's got no place on the national team level.

I deeply feel Qatar's actions are bad for the integrity of international soccer. I hope FIFA shuts this shady medicine show down - before it rolls around the world and changes everything.

So, which players should we give out Canadian citizenships to? Ronaldinho is a must if you ask me!
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