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

The Hong Kong FA is forced to deregister these players, along with a handful in the Premier League, but is working on gaining exemptions

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 December, 2016, 6:23pm
UPDATED : Friday, 30 December, 2016, 11:36pm

More than 50 young players in the Hong Kong soccer leagues have been caught up in a Fifa-enforced rule regarding the recruitment of minors.

In an unprecedented move, the Hong Kong Football Association has deregistered 49 players aged under 13, and up to 18, who are without a Hong Kong passport and playing in the Jockey Club Youth League, along with a handful from the elite Premier League.

A HKFA spokesman said it was acting on a directive from soccer’s world governing body relating to a rule on international transfer of players and the protection of minors.

The issue came about after three Spanish Primera Liga giants – Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid – were punished by Fifa for breaching rules over the transfer of foreign players under the age of 18.

Among the players banned are four in the Kitchee Premier League roster – midfielders Barak Braunshtain and Mark Swainston and strikers Robert Stamp and Sebastian Buddle – as well as Axel Adler, of BC Glory Sky.

Kitchee also have more than 10 other junior players who have been removed from their team list, as have Football Club and Kowloon Cricket Club, the two other clubs that have many foreign players in the Youth League.

“This is a disaster for our development programme,” said Kitchee head coach Chu Chi-kwong. “We have already planned to provide these promising lads playing opportunities in the second half of the season to gain exposure at the highest level and suddenly they have all been banned.

“This not only disrupts our development plans but also Hong Kong soccer as these four young guys [in the Premier League roster] are all potential members of the national squad at international level.”

Santosh Ghadge, who has a son playing for Inlands in the Under-14 division one, said there were five players on the team who had been suspended.

“There are many foreign young players who have played in this league for many years and some teams have 60-70 per cent foreign players,” said Ghadge.

“This Fifa rule might work in other countries but Hong Kong is a multicultural/national country and many foreigners live here.”

The HKFA spokesman said they were following Fifa rules to temporarily suspend all these young players who do not have a Hong Kong passport, but would try to resolve the issue as soon as possible.

“We met with Fifa representatives last month and were instructed to abide by the rule which is related to Fifa article 19 about protection of minors,” he said.

“At the board meeting early this month, we decided to accede to Fifa’s request for deregistering all the relevant players and so far there are 49 players that have been affected out a total 148 participating teams in the Youth League.”

See Fifa’s Regulations on the Status and Transfer of players, article 19 (page 22)

The official said they would approach Fifa for exemptions and hoped this could be granted by next month.

“We need to submit it to a Fifa subcommittee under its Players’ Status Committee for approval if the player applies to register in a country/territories other than the one of his own ‘nationality’ but we don’t know how Fifa will treat our cases,” he said.

“Further discussions will be held with clubs that are affected, especially those who have had more foreign minor players. It may possibly affect the upcoming Youth League this season.”

In April, Fifa imposed a one-year suspension on Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid – effectively two transfer windows – over breaches of its regulations with respect to the registration of a number of minor players.

Real filed an appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport requesting that the sanctions be lifted and, following a hearing at its headquarters in Lausanne on December 14, the suspension was halved.

In 2014, Barcelona were banned from signing players in two successive windows after they were found breaching rules on the transfer of under-18 players.