David Papineau: Civil Society and why Adnan Januzaj should be Eligible for England (Though He Isn’t)

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David Papineau

Adnan Januzaj is what American sports journalists call a ‘phenom’. Barely eighteen when he was called into the Manchester United first team last August, he immediately proved a match-winner and has been exuding class all season. If he can stay fit and keep his form, he is destined to become one of the footballing greats.

Kuvankaappaus 2014-2-20 kello 10.46.14Read original column here

Januzaj’s parents are ethnic Albanians who fled Kosovo in 1992 to avoid the Yugoslav army draft. Adnan was born in Belgium three years later, and moved to Manchester just after his sixteenth birthday to join United’s youth programme. Not surprisingly, his talents have generated much curiosity about which national team he will play for. Kosovo don’t have a side—not yet anyway—but Turkey, Albania, Serbia, Croatia, Belgium and England have all been mentioned as possibilities.

The idea that Januzaj might in due course qualify for England prompted some interesting reactions. Jack Wilshere, the very home-grown Arsenal midfielder, was particularly forthright: “The only people who should play for England are English people” he insisted, when quizzed about Januzaj by the press.

I’m a great admirer of Wilshere’s onfield skills, but his attitude strikes me as indefensible. As someone whose maternal grandparents were born German Jews, and whose formative years were spent in apartheid South Africa, I am naturally sympathetic to those who seek to forge a new life in a new country. But even those who don’t share my cosmopolitan sentiments should think twice before siding with Wilshere’s little-Englandism.

Let me explain. By and large, national sporting eligibility in the modern world depends on citizenship. And citizenship in turn depends on residence. Nearly all countries allow those who have been legally resident for some fixed period to become ‘naturalized’ citizens. In Britain the required period is five years, which means that in the natural course of events Junuzaj could become British in 2016.

 Somewhat less familiarly, most countries make residence necessary for citizenship, as well as sufficient. True, you can be a citizen of a country that you have never set foot in, courtesy of your parent’s citizenship. But this is basically a device to avoid mothers having to scurry back to their homeland to give birth, and you aren’t allowed to iterate it indefinitely. As things now stand in Britain, for example, citizenship by descent runs out after one generation, as the grandchildren of emigrants often discover to their cost.


It might seem surprising that residence counts for so much and ancestry for so little. After all, chauvinism is an easy vote-winner pretty much everywhere. Moreover, prejudice isn’t the only motivation for wanting to restrict citizenship to those with a shared background. You don’t have to be Enoch Powell to recognize that civil society depends on more than common geographical boundaries. A healthy community requires a mutual sense of acceptable public behaviour, of how to settle disputes, of your obligations to neighbours and acquaintances, and so on.

Still, there is a basic reason why most nations aim to preserve the foundations of civil society without tying citizenship to ethnic origin. Movement of people across national boundaries has long been inevitable. Political realignments, surreptitious immigration, and above all commerce lead inexorably to a build-up of non-citizens inside national regions. And the obvious problem is that, if these newcomers are left as non-citizens indefinitely, they are likely to start resenting it and stirring up trouble.

The smart solution is to incorporate them, to sign them up to the deal on which all modern democracies rest. We will make you full citizens with all accompanying rights, and in return you will respect our shared way of doing things.

Pessimists say it won’t work. How can a Ghanaian become Italian, or a Vietnamese Australian, or indeed a Kosovan English? But history is on the side of optimism. Maybe you can’t lose your ethnicity easily (though that in itself is an interesting question), but this is no barrier to gaining a nationality. My grandparents, who remained loyal to the orthodox synagogue all their lives, were obsessed with becoming English. (My mother was an encyclopedia on the niceties of English manners.) Or just think of modern America, where successive waves of ethnic immigrants embraced their new national identity with excitement and pride.

Of course, the deal works best when the welcome is sincere. You won’t get buy-in from the newcomers if they think they are still being treated as second class citizens. They need to feel that all institutions are open to them—including national sports teams. That’s why I find Wilshere’s attitude not only mean-spirited but destructive. Once people are living in your country, it does nobody any good to discriminate against them. Imagine what it would do to social relations in Sweden or Germany if Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Mesut Özil were kept out of the national teams because of their ethnic origin.

