In recent radio discussions regarding the nature of FIFA's eligibility rules as they apply to Ireland, the chairman of the AONISC, Gary McAllister, argued for the introduction of a system compensation.
However, the whole idea that the principles of club football should apply to international football is fundamentally flawed. In fact it is best described as a "hopeless non-starter".
Daniel Collins wrote, in a comprehensive study of the eligibility situation in Ireland*, that there were many problems with the idea that the FAI should recompense the IFA when individual players decide not to play for the IFA and instead opt to hold out for a call up to FAI representative teams. Indeed, he argues that the IFA would be liable for so-called "poached" players such as Oliver Norwood and Lee Camp and even Johnny Gorman and Alex Bruce.
"The problem with a compensation argument is that it casts individual players as possessions of associations. The reality is that choice still ultimately rests with dual national players as to for who to declare, regardless of an association's future hopes and intentions for that player."
He continues to cite cases whereby players are adjudged to have retired "prematurely", namely George McCartney:
"Even if a Northern Ireland-born player was not to declare for the FAI, it would still be his right to refuse to represent the IFA regardless. By the same token as above, ought there be calls for individual players such as George McCartney to recompense the IFA for any losses accrued by the organisation in their development due to their later refusal to represent Northern Ireland?"
Perhaps most importantly, Collins suggests that, if the IFA attempted to introduce a contractual obligation for young players to remain "loyal" to their association, the consequences could arguably be much more severe for them:
"Beyond the hurdle of having a minor enter into an agreement of a legal and binding nature, such a contract, whilst, for the sake of argument, maybe having legal standing under the law of the state, would have no standing whatsoever under FIFA’s statutes. It would be in breach of the regulations and FIFA would in no way condone it as they expressly endorse the idea that not even a friendly game ought to tie a player to an association. Essentially, it would amount to an attempt by the IFA to transcend or subvert their rules, whichever way one wanted to view it. If a player breached such a contract, it would make no difference to FIFA as such a contract would not be regulated by their statutes. However, if the IFA then proceeded to ensure the contract was upheld in a court of law after what they considered to be a breach by the player concerned in order to deny this player his right to switch association under the Regulations Governing the Application of the Statutes, FIFA would promptly threaten to suspend the IFA from competition under what would amount to third-party involvement in the running of the association; a breach of articles 13 and 17 of their General Provisions."
If McAllister and those enlightened and inspired souls at the AONISC have not already read Daniel Collins' essay on the matter, they should do so soon, preferably before they clog up the airwaves with more uneducated and blindly pro-IFA babble.
Interestingly, on the same radio show, McAllister complained that certain callers and even the show host, Wendy Austin, were acting on an agenda and "sectarianising" the argument. He did so without foundation, I must add, and to my utmost amazement, it was not challenged. Similarly, when I asked McAllister, via Twitter, what exactly Gerry Armstrong was doing when he was "working tirelessly on player eligibility", the chairman of the AONISC scathingly, maybe somewhat intolerantly, told me, "As if I'd tell someone who opposes a cross-community NI team!", before adding the hash tag, "
Firstly, McAllister's crude assumption is false; I am not opposed to IFA's representative teams being cross-community entities and why would I be? I believe that their football teams are, always have been, and always will be, comprised of players from all communities and I contend that the idea of the FAI causing "football apartheid" is simply and utterly ludicrous. Secondly, as you might imagine, I don't think that I am "a little bigot". I am merely someone from a different background to McAllister, who happens to be a proponent of dual-national players having the choice of which national team they wish to represent. I do not, as a bigot might do, castigate any player for their choice, or try to remove that choice, regardless of who they choose to represent.
McAllister, and others, too often get away with labelling those who are in favour of the choice of people from Northern Ireland to play for either the IFA or the FAI as a result of their nationality as intolerant, divisive, sectarian bigots. In McAllister's case, as the chairman of the AONISC, should he really be leading from the front with such blinkered accusations? I'm sure that has endeared him to potential fans and players. On what grounds exactly, one also wonders, does McAllister come to these conclusions? I have yet to get an explanation.
I suppose I can seek some consolation in the irony of the fact that I was chastised and excluded by a man who says he champions all-inclusiveness.
*The entire essay can be found at this address: Player Eligibility in Ireland