Rule on registering soccer players makes no sense for Hong Kong

Ours is a multicultural society, so denying youngsters the chance to play in the top leagues just because they hold a foreign passport is a travesty of justice

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 January, 2017, 12:37am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 January, 2017, 12:37am

A rule meant to protect minors from being exploited in the international soccer transfer market may unintentionally deprive talented Hong Kong youngsters of playing opportunities at the highest level and disrupt the Jockey Club Youth League. The rule makes sense when used to regulate recruitment in developing countries by rich European clubs but not when it comes to signing youngsters resident in Hong Kong but who hold foreign passports. As a result, the Hong Kong Football Association has had to deregister 49 Hong Kong-born players aged up to 18 without HKSAR passports. The HKFA says it is following the rules of Fifa, the sport’s world governing body.

The issue came about after Fifa punished Spanish giants Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid over breaches of a rule that bans international transfers of players under 18. It applies to any player registering for the first time in a foreign country, which is how it comes to affect local youngsters without HKSAR passports. The exceptions are if the player’s parents have moved here for reasons not linked to soccer, or the player has lived here for five years, which would seem to cover the locals, including four in the Kitchee club’s roster and another with BC Glory Sky. All were born here and it seems the HKFA wrongly thought they were automatically exempt, whereas it has to apply separately for exemptions for them.

Hong Kong youth system crippled after 49 ‘foreign’ youngsters are sidelined by Fifa ruling on minors

Clearly the rule makes no sense in a multicultural centre like Hong Kong, where a large, foreign-born community enjoys permanent right of residence. It is unfair to youngsters knocking on the door of a top team that they are now not allowed to play at all. Some clubs may struggle to field a full team in the Jockey Club Youth League. There is a need for Fifa to urgently consider Hong Kong’s special position, which does not involve child trafficking or illegal transfer deals.

The situation is also a serious setback to clubs’ development programmes. Fifa is not known for prompt action on player registration, but we trust the HKFA will get a swift and sympathetic response to its request for exemptions.