Sadly, though, it seems as though Adnan Januszaj won’t be eligible for England after all, at least not unless the rules are changed. The reason is that nowadays sporting eligibility doesn’t always follow nationality. A number of international sporting bodies have become uneasy about the readiness with which some countries hand out citizenship, and so have imposed a blanket residence requirement. In particular, FIFA, the football authority, got fed up with the number of Brazilians turning up in other countries’ sides, and so since 2008 have demanded that, in addition to citizenship, you must have lived in a country for five years before you can represent it on the football field.

Why is that a problem for Januzaj? If he becomes British on the basis of five years residence, won’t that automatically satisfy the extra FIFA requirement too? Ah, well that would work fine if there were a British football team—but there isn’t. So the so-called Home Nations have had to devise some extra rules to decide who can play for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. And in their wisdom they have decreed that from 2009 you need to have been born in the relevant country, or to have a parent or grandparent born there, or to have been educated there for five years before the age of eighteen.

So even if Adnan becomes British, and lives here for the rest of his life, he will never be able to play for England. Nor, if you think about it, will anybody who moves here after they are thirteen. I’d say the Home Nations have got it badly wrong. They have put too much weight on descent, and left no room for newcomers to opt in.

Consider what their rules mean. If cricket had applied them in recent decades, carpetbaggers like Kevin Pietersen and Allan Lamb would have been fine, courtesy of their English parents, but Basil D’Oliveira would have been out. And in soccer the Canadian Owen Hargreaves would have been in, because of his English father, but Cyrille Regis MBE would never have been able to play for his country—as he didn’t move here from the Caribbean until he was fifteen.

Perhaps the Home Nations authorities didn’t fully appreciate the implications of their new policy. One would hope so. But in any case their regulations strike me as badly in need of reassessment. Perhaps this new controversy will serve to draw attention to their failings. Adnan Januzaj for England, I say.

Read original blog entry here.

This piece was reprinted by Migrant Tales with permission.

  1. JusticeDemon

    It might seem surprising that residence counts for so much and ancestry for so little. After all, chauvinism is an easy vote-winner pretty much everywhere. Moreover, prejudice isn’t the only motivation for wanting to restrict citizenship to those with a shared background. You don’t have to be Enoch Powell to recognize that civil society depends on more than common geographical boundaries. A healthy community requires a mutual sense of acceptable public behaviour, of how to settle disputes, of your obligations to neighbours and acquaintances, and so on.

    I suspect that professor Papineau’s intuition and analysis reflect and rely on a certain intra-Commonwealth migration paradigm. Take this away and it is not at all surprising that what really counts is not who the immigrant’s ancestors were, but a concrete track record of living in the new homeland as a fully participating member of society.

    Ancestry is no guarantee of cultural inclusion, and it should not be assumed that the descendants of migrants have any meaningful ties to the modern societies that have emerged in the territories from which their ancestors originally migrated. Such ties may amount to nothing more than a vague sentimental attachment to an “Old Country”, which both metaphorically and literally refers to a society and culture that no longer exists. An illusion to the contrary may arise only in a post-colonial context where the pace of social evolution in the territories concerned is slow and largely parallel.

    Common ancestry is also no guarantee whatsoever of corresponding social values. Indeed disagreements over such values are often instrumental in motivating emigration in the first place.

    There is no blood test that shows the merits of an applicant for naturalisation, but we can impose certain measurable conditions. Duration of residence is one of these conditions, though it is by no means the only condition (and therefore not “sufficient”). There will always be at least some requirements as to the quality of that residence, and there may also be certain tests of important skills that adult members of society are normally assumed to possess (most crucially language, but perhaps also basic civics).

    Naturalisation is a formal administrative process that will be governed by the rule of law in a constitutional State. The lack of fair and proportional procedure in this area was, of course, marvelously satirised by Tom Stoppard in Dirty Linen, where an application was turned down because “the Home Secretary doesn’t trust men with beards”, but even in Britain this kind of arbitrary processing is subject to judicial constraints, as is evident from a recent case. Crucial to the rule of law, of course, is impartiality and freedom from discrimination, most crucially including discrimination on grounds of origin.

    Where sporting professionals are concerned, there may be another factor that enters into the naturalisation equation: the time constraints of competitive careers and specific sporting events. The most celebrated example of this was the obviously abusive application of British citizenship regulations to evade the sporting boycott of apartheid South Africa in the Zola Budd case. It is entirely clear that Budd never had any intention of settling in the UK, and her application should have fallen at this hurdle alone. Obviously the most that can be done when an athlete requires national citizenship in order to compete in a sporting event is to require some solemn declaration of intent to remain in the country concerned as a new permanent or habitual place of residence.

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