Almost 50 young players in the Hong Kong football leagues have been caught up in a Fifa-enforced rule about the recruitment of minors.
In an unprecedented move, the Hong Kong Football Association has deregistered 49 players aged under 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.
An HKFA spokesman said it was acting on a directive from Fifa, football’s world governing body, relating to a rule on the international transfer of players and the protection of minors.
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.
Along with the other Kitchee players, Sebastian, 17, found out just before Christmas. However, the first team squad player says the ruling won’t affect his intensive training schedule – he just won’t be allowed to play matches. He and the other banned footballers are holding out for an exemption, which may be granted under Fifa’s rules stating that players are allowed to compete if they have lived in the country concerned for more than five years, or if their parents moved to the country due to reasons other than football.
“I was born in Hong Kong and have lived here my whole life and feel like a Hong Kong citizen,” he told Young Post. “I have played in this league with Kitchee since I was 12 years old and there has never been any problem.”
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,” he said.
“This Fifa rule might work in other countries but Hong Kong is a multicultural/national place and many foreigners live here.”
The HKFA spokesman said they were following Fifa rules to suspend young players without Hong Kong passports, but would try to resolve the issue as soon as possible. The official said they would approach Fifa for exemptions and hoped this could be granted soon.
Sebastian adds, “Hopefully it will be sorted out this month. There are some cup games coming up I hope to be involved in. [The ruling] also affects the under-18 league and reserves. We are top of the under-18 league and many players in our squad are in the same situation, so we hope that it will be sorted out soon.”