Rwanda elect not to field foreign-born players anymore
Among the many marvels of the modern existence, choice is one of the most celebrated. It is a luxury that allows us to decide almost everything about our existence, from what we eat to where we are from.
Don't like meat? Become a vegetarian or, better yet, a vegan. Don't like your nationality? Go and legitimately live somewhere else long enough and you can become a resident. Easy? Not if you are a footballer in Rwanda.
The Rwandan Football Association (FERWAFA) is introducing a new policy that will make naturalised players ineligible for the national team, regardless of whether they have fulfilled the correct criteria. The decision is in reaction to the confusion that saw them disqualified from the 2015 African Nations Cup qualifiers because they had a Congolese-born player in their ranks.
Theirs was not a simple case of fielding someone who did not have his papers in order or had not served the required residency time to earn citizenship, as has been the case with teams such as Equatorial Guinea in the recent past, but a complicated saga of mistaken identity.
Striker Daddy Birori was part of the Rwandan team that beat Congo 4-3 on penalties in their second-round two-legged tie and had been playing for the Rwandan national side since 2009. He held a Rwandan passport but was born in Congo. However, he also held a second passport under the name Etekiama Agiti Tady, the name under which he was registered for club football with DRC-based club AS Vita.
An investigation revealed that when Birori was called up to the Rwandan team, it was under the name Tady Birori, which indicated FERWAFA knew that the forward had not fully met the requirements to play for Rwanda. Not only was the result overturned, which allowed Congo, the country of Birori's birth, to enter the group stages of the ANC qualifiers at Rwanda's expense, but the player was also banned for two years for maintaining a dual identity.
Given that it has been 10 years since Rwanda last participated in a continental cup, the administrators were aggrieved that they squandered an opportunity to end a lengthy drought and their latest move is an attempt to demonstrate how serious they are about making sure a similar incident doesn't occur. But it will also rob them of a significant chunk of their strike force, most notably Ugandan-born Meddie Kagere, who has played 26 matches for the national team and netted nine times.
Kagere is based in Albania but has played club football in Rwanda for the bulk of his professional career. Since 2006, he has been a member of Rwandan sides Atraco FC, Police FC and most recently Rayon Sports. He has been part of the national side since 2011. Other players who will be excluded are Peter Kagabo, who was also born in Uganda, and Jerome Sina, from the DRC.
While coach Stephen Constantine understood the rationale behind the clean-up, he admitted it leaves Rwanda in desperate need of talent. "We need to start developing the younger players and correctly decide that we use only locally born players and we should have been doing that. We haven't done that, we have tried to shortcut that," he said.
Rwanda are not the only team to try and make use of foreign talent. The majority of the Algerian squad is based in France and even Ivory Coast have hoped to build the bridge between their golden generation and the future by setting their sights abroad. Coach Herve Renard invited 20-year-old striker Thomas Toure, who plays for French Ligue 1 side Bordeaux, to join the squad ahead of their match against the DRC but he declined.
Toure was quoted by the BBC and Radio France International saying his decision should not be seen as a "lack of respect," but rather that he is asking for "a little time to make a decision." Presumably, Toure wants to weigh his options as a French national. He's also eligible for Spain, and may want to represent a European country instead of Ivory Coast.
He would have seen that footballers with an African connections need not be bound to the continent. Just four days ago, Karim Bellarabi, the Bayer Leverkusen winger who could choose to play for Morocco, received his maiden call-up for Germany. Bellarabi was born in Berlin and has been part of Germany's youth structures and it seems a no-brainer that he would want to play for them internationally. But in his current situation of entertaining suitors, he best demonstrates the power of choice afforded to today's dual-national footballers.