Fears over new rule that could discourage foreign soccer stars joining Hong Kong clubs

The Football Association wants to mirror the AFC and Fifa definitions with only Hong Kong passport holders considered as a prerequisite to becoming local players starting from July 1

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 May, 2017, 8:00pm
UPDATED : Friday, 19 May, 2017, 12:20pm

Foreign players in Hong Kong will find it tougher to become a “local player” starting on July 1 following a new rule that will be implemented by the Football Association.

Expat players will now need to hold a Hong Kong passport and give up their own nationality because the “Chinese government does not recognise dual nationality”.

It means that overseas players who have spent seven years residing in Hong Kong would not be able to change their status and become a local player as before.

“The board and the clubs wanted to mirror the Asian Football Confederation and Fifa definitions and decided that in order to be defined as a ‘local’ player, a person must be eligible to represent Hong Kong,” said association chief executive Mark Sutcliffe.

“As you know, the prerequisite to represent Hong Kong in international competitions is a passport as the benchmark and not ‘nationality’. Obviously, there is a subtle difference.”

The residency rule also allows some overseas players to be registered as a local player if they were born to Hong Kong parents.

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Sean Tse Ka-keung, who was born in England to a Hong Kong father and is a product of the Manchester City academy, is registered as a local player for South China despite his arrival in Hong Kong in 2012.

The same case applies to Matthew Lam of Kitchee, who was born in Canada, and his two teammates, Andreas Lam Zhi-gin – a German born midfielder who played for Hamburger SV – and Jared Lum, who was born in Sydney and played for Australia at Under-17 and Under-20 level.

Each team in the Premier League is allowed a quota of four foreign players, but none of these overseas players occupy the quota as they are considered local players.

These players will not be affected by the new rule as they have already been registered as local players but newcomers would not be able to enjoy the same status even if they decide to take up Hong Kong residency.

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Kitchee coach Chu Chi-kwong, who led the club to a domestic treble season and was voted best coach at the Hong Kong Footballer of the Year awards on Wednesday, said the club would have to be careful signing overseas players in future.

“All these players [with Hong Kong residency] will be treated the same as other foreign players in future and therefore we have to decide carefully who we sign,” he said.

The coach, however, said the new rule might discourage young foreigners who want to ply their trade in Hong Kong.

“Many of them have taken up Hong Kong residency but they don’t have Hong Kong passports and they will have to make a big decision to change their nationality if they want to play in Hong Kong,” said Chu.

“We have already registered some of these up-and-coming foreigners as local players but it will become very difficult for these players to play in Hong Kong in future.”