This essay will delve into the International Rugby Board (IRB) and the IRB's laws relating to which international team a rugby player may play for. This paper will explore rugby at an international level as well as at a club level. The IRB laws regarding rugby 'mercenaries' as well as the players motives for switching teams will be assessed.
Currently in international rugby there are tens of players who play for a country other than the one in which they were born. For example, at the Rugby World Cup this year there are 9 players that will line up for the Japanese team that have no link to japan other than the fact that they play club rugby for a Japanese side. One main reason for this may be the ludicrous pay that Japanese rugby has to throw at players in order to convince them to stay in Japan long enough in order for them to gain Japanese citizenship.
Politics also plays a large part in good rugby players defecting to play for a country that isn't their country of birth. In 2010 a Samoan-born rugby player was found illegally in England after staying in the country for 6 years after his tourist visa expired. After the player expressed his interest in playing for the English side he was allowed to stay and as a result will play for England in the world cup this year.
This article will utilise previous journals and papers as well as research and findings by the IRB to discuss the issues regarding international rugby 'mercenaries'.
When the world’s largest empires expanded their borders by colonising new territories, they brought more than just their flags. Customs and cultures were spread across the globe, and things such as beliefs, politics, goods and even sports were introduced and integrated into these new territories. For example, the British Empire, who colonised a large number of territories in all corners of the globe, introduced sports such as cricket, rugby and football to these colonies. Some example of British colonisation include Australia in 1770, India in 1858 and Samoa in the 1830’s.
Further to the integration of cultures twixt these home nations and their territories were the inevitable romantic relations between members of both parties. This led to the resulting progeny being granted (in most cases) part citizenship of the home nation. This entitled them, among other rights, to serve in armed forces. In more recent years however, this part-citizenship allowed some to participate in the playing of sports, and in some cases represent a team or club from the home nation.
Sport Goes International
It was considered among the highest of honours to represent a home nation, and as sport became more international in the 20th Century, instances of foreign born men playing for the national team of a home nation were numerous. One early example of this was cricketer K.S. Ranjitsinhji, who played 15 test matches for England despite being born in Sarodar, India. At the time there were few recognised cricket clubs in all of British India, the ability to play cricket was very limited. Thus the move, and change of allegiance, was not only easy, but necessary in order to further his cricketing career.
Advances in travel over the last 50 years have made it even more possible for athletes to travel the globe and pursue a career, including playing professional sport for a club in another country, and even choosing to represent this country. These people may choose to do this for a number of reasons, however it is usually due to family reasons, or the allure of earning more money for their trade. For instance, the average wage for a football player in Australia's A-League is barely over $110,000. Compared to the multi-million dollar salaries on offer in many European football leagues, the incentive to move to these countries is obvious. This readily available ability to play overseas enables these athletes to play and live in the foreign country for a number of years. As a result of living and playing professional sport overseas for an extended period of time, these athletes may then become a ‘naturalised citizen’ of the country they have been living in. This naturalisation is often encouraged by clubs, as they will usually have an enforced limit as to the number of 'foreign' players on their roster. For example, the English Premier League, one of the best football leagues in the world, has an enforced quota of a minimum of 8 domestic players in their squad. By 'converting' a foreign player into a domestic player through naturalisation, the club is able to sign another foreign player, potentially strengthening their squad. This naturalisation has ramifications that do extend past club level however, as their new citizen status allows them to represent their new country at an international level.
The IRB's Rules and Regulations
The International Rugby Board’s (IRB) Laws and Regulations, Regulation 8.1 states that: Subject to Regulation 8.2, a Player may only play for the senior fifteen-aside National Representative Team, the next senior fifteen-a-side National Representative Team and the senior National Representative Sevens Team of the Union of the country in which: (a) he was born; or (b) one parent or grandparent was born; or (c) he has completed thirty six consecutive months of Residence immediately preceding the time of playing
Regulation 8.2 states that a player who has previously played for a national side cannot play for another national team. This regulation means that a player only has to live in a country for 3 years in order to be able to play for this country’s national Rugby Team, provided that he hasn’t previously played for another national team. The leniency of the IRB’s regulations is evident in some of the current national teams.
