Why international friendlies should prevent players switching allegiances

Declan Rice made his international debut for England in a 5-0 win over Czech Republic last night. Normally, seeing an exciting young talent turn out for England for the first time would be exciting, except Rice has already had an international debut… for the Republic of Ireland.

The 20-year-old has in fact represented the Boys in Green on three occasions in 2018, having qualified for their national team through his Irish grandparents.

Yet, in accordance with the FIFA rule book, Rice decided to switch allegiances earlier this year and pledge himself to the country of his birth, leading to him pulling on a Three Lions jersey at Wembley last night.

Now, I don’t have much of an issue personally with the West Ham United star wanting to switch over to Gareth Southgate’s England setup. Yes, it’s a bit of a slight on the Irish team that gave him a chance first, but the prospect of featuring in a youth-focused, exciting England side is alluring.

No, my personal issue is with the rule that allows for such changes in allegiance itself.

As per the guidelines of FIFA, any player is still able to represent another nation that they are eligible for up until the point they make a competitive appearance for one particular side. International friendlies do not count towards this, therefore allowing a player eligible for multiple nations to don the shirt of one respective national team, before making the switch to another perfectly within the laws of the game.

This was the exact situation that saw Rice now earn caps for both the Republic of Ireland and England. And he’s hardly the first to do so, either. Another notable player to have done so was Diego Costa, who in 2013 represented Brazil on two occasions, before making the switch to represent Spain the following year.

It makes a mockery of international friendlies, honestly, and while FIFA are attempting to combat that by introducing a greater number of competitive fixtures compared to friendlies – such as with UEFA’s Nations League – the situation is still able to occur.

There exists circumstances where a change in allegiance should be allowed. In the case of South Sudan and Kosovo, when both nations joined FIFA and became affiliated national teams, the world governing body allowed players to swap to those nationalities. That makes sense, given that before then, those national identities – at least in a footballing sense – weren’t able to be represented.

However, aside from those rare and extreme circumstances, players should be forced to commit to a national team the minute they played their first game for the national team, even if it was in an international friendly.

Wearing the shirt of your national team should be a huge honour, and that only continues to be the case if it is a true commitment that a player makes to representing that nation throughout their career.

If players are unsure, simply don’t commit and join a particular national team setup at that moment in time. There shouldn’t be an option to simply change halfway through.

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