The UKPA yesterday published minutes of the Executive meeting that took place on the 25th of November, complete with an appendix showing the newly rewritten eligibility rules for playing for the UK, to clarify the position regarding Rachael Gayler’s recent selection to the UK’s 2013 Quadrangular squad. However, this new development has not satisfied some members of the UKPA, including former CEO Iain Heaton who has said that after discussing the events and the changes with the UKPA Executive he has put his concerns into a formal complaint.
The rewritten rules, which were agreed and approved by the Executive at their meeting on the 25th of November 2012, relax the eligibility criteria for players wishing to play for the UK. By amending the points (d) and (e) in the eligibility criteria (section 3.6, paragraph 5 of the UKPA handbook) the UKPA has toned down its requirements to mean that a player who wishes to play for the UKPA does not have to be a UK citizen to play and does not have to have lived in the UK for four years prior to selection. They can now only not have represented another IPC nation in the year before squad appointment, rather than four years prior to the year they apply for selection which is what the previous criteria stated. The amended points in the selection procedures will now read as follows:
(d) Be either;
I. A UK National as defined in the British Nationality Act 1981 or
II. A UK resident non-national meeting at least one of the following criteria:
a. Parents: One or both birth parents, adoptive parents or step parents born in the UK.
b. Grandparents: One or more birth or adoptive grandparents born in the UK (Step Grandparents are not acceptable).
c. Marriage: Spouse or civil partner is a UK National, both persons being resident in the UK.
i) Death of a spouse or partner would not bar the individual from eligibility.
ii) Divorce from a partner or spouse will bar an individual from eligibility.
d. Residency: Minimum of two (2) years residency in the UK in the past five (5) years.
Note: i) Where residency is required it shall be up to the applicant to prove residency to the satisfaction of the UKPA Executive Committee.
(e) Has not represented another IPC country at Polocrosse in the previous 12 months prior to squad appointment.
The overall impression is that UK seems to have relaxed their requirements quite considerably. In particular, the ability to qualify simply by residency could cause controversial, partly because there doesn’t seem to be a strict definition of “residency”. By saying that a player need not be a UK national (a point not significantly different in most cases from the previous criteria of a UK citizen) and only needs to be resident in the UK for two years in five years to qualify, the UK could open up their team to a wide range of players, who may not have demonstrated in some people’s eyes an ongoing commitment to the country that they wish to play for. This change would mean a player could now spend more time in the last five years in another country and still play for the UK, a point which could rankle with UKPA members. If the residency point by itself proves controversial then so could the new one year limit on representing another IPC nation, this would allow a player to switch allegiance very soon before a major competition, perhaps on finding out they had not made another countries national team.
Iain Heaton is one UKPA member who is not delighted with the way this change has come to light or the details of the new criteria. Iain said, “I personally have no issue with Rachael but I think it would have been appropriate for the Executive to consult the membership, either via the AGM or by some other means, before making a change such as this. They don’t have to but historically they always have. Obviously, the actual order that the different pieces of information has come to light (editor’s note: the team list being announced before the new selection procedures were revealed) was a bit of mistake and can be put down to the fact that the Executive are all volunteers and mistakes will happen but the decision to not consult before making the change has clearly been a conscious decision.”
The other area that worries Iain is the actual new criteria. He stated,”I do also have some concerns about the new criteria. I feel the residency criteria and the new one year time limit for playing for another country is quite light, particularly as there isn’t currently an actual definition of “residency”. I have expressed all these views to the UKPA Executive and they have noted them and asked me to put it into a formal complaint if I wished to. I have duly done this and suggest that if any other members feel the same they also contact the Executive to express their concerns over any aspects of this matter.”
The residency point could indeed be crucial going forwards, the UKPA has not at this time clarified exactly what they mean by residency and the wording seems to suggest that the UKPA Executive will be the final judge of whether a player is “resident” in each individual case.
The main uses of the word “resident” by the UK government are either in the context of residence permits (which can be both temporary and permanent) or for the purposes of tax, where they state that if you are in the UK for 183 days in a tax year you are deemed resident. Whether the UKPA would take a similar approach remains to be seen, the wording suggests there could be a degree of flexibility and subjectivity in each individual case.
The UKPA Executive committee has said, in response to queries Polocrosse Extreme asked after the initial squad list was revealed, that “The committee has indeed amended the rules for non-national players as the original pre-requisites were thought to be far too draconian. The new set are more in line with other international sports.” They also said that they were aware that the selection procedures in the handbook on the website were out of date but it would be updated shortly.
The point around other international sports is an interesting one. The UKPA at this point have not clarified exactly what sports they are referring to. Other sports, such as rugby, football and cricket, have included conditions of residency in their eligibility criteria but normally these are coupled with the need for players to be nationals of the country as well.
In the example of football, the governing body has actually tightened eligibility criteria in the last ten years, in response to countries “naturalising” players and exploiting the old criteria. FIFA (the governing body of football) clamped down and said that players must be both a national citizen of the country they wish to represent and must show a clear connection to the country in question, for example they must have at least one parent or grandparent from that country or have been resident in that country for at least two years.
The English Cricket Board insists on players completing four years of residency and becoming a British or Irish citizen before they can represent the national side. In rugby’s case there is an International Rugby Board criteria for 36 months of continuous residency if players are going to qualify by residency alone, so still more onerous than the condition implemented by the UKPA.
There was some controversy in the UK before the 2012 Olympics over so called “plastic Brits” being the term adopted to refer to members of the British Olympic team who were eligible to compete but were born aboard. However, all members of the British Olympic team still had to have British passports before they could be selected.
Also sports such as rugby and football have very clear criteria around players who have previously represented other countries at a senior level. Rugby states that any player who has played for a national senior side can not ever play for a different nation. Football allows players to play for different countries at junior and senior levels but only if they apply to switch before their 21st birthday.
Polocrosse in the UK is a far smaller sport than sports such as rugby, football and cricket and so it probably would not be appropriate to adhere rigorously to all the procedures that they follow. Certainly on the face of it the old requirements were perhaps overly strict at points. However, some will wonder now whether the UK has now swung too far the other way and whether they have effectively made themselves open to the idea of “parachute players”; players who, having spent some time in the UK, can defect from another country a year or so before a World Cup, when it becomes clear they won’t make their previous national team, and instead switch to qualifying for the UK on the basis of residency.