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Every once in a while I hear about this or that athlete choosing Wales or Scotland over England for the national side in football or rugby. Prominent examples that come to my mind are Ryan Giggs and Gareth Bale. I'm not sure how the regulation is with regards to the national team eligibility, do all citizens of UK have the liberty to choose any national side (in the UK that is)?

As a follow-up question, isn't it a bit tricky that UK is represented as one single team in some disciplines (e.g. track and fields) and as individual "nations" in other disciplines (e.g. football or rugby)? I mean, that could technically mean (or at least extrapolated to) that individual states in the U.S. could also have their national teams?

Could someone with more knowledge on this matter, help me (us) figure this out? :)

  • And at the Commonwealth Games, if I recall correctly, UK athletes compete for any of the home nations and there is no UK team. – pjmorse Jan 17 '13 at 12:01
  • Northern Ireland is even more complicated: for some sports the whole island of Ireland has a united team. – TRiG May 7 '13 at 12:17
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So I had to dig up a bit on the regulations regarding the whole thing. So apparently while Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Englad being different countries, they are under the same international identity in the form of British passports. So that fact, together with the fact that there is no national team for the UK, means that any British citizen can play for any one of these four national teams.

That being the case, the football associations from these different nations have come to an agreement, together with FIFA, which is referred to as the "home nations agreement". According to the agreement a player is eligible for a national team for the nation he's born/lives in/has parents or grandparents from. In Gareth Bale's case, his grandmother is English, thus he was eligible for England but opted not to play for England but instead for Wales.

The residency clause was then removed in order to comply with FIFA regulations. Another clause was then added in 2008 to give eligibility for players that have gotten at least 5 year-long education before the age of 18, in any one of the four nations. This change aloows for example an English-born player who's been through education in Scotland to be eligible for both England and Scotland.

The interesting bit is of it all is that athletes from any other territory within Great Britain (who're eligible for a British passport) can choose to play for any one of the four nations (e.g. Matt Le Tissier, Graeme Le Saux, Owen Hargreaves).


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The answer by @posdef is incorrect. Each sport can set their own rules. I worked for the Welsh Athletics federation and there were some very stringent rules (birth, ancestry, residency) over who could and could not compete for Wales in international competitions (notwithstanding the fact that British athletes compete as Great Britain & Northern Ireland in international champs like Europeans and Worlds) and the Commonwealth Games. We just couldn't pick any British athletes who were interested (it used to be much looser but it was tightened as it provoked resentment).

I am not sure about other sports.

As for the Northern Ireland/Rep of Ireland debate, all people born in Northern Ireland are granted dual citizenship so are eligible for both (as in Rory McIlroy's case recently) - assuming the sport hasn't got a unified Irish team like as Rugby.

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