30 October 2009 ~ A new FIFA rule will change the life of Glasgow teenager Islam Feruz. The 14-year-old arrived in Scotland from Somalia seven years ago after being forced to flee his homeland. His family were housed in Glasgow's Castlemilk housing scheme, where Feruz was spotted by a Celtic scout, John Simpson, and brought into the club's youth system. Last season he became the youngest player to turn out for Celtic's Under-19 side and then came on as a substitute in the Tommy Burns tribute match at the end of the campaign. The former Celtic first team coach, who died last year, championed the Feruz family's case for asylum and made representations to the Home Office on their behalf.

The youngster has a lot to thank both Burns and the club for and his abilities suggest that he will pay them back in kind. Celtic are not the only beneficiaries. Last month, FIFA approved the Scottish Football Association's bid to rewrite international cap laws. Gordon Smith, the chief executive, succeeded in his request that a player should be able to represent Scotland despite not having a direct bloodline connection. Under the new criteria, a prospective international qualifies on the basis of having spent a minimum of five years in the school system of any one of the home nations and holding a British passport.

Immediately after the “Smith rule” gained FIFA approval, Feruz was included in the Scotland Under-17 squad and last week came on as a second-half substitute in their 2-1 defeat to Cyprus, creating his country's only goal. The talent of Feruz played a part in the SFA's bid but it is about much more than that. Scotland's immigrant and ethnic communities have expanded dramatically over the past decade. As Smith pointed out, denying a Somali or Bangladeshi youngster the opportunity to represent their adopted homeland at some point in the future would border on racism. Feruz is on record as saying he feels Scottish and considers the country his home. He will hopefully be the first of many and there are already others. Lacine Cherif, for example, is building a career at Kilmarnock after fleeing the Ivory Coast where he witnessed the execution of his father by rebel soldiers.

The declining standard of the national game means that Scotland needs to tap into every available talent resource but it is not the main reason for optimism. FIFA's new eligibility rule will allow Scotland to follow other European nations in embracing multi-ethnicity in sport. SFA-bashing is a national pastime in Scotland but the governing body should be applauded for their far-sightedness. The national team will reap the rewards in years to come but the impact on Scottish society will be just as significant. Martin Greig

Comments (12)
Comment by Broon 2009-10-30 19:47:43

aye, great new policy from the SFA, and Feruz is very highly thought of. I say Scotland should open up our doors to more African immigrants, while also inviting families from Brazil, Argentina and Spain too.

Comment by canarly 2009-10-31 09:50:05

and Ghana and the Ivory Coast........and Liverpool. Sorry you did mention Africa

Comment by MoeTheBarman 2009-10-31 15:20:07

"As Smith pointed out, denying a Somali or Bangladeshi youngster the opportunity to represent their adopted homeland at some point in the future would border on racism"

Of course it bloody wouldn't, it would recognise that the kid isn't bloody Scottish. I know Scottish football is a joke at the moment but adopting anyone who can kick a ball is pathetic, not far sightedness. What a crap article.

Comment by tactictoe 2009-10-31 17:34:04

Is Moe the barman a troll?

This rule offers a clear criteria over a players requirements for eligibility, and with immigration a central part of the world we live in this change to policy reflects that change in society, it makes total sense.

It is far more scrupulous than the links to past days of colonialism that have enabled France, for example to call up several players from days of plundering in Africa, that helped them to win the world cup. It was amusing to see Senegal play them at their own game four years later however...

But If you really want to trace back bloodlines and eligibility status then I would argue that no nation comes out of it looking particularly good.

Also, Matt Elliott, from the Scottish borough of Wandsworth, in addition to well known bravehearts Kris Commons and Andrew Driver may have something to say about your assessment of who should and shouldn't play for Scotland.

Comment by MyCatColin 2009-10-31 17:37:39

I'm not covinced by Moe - by adopting this position Scotland is simply falling into line with most other first world European countries - just off the top of me head Austria, Sweden, Germany Norway have all done similar with immigrant talent - not to mention the French definition of "nationality". AS for Scotland being a "joke", I'm also not too sure. I'd rather take the view it's actually more proportionate to what it should always have been - a diverting, but not wholly ebsorbing sporting pastime in a small European country. Our 120 years of punching way above our weight in terms of access to and influence on the English game tends to skew any reational analysis.

