Who Represents the Country? A Short History of Foreign-Born Athletes in the World Cup

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When the FIFA Men’s World Cup kicks off in Qatar on November 20, locals will have their eyes fixed firmly on one man: Almoez Ali. A striker, Ali was on the Qatar national squad that won the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, in which he scored a record nine goals and his team beat more established powerhouses such as Japan and South Korea.

Ali was not born in Qatar, however, but in Sudan. During the competition, he and a teammate overcame charges from the United Arab Emirates of playing for Qatar illegitimately, after having acquired citizenship through naturalization. He is not alone. In fact, about half of the Qatari men’s squad was born abroad. Ali’s mother was born in Qatar, making him eligible to play for the country, but teammates such as Portuguese-born center back Pedro Miguel seem to have no prior connections with the Gulf nation. Exact details of how they became Qatari nationals remain unclear; Qatar typically erects steep obstacles to citizenship acquisition, but seems to have created an easier path for players on the national soccer team.

Qatar may be an exceptional case in that such a large share of its team is foreign born, but in international athletics having players of different national origins is by no means unique. On average, nearly 10 percent of players in previous World Cups have competed for countries in which they were not born. In some cases, these players had always been able to obtain the national team’s citizenship, such as through their parents or grandparents, although in many cases they acquired the nationality later in life. In others, they were citizens from birth, even though born in another country.
Original languageEnglish
Media of outputOnline
Publication statusPublished - 17 Nov 2022


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