Some Modern Examples
For example, at the Rugby World Cup this year there are nine players in the Japanese squad who have no link to Japan except that they play club rugby there and have done for the designated three year period. It is, however, not only the Japanese team that players have become Rugby ‘mercenaries’ for. New Zealand often looks toward their Polynesian neighbours to recruit players by offering them the opportunity to play club rugby in New Zealand as well as the opportunity to play for the world’s best national team. Likewise, Australia looks to Polynesia for potentially talented Rugby players. Radike Samo, for example, who was selected to play lock for the Wallabies in 2004, played under 19’s for Fiji before signing with the Canberra Brumbies in 2000 for six years, thus making him eligible for selection in the Wallabies. Quade Cooper is another example of the lenient regulations of the IRB. Cooper was born in New Zealand and moved to Australia in 2001. He was selected for the Australian Schoolboys team after being in Australia for 3 years and after this was signed to the Queensland Reds and has played for Australia at under 19’s and senior levels.
The Extreme Case of Manu Tuilagi
One more extreme case of a talented Rugby player being allowed to play for a country that isn’t the country of their birth is the case of Manu Tuilagi. Samoan born Tuilagi, who was raised in England's Yorkshire and plays for Premiership club Leicester Tigers, decided in 2010 to represent his adopted country rather than the country of his birth. This came to a head in the 2011 Rugby World Cup, prior to which Tuilagi was found to be in England illegally after overstaying his 6 month holiday visa by six years. After Tuilagi demonstrated his enormous Rugby talent and indicated that he wished to play for England internationally (along with huge public outcry), the Rugby Football Union (RFU), deemed that he was allowed to stay in the country indefinitely. Intriguingly, Tuilagi's brothers; Anitelea, Alesana, Henry, Sanele Vavae, and Freddie, all older than Manu, have chosen to represent Samoa at an international level. This demonstrates that, due to the relaxed IRB regulations, a country is willing to, at the very least, bend the rules to enable a talented rugby player to play for their international side.
The ramifications of this decision to allow Tuilagi to stay in Great Britain and represent England however extend far further than a belligerent corruption of Commonwealth laws in order for personal gain. One must also consider the implications that the decision of Tuilagi to represent England as opposed to his native Samoa. The small Island nation, who came third in their Rugby World Cup pool, would have been well served by having the 6’1, 106kg centre on their roster, as they barely missed out on a spot in the Quarter-Finals of the competition. Furthermore, the message that Tuilagi’s defection must send to younger players of Island nations will most likely negatively affect their thinking. The young players would go into their rugby careers thinking that it doesn’t matter where they were born as they can play for any country that they wanted to anyway. It may also send a message to young players that they can live illegally in a country and be let off from being deported if they prove that they can play sport good enough to be in the national side.
How the IRB may be Able to Rectify This
If the IRB wishes to make good on its desire to close the disparity between the many ‘tiers’ in which its member nations lie, then it seems contradictory to allow these young, talented players from tier two nations to wistlessly denounce their homeland, and travel the globe in search of potential personal glory. Perhaps it should take a look at the lawbook of the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA). Prior to law changes implemented in 2004, a number of top players had bigamously switched their national allegiances for purely personal reasons. One such player was Argentine born Alfredo di Stefano, who also had international stints with Spain and Columbia. As he and other talented players were able to change their national allegiances with such shameless ease, a revision of the laws in 2004 stated that;
A Player who... is eligible to represent more than one Association on account of his nationality, may play in an international match for one of these Associations only if, in addition to having the relevant nationality, he fulfils at least one of the following conditions: (a) He was born on the territory of the relevant Association; (b) His biological mother or biological father was born on the territory of the relevant Association; (c) His grandmother or grandfather was born on the territory of the relevant Association; (d) He has lived continuously on the territory of the relevant Association for at least two years.
As a result of this, talented players who desire to represent a country other than that of their birth are still able to do so, albeit with far more stringent implications for their decisions. It would not be too difficult for Rugby Union, or any other sport for that matter, to introduce similar laws that would at least limit the ability of highly talented players to become modern-day mercenaries. This enforced intervention from regulating bodies might just be the only way to permanently force these players to commit to their place of birth, their team, and not just insist their ‘loyalty’ to the highest bidder.
- European discovery and the colonisation of Australia". Australian Government: Culture Portal. Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, Commonwealth of Australia.
- Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition, 1989. "b. spec. the British dominion or rule in the Indian sub-continent (before 1947).
- Watson, R.M. (1919). History of Samoa: THE ADVENT OF THE MISSIONARY. (1830.1839). Chapter III
- ESPN Cricinfo
- IRB’s Rules and Regulations, Regulation 8
- “Rising star at Leicester Tigers wins fight against deportation”. This is Leicestershire. July 07, 2010
- Godwin, Hugh (2006-05-28). "Meet the Tuilagis - A brotherhood of tigers". The Independent
- FIFA Statutes