Comment by Broon 2009-10-31 21:20:58

Well no, it wouldn't be "bordering on racism" to tell a Bangladeshi he's not Scottish. But the point of this ruling is that if they've spent at least 5 of their formative years in Scotland, then they're not just Bangladeshi - they're Scottish too.

This kid Islam Feruz is, to me, more Scottish than eg. Danny Fox, George Boyd, Jay McEveley, Kris Commons, who qualify for Scotland despite never having spent a day here before their first call-up. Feruz has been here since he was 7, growing up here, he'll probably have a Scottish accent, and he says he's proud and wants to play for Scotland (as opposed to the above whos attitude is more like "well I'm not good enough for England, so Scotland will have to do").

Finally, it should be said that other countries have gone much further. Roger Guerrero has no Polish blood, he moved there at 24, lived there for two years then made his Poland debut. Eduardo also, no Croatian heritage, moved there at 16 for club football and three years later magically became Croatian. In comparison, Scotland are still being old-fashioned and self-restrictive.

Comment by kbmac 2009-11-01 15:10:59

I think it is a wonderful development and not just because it might unearth the odd wee gem of a footballer. By saying to Islam Feruz he can play for Scotland we are saying he is one of us. Not just a contributor to Scottish life but a fully equal and fully entitled part of our nation. To say he can play for his school, his football club but not his adopted country would be to say that he will never quite be one of us. Feruz is a Somali Scot just as we have generations of Italian Scots, Pakistani Scots, Indian Scots, Bangladeshi Scots, Chinese Scots. And as someone pointed out at least he wants to play for Scotland for the same reason as evry other boy at his school.

Comment by markrpoole 2009-11-02 10:05:21

Totally agree with everything MyCatColin, Broon and kbmac say above about this lad Islam and Scottishness. He's lived here since he's seven. In his heart and mind I'm sure he's Scottish.

But - and I may be nit-picking here - should the SFA be applauded for their far-sightedness? Or are they just doing exactly what everyone knows they should be doing? Trying as hard as they can to get as many talented Scottish players as possible eligible to play for Scotland? Especially when there are examples like Eduardo playing for Croatia. Isn't that their job? Mind you, I suppose that's progress...

Comment by MoeTheBarman 2009-11-02 19:43:45

I can assure you I'm not a troll... And just because every other country does it, it doesn't make it right. Eduardo the Croatian, my arse. It's purely an opinion thing so I guess we'll never agree but spending five years in a country does not change your nationality. He's a Somalian, Almunia is Spanish and Eduardo is Brazilian.

Comment by fogofeternity 2009-11-03 15:04:17

@MoeTheBarman - it's not an opinion thing though, it's easily measurable by the possession of a passport. If you're a passport holder then you're that nationality, there is no other objective measure.

Doesn't necessarily mean that it's *right* that someone gets rushed through for naturalisation because of a sporting talent. You may not agree with the idea of naturalisation at all. But it's all measured by the passport, and that's it. If I moved to France tomorrow and they gave me a passport, I'd be French - regardless of my interest in the country, knowledge of the language, or anything else.

'course, the passport argument kinda falls apart in the UK because Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland aren't actually countries. There's no such thing as a Scottish passport.

Comment by kbmac 2009-11-04 16:25:17

I think there is also something to be said for Gordon Smith's idea that it is more about spending formative years in the country as well which is being measured by a prolonged period in the adopted country schooling system.

I am more than comfortable to take someone who has been here since he was a kid rather than perhaps the Nacho Novo scenario where it purely is a badge of convenience as he would never ever get a cap for Spain. I'm not a big fan of the five year residency rule for people like Novo or Eduardo or Almunia but for a boy who has been here since he was seven I don't have a problem.

Comment by Dazza 2009-11-04 21:16:34

Funny, innit? Immigrants move to a new land, get slagged when they want to play for their "old county." Now one does want to play for his adopted home and the boy is told he still hasn't done right.

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