The continuing debate of nationality in sports

Wednesday, 26 November 2014 By Adam Lovatt

As discussed in a previous blog1, Diego Costa took advantage of the FIFA Statutes2 in choosing to represent Spain rather than Brazil in the recent World Cup. 

Article 7 of the FIFA Statutes provides that a player who ‘has lived continuously for at least five years after reaching the age of 18 on the territory of the relevant Association’ can choose to 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 have qualified to play for Spain on any other grounds). As Costa had only played friendlies for Brazil prior to opting to choose to represent Spain, he was therefore entitled to play for a second international team.



Whilst this rule in football prevents players playing for two countries in competitive matches, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) Rules on the Davis Cup (at Clause 34)3 have until now provided that male tennis players could play for different countries in the Davis Cup provided that the player had a valid passport for the country they wished to represent, they had lived in that country for a period of 24 consecutive months at some point and that they had not represented another country for a period of 36 months immediately prior to when the player wished to represent the new nation.

This rule was being considered4 by Slovenian player Alijaz Bedene as being a route into the Great Britain Davis Cup team, despite three previous appearances for Slovenia in the same competition. However it has been recently reported5 that the ITF are changing the rules for the 2015 season, which will prevent players like Bedene from playing for more than one nation in the Davis Cup (or indeed the Fed Cup – the female equivalent of the Davis Cup). Whilst the new rule will not affect junior players, it does bring tennis more into line with football in ensuring that players cannot play for more than one country in a competitive environment.


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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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Comments (2)

  • Tom Cripps

    • 27 November 2014 at 16:08
    • #

    Interesting topic Adam. I can understand that practically speaking, it is hard to imagine an athlete representing more than one nation, particularly within the same sport. I think it would raise issues of trust from teammates, coaches and fans and inevitable questions would arise should the athlete ever have to compete against their second nation.

    However, having been in a relationship with someone of dual nationality for a while now, I am no longer uncomfortable with the idea that someone might have a legitimate claim to and genuine sense of loyalty to two nations, and might therefore want to spread their loyalties when competing in a sporting context. I certainly wouldn't think it unnatural.

    It is very difficult to know where you draw the line however. At what point should athletes have to make a choice, between tournaments? After a certain period of not representing either nation? From the outset?


  • Adam Lovatt

    • 28 November 2014 at 13:35
    • #

    Thanks Tom. It is a hard one to know when, if ever, allegiances can be swapped. Maybe five years of a clean break is needed - but to get consistency across all sports, I imagine, would be almost impossible to achieve.


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