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