The Irish Football Association has been left with nowhere else to turn in its bid to stop the Football Association of Ireland from picking Northern Ireland-born players.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport yesterday gave the FAI the green light to select any player born, or with a family tie, in Northern Ireland — effectively making the Republic side an all-Ireland team.
A decision by the CAS to allow Belfast-born Daniel Kearns to ditch Northern Ireland and switch his allegiance to the Republic of Ireland has handed the FAI an open ticket to pursue any player born on the island.
And after the IFA failed in repeated pleas to FIFA to enforce their interpretation of the international eligibility rules and put a stop to the FAI cherrypicking northern-born players, all avenues have now been exhausted.
The full findings of the CAS have yet to be made public, but the announcement yesterday that the appeal against Kearns’ switch was unsuccessful was enough to tell the IFA that the battle has been lost, as taking the case to the Swiss-based sports court was the last throw of the dice.
In a statement released by the IFA, who won’t make a full comment until the formal CAS announcement, president Raymond Kennedy said: “I am disappointed by today’s decision, but we will continue to develop our very successful and wide range of Football For All and community programmes in the areas of grassroots, domestic and international football to ensure that anyone available to play for Northern Ireland will want to do so.”
The FAI claimed victory in the eligibility wrangle, with chief executive John Delaney saying: “Today’s landmark decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport confirms the FIFA and FAI position on player eligibility.
“The ruling upholds the right of individual choice on this matter for players born north of the border.
“I would like to thank the many people from all parts of the island who were strongly supportive during this process and, in particular, recognise the determination of Daniel Kearns and his family to uphold his right as an Irish citizen to play for his country.”
The fight wasn’t about Kearns, who played for Northern Ireland’s under-19s less than 18 months ago, but is now a Republic of Ireland international at the same level.
He was only pinpointed because he is the most recent player to make the move, adding his name to a long list that includes Manchester United’s Darron Gibson as the most high profile player and the only one so far to win a senior cap for the Republic of Ireland.
The IFA took his case to FIFA previously, arguing that Northern Ireland-born players who don’t have a bloodline in the Republic through either a parent or grandparent born south of the border don’t qualify to play for the FAI’s teams — regardless of holding an Irish passport.
FIFA’s regulations seem to back-up that argument.
ARTICLE 15: Any person holding a permanent nationality that is not dependent on residence in a certain country is eligible to play for the representative teams of the association of that country.
ARTICLE 16: A player who, under the terms of art. 15, 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 lived continuously on the territory of the relevant association for two years.
The IFA’s interpretation differs from that of the FAI, who claim that dual nationality — with anyone born in Northern Ireland entitled to an Irish passport — allows them to select anyone born on the island of Ireland. FIFA — and now the CAS — agree leaving the IFA with little or no chance of overturning the latest decision.
The only hope now for the IFA is to challenge FIFA to either change their rules, by lobbying the world governing body and applying for an alteration to the statutes at a FIFA congress.
The other option is to ask for a special case to be made in Ireland, but as FIFA asked the two associations to reach an agreement themselves after calling them to headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland, that appears to be a remote possibility.