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Republic switch footballer Duffy now at centre of diplomatic row

Until recently he was a low profile footballer struggling to make his name at Everton.

But Shane Duffy’s decision to switch allegiance from Northern Ireland and play for the Republic has placed him at the centre of a diplomatic row.

The 18-year-old from Londonderry had played for Northern Ireland up to U21 level and was included in the full squad last year.

He was on course to win his first cap in next month’s clash against Albania but has now told NI boss Nigel Worthington he wants to run out for the Republic instead.

The centre-back’s controversial decision has rocked Northern Ireland football and has forced the Irish Football Association (IFA) to take the unusual step of going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in a bid to stop the drain on its players.

“The Association is keen to stress that it does not take this course of action lightly but in light of recent events and potential future issues, it believes it has no other choice regarding the resolution of player eligibility,” it said in a statement.

“The current situation that exists puts the IFA at a clear disadvantage against all other 206 associations.

“The Association has worked hard on its ‘football for all' programme being at the heart of everything we do and we spend a substantial amount of money on grassroots and youth international programmes and this must be protected for the good of football in Northern Ireland.”

Under the current rules the IFA accepts that Duffy, whose father was born in Letterkenny in Co Donegal, is eligible to play for Giovanni Trapattoni’s team.

However, the Northern Ireland governing body will argue that other players such as Manchester United’s Darron Gibson and Marc Wilson of Portsmouth, whose parents and grandparents were born in Northern Ireland, should not be allowed to represent the Republic.

Gibson has already won an Irish cap while Wilson has been included in the squad to play Brazil next week.

The long-standing row dates back to the 1921 partition of Ireland when two separate teams were set up for footballers living north and south of the border. At that time a number of players represented both teams but FIFA put a stop to it and made them choose one team or the other.

However FIFA’s ambiguous rules have created a loophole which allows players to switch teams if they have lived in the Republic for two years.

This current wrangle has been going on since about 2004 and the Northern Ireland governing body had hoped that the issue would be resolved at a FIFA meeting in December 2007.

At that time the international gathering failed to resolve the issue.

“If there is a real dispute ... they will have to submit it to the Court of Arbitration,” FIFA spokesman Andreas Herren said.

More than two years down the line the IFA has decided to take its chances there.

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