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Fifa vote to change rules around players' international eligibility

The new rules would, in theory, allow players in a similar situation to Michael Obafemi change their allegiance.

Declan Rice playing for Ireland in 2018, before he jumped ship and declared for England.
Declan Rice playing for Ireland in 2018, before he jumped ship and declared for England.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

FIFA TODAY VOTED to change the rules pertaining to players’ international eligibility. 

Players can now represent a second national team, provided they are eligible to represent that country, and have played no more than three matches for the first national team at senior level, with all the appearances coming before the player turns 21.

Appearances in World Cup finals matches or continental finals such as the Euros would also prohibit a player from switching, but appearing in a tournament qualifier – or the Uefa Nations League – would not.

Under the new rules, for example, Irish international Michael Obafemi could declare for England or Nigeria from next year, if he wished. Under the previous rules, his appearance in the 2018 Nations League tie against Denmark had tied him to Ireland for good. 

There’s no suggestion Obafemi has any interest in switching allegiance – we use that purely to illustrate how the new rules work. 

michael-obafemi File photo of Michael Obafemi. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The rules were changed at today’s Fifa Congress, conducted remotely owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. At the Congress, Fifa president Gianni Infantino confirmed this year’s Club World Cup may be postponed or cancelled outright. 

The competition, which brings together the club champions from the six regional confederations, is due to take place in December as part of the Middle East state’s preparations for hosting the World Cup in 2022.

However, delays to international club competitions – such as South America’s Copa Libertadores – mean it could be pushed back to 2021 or abandoned altogether.

Infantino told delegates from the 211 national associations gathered virtually for Fifa’s 70th Congress that the organisation was in good financial health despite the pandemic, “because the money doesn’t disappear any more”.

FIFA has launched a Covid-19 relief plan made up of grants and interest-free loans worth $1.5 billion.

He said Fifa’s murky past and victim status in a number of ongoing corruption cases was the reason why he had on many occasions met with prosecutors from a wide range of countries, including three meetings with Swiss attorney general Michael Lauber in 2016 and 2017 which are now the subject of criminal proceedings.

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“In 2015 Fifa was toxic, it was pronounced dead,” he said.

“It was an organisation that had served itself from football, had used football, instead of serving football.

“Why was I meeting the Swiss attorney general? Because it was my duty as Fifa president. I wanted to liberate Fifa from those old, toxic values.

“No organisation can be led into the future if you don’t resolve the past.”

Infantino said he had been given no new information related to the proceedings against him since they were opened at the end of July, but described the suggestion that they involved any illegal activity as “absurd” and “far-fetched”.

Fifa’s former secretary general Jerome Valcke is currently standing trial in Switzerland over alleged criminal mismanagement while in office in relation to the sale of media rights to Fifa competitions. He denies the charges he faces.

Fifa dropped a criminal complaint against another defendant in the same trial, Paris St Germain president Nasser Al Khelaifi, after reaching a settlement.

Asked why Fifa had not just let the case proceed, he said it was a matter for the organisation’s legal department and that the settlement was perfectly legal.

Al Khelaifi, who is a serving member of Uefa’s executive committee, denies a charge of inciting Valcke to commit criminal mismanagement.

 Additional reporting by Gavin Cooney

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