Changing nationality in football: the FIFA rules that helped Brazilian Diego Costa play for Spain

Published 04 November 2013 | Authored by: Adam Lovatt

With the World Cup fast approaching, this blog looks at the case of Diego Costa who has chosen to represent Spain rather than Brazil in the tournament next summer and considers the implications that this decision may have on the event and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Jack Wiltshire caused a great deal of controversy from various sporting figures in the United Kingdom in early October when he indicated that, in his view, only people born in England should be eligible to play for the English national football team.The debate in this country has died down for the time being, however it has intensified in Spain and in Brazil in light of the decision made by Diego Costa to represent the current World Cup holders rather than the World Cup hosts next year.2

Costa stated following his decision that "I have family in Brazil and it is the country where I was born. I hope that God allows me to play there again." Costa is currently playing in Spain for Athletico Madrid and has started the season in sparkling form. He was however born in Lagarto in Brazil but was not selected for the Brazilian squad for the Confederations Cup this past summer. His decision to play for Spain is somewhat surprising considering that the attacking options which that country has include the likes of Torres, Villa, Soldado and Negredo whereas Brazil have less top quality strikers with the exception of Neymar. However, as all his adult life has been spent in Europe (he first moved to Portugal in 2006), it can be assumed that Costa feels more at home in his current location of Spain rather than his place of birth.

Article 7 of the Regulations Governing the Applications of Statutes, FIFA Statutes, is the key provision which Costa has been able to rely upon to allow him to choose to represent Spain. This Clause provides that a player who plays for a continuous period of over five years after reaching the age of 18 in the territory of the relevant national association, can play for that national association in international football providing that they have not played an official competition match for another national state (it should be noted that Costa would not qualify to play for Spain on any other grounds).3

What makes the case of Costa rather curious is that he has already played for the Brazilian national team earlier this year, making his debut as a substitute in the 2-2 draw in the friendly match with Italy in Geneva.A second appearance was made in a subsequent friendly against Russia in London. These international matches took place prior to Costa obtaining Spanish citizenship in July of this year.5

However, these matches were not competitive matches (Art. 5.2), as outlined above, is the key test which is applied by FIFA in determining eligibility for a national side. Due to the inconsistencies in the number of friendly matches played by national sides and the lack of significance often attached to these games, players are given the freedom by FIFA to change national sides if the necessary qualification is met.

Less than a week before Costa informed the Spanish and Brazilian governing bodies of his decision, the Brazilian coach Luiz Felipe Scolari was clear in stating that Costa would be called up by Brazil for forthcoming matches and that Spain should "respect Brazil's right to choose its players."Scolari will now have to consider how to defend against Costa in a potential World Cup final against Spain, as opposed to attack against Spain in a potential World Cup for Brazil. Sadly the FIFA rules have allowed this rather unsatisfactory situation to develop.

So what does the future hold? For Costa, a second international debut, this time for Spain, is likely to take place against South Africa later in November. For the Brazilian national team, a villian will undoubtedly be the target of substantial media coverage and abuse from home supporters during the World Cup next year. For supporters who are fixated by club football and in particular the Champions League there may be confusion and the potential for the continuing trend towards fans being less interested in international football.

More crucially for football perhaps is what may happen ahead of the 2022 Qatar World Cup. The host nation, as with for all World Cup Finals, will automatically qualify for that event. The most recent FIFA World Rankings had Qatar at position 105. Sandwiched between Iraq and Liberia.7

With the ability to play players who have lived in a territory for at least five years in your national team, there is a real prospect that in order to avoid any form of embarassment on the pitch, Qatar may try and lure footballers to play football in that country for five years from 2017 with the promise of a World Cup tournament appearing on their CV. The case of Diego Costa and the fall-out which may transpire as a result of his decision to choose Spain over Brazil, may impact upon FIFA rules and the ability of Qatar and other nations to exploit the residency rule for sporting benefit in years to come.











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About the Author

Adam Lovatt

Adam Lovatt

Adam is a lawyer specialising in sports law with IMG. Adam has a wide range of commercial and litigation experience from his four years as a qualified solicitor. Adam has a passion for sports law and is currently undertaking a IP Law Masters programme with the University of London. He is passionate about most sports particularly football, golf and tennis.

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