How naturalization of foreign players affects Arab sports

Qatar's Rafael Capote, right, celebrates with teammates after managing to secure a 25:25 draw in the final minute of the men's preliminary handball match between Qatar and Tunisia at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016. (AP)

The naturalization of athletes has been an ongoing phenomenon for the past few years. Nations seek out the country where a certain sport flourishes, then begin taking athletes from there and giving them their respective nationality. There are a few rules that govern this move between nationalities, but they do not protect the game from the potential harm it can be exposed to.

Players are commonly naturalized for football and rugby. Football players are mostly taken from Europe, where football governs the sporting world, and those who play rugby are mostly recruited from New Zealand and South Africa, two major rugby nations. Similarly, this also takes place in Arab countries.

In 2015, Qatar’s controversial handball team grabbed headlines. This “foreign” team took Qatar to their best performance ever, coming in second at the World Championship, something that was very hard to imagine in the past, seeing as the last time they competed, they placed under 20th.

What about the fans, who want to see their friends and family on the international stage, instead of random strangers that they’ve only heard about?

Krikor Yeretzian

Like Qatar, Lebanon also nationalizes players, but in a way that boosts their game. The players that are brought in from abroad are originally Lebanese, having been born elsewhere due to the recent mass moves to the West, because of conflict and turmoil. This is something to be encouraged, as they are bringing their talent back home. Soony Saad, who has played for Sporting Kansas City, and the USA under 17 and under 20 national teams, now represents Lebanon when competing internationally, having scored 3 goals for The Cedars to date.

Morocco and Algeria also find themselves in the same position as Lebanon, as they work to bring back players that have left for Europe. Most of these players have played for European national teams during their youth, but now it’s time for their home countries to profit from this and encourage them to return – before they make their debut in the first teams.

On the other hand, the gulf countries’ main purpose is to win and create a formidable reputation. The UAE have naturalized players from all over, showing no discrimination. From the Moldovan Judokas Ivan Remarenco and Sergiu Toma, to the Pakistani and Sri Lankan Cricketers Arshad Laeeq and Andri Berenger.

Sergiu Toma (UAE) of United Arab Emirates celebrates. (Reuters)

Sergiu Toma (UAE) of United Arab Emirates celebrates. (Reuters)

As for foreign countries naturalizing Arab players, it is very rare, which poses a serious question to the sports organizations in the region. Why are Arab players being left out of national teams to make room for foreigners, while being ignored by foreign teams? Is it the traditional thinking that stops them from pursuing a career in sports, or are they looked past by their coaches because the foreign names might be bigger and attract more attention? Whatever the answer, this is wrong, as many young, talented Arabs are being slept on.

Ridiculous as it is, the show must go on, and these nations want to win. However, some rules have been put in place to try to limit this international transfer of players, but in some ways it makes it even more advantageous. One of the rules says any athlete can be naturalized, unless they have represented another national team in the past three years. In a way, this allows nations like the UAE and Qatar to create super teams, or in FIFA terms, a Classic XI. Although these players might be older and out of their prime, their presence will definitely intimidate other teams.

All that needs to be done is locate the talent, and put some heart into sculpting the player that they wish to have. International teams have been made this way for years

Krikor Yeretzian

The fact of the matter is that this keeps the sport in its place. Whether football, judo, cricket, handball or table tennis, it is always important for players to come and go, bringing in new techniques, tricks, and methods of playing the game. Allowing the game to become stagnant, in hopes of adding to the trophy cabinet is something that shouldn’t be looked past. What about the respective nationals that have been hoping to represent their team ever since they were young? What about the fans, who want to see their friends and family on the international stage, instead of random strangers that they’ve only heard about?

Instead of taking the easy way out, coaches and their teams should put more effort into finding and developing local talent, as I am sure that it isn’t that hard to find. All that needs to be done is locate the talent, and put some heart into sculpting the player that they wish to have. International teams have been made this way for years, and some, like the Brazilian and German football teams, boast record breaking results, with very few, if any, naturalized players.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:48 - GMT 06:48
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