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Features, Sports

Does Declining a National Team Call Up Make You Unpatriotic?

In January 2021, FIFA implemented a complete overhaul of the eligibility system, allowing players who may have previously been bound to a nationality by youth representation or even full national…

  • Toyosi Afolayan
  • 31st January 2023

Nigeria, the largest economy in Africa, benefits from a sizable, active, and youthful population that accounts for more than 65 percent of its total population. Unfortunately, Nigeria’s economy hasn’t aided many’s development on either an economic or psychological level, which has caused people to emigrate forcibly to other nations in pursuit of greener pastures. This migration trend has bestowed on a lot of second generation Nigerians dual nationalities, as many Nigerians have gone on to settle in European nations, Canada, and the United States of America.


Nigeria as a country is no pushover when it comes to sports because they have been gifted with outstanding athletes from generation to generation. From the grassroots, Nigeria has successfully produced sportsmen who have been celebrated by lovers of athleticism and sports generally. Retired Sportsmen like Austin Jay-Jay Okocha, Kanu Nwankwo, John Mikel Obi, Mary Onyali, Blessing Okagbare, Sunday Olanrewaju Bada, Olumide Oyedeji, Ṣẹgun Toriola and many more are products of the Nigerian system.


However, sportsmen are now permitted to switch allegiance from one nation to the other through naturalization or by genealogy. At the moment, almost every global sports organization has adopted the change of nationality rule. In the 20th century, FIFA, the organization that governs football worldwide, let a player to represent any national team as long as they were citizens of that nation. FIFA established a crucial new rule that requires a player to show a “clear connection” to any country they seek to represent in 2004 in response to a growing trend in some nations to naturalize international players. 


In January 2021, FIFA implemented a complete overhaul of the eligibility system, allowing players who may have previously been bound to a nationality by youth representation or even full national team caps to convert to another nation. However, with the dual nationality rule Nigeria has successfully convinced foreign born Nigerians to represent the nation. In football, Victor Moses, Olaoluwa Aina, Alexander Iwobi, Michelle Alozie, Tony Payne and many more switched nationalities to represent the West African giants.


The D’Tigers and D’Tigeress of Nigeria have also benefited from this rule, with a host of US born Nigerians opting to dorn the green and white jersey. There are notable names like Jordan Nwora, Al-Farouq Aminu and Ezinne Kalu. On the other hand, Nigeria has also been a victim of this rule. Most especially in athletics where Nigerian born sprinters have dumped their country of birth to represent nations like Qatar and Bahrain.


Does Declining a National Team Call Up Make You Unpatriotic?


Abass Abubakar and Musa Isah decided to represent Bahrain at the 2019 World Championships in Doha, Qatar. Abubakar told MOC [via The Punch] that inadequate support for Nigerian Athletes led them to switch nationalities.


“Running for another country is different, especially for Nigerians. There are a lot of things that made us change nationality. Running for Bahrain is something good for me. If I was still in Nigeria, maybe by now I will no longer be running.” he said in the interview


We could have made Nigeria proud too but if we were in Nigeria, I don’t think we can reach this level. I don’t need to be telling you what is happening there. You already know. I think it is a big achievement that we are all Nigerians representing Bahrain and doing all these things. We need support to make it together. When I was a Nigerian, nobody cared about me. Nobody looked after me. I know the condition that I was faced with; I know what is going on.” he added


Now generally, Nigerians have the belief that if an athlete refuses to represent his or her ancestral home the individual is not patriotic. There are numerous individuals who decided against representing Nigeria, many of them can be found in football and basketball. While this line of reasoning isn’t exclusive to Nigeria or Nigerians, it’s quite clear that this view is held quite fervently around here. 


Now to be considered a patriot, do you have to put on the official colors of the country? Does declining a call up to our national team make you unpatriotic? American Congregational clergyman Charles E. Jefferson once said, patriotism is a thing of the heart. A man is a patriot if his heart beats true to his country. A testament to this statement by Jefferson is Bukayo Saka. The Anglo-Nigerian Arsenal player is one of the star men for the three lions but it’s quite clear he’s heart is connected to Nigeria. A couple of months ago, the forward teamed up with a charity to fund 120 life-changing operations for children in the city of Kano, in northern Nigeria.


The 21-year-old who was born in London to Nigerian parents, says he wants to have a positive impact in a country which he feels “very connected to”. Another sports man of Nigerian descent who doesn’t wear the green white green but shows he’s connected to the country is David Alaba. The Real Madrid defender, through his foundation, donated an ultra-modern biodegradable toilet facility in the Ogere Remo community in Ogun state. 


Now, these acts are not a clear indication of patriotism either. In fact, a cynic might consider them charitable acts and nothing more. But as Jefferson said, patriotism is a thing of the heart. Considering the dire circumstances of the country, it’s quite clear why many players might opt to play for another country that they might feel equally connected to. With news of unpaid salaries, existing poor facilities and many other unpleasant conditions, if these athletes could choose better circumstances, why wouldn’t they?

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