Northern Ireland football chiefs have suffered a crushing defeat in their attempts to prevent players switching to play for the Republic of Ireland.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne today rejected an appeal by the Irish FA against FIFA and the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) allowing Belfast-born Daniel Kearns to play for the Republic.
Kearns, 18, represented Northern Ireland at U-17 level but switched to play for the Republic this year and played in two European U-19 Championship matches.
A statement from CAS said: “The CAS panel dismissed the appeal and confirmed the decision issued by the single judge of the FIFA players’ status committee, which recognised that Daniel Kearns was eligible to play for the national team of the FAI.”
Under the Good Friday Agreement, Irish passports can be held by Irish citizens born on either side of the border.
However the IFA have been trying to prevent a talent drain of players and have been arguing that players born in Northern Ireland without family links to the south should not be allowed to play for the Republic.
Kearns, who was released by West Ham at the end of last season, joined the likes of Manchester United’s Darron Gibson and Portsmouth’s Marc Wilson in switching allegiance from Northern Ireland to the Republic.
FIFA’s players’ status committee had ruled that Kearns fulfilled the requirements in that he had never represented Northern Ireland in an official competition at senior international level.
Irish FA president Raymond Kennedy reacted with dismay to the court’s decision.
Kennedy said: “I am disappointed by today’s decision but we will continue to develop our very successful and wide range of ’Football for All’ and community programmes in the areas of grassroots, domestic and international football to ensure that anyone available to play for Northern Ireland will want to do so.”
The Irish FA wished Kearns “the best of luck” for his future career but said they would wait to see the court’s full judgement before making any further comment.
Paul Butler, a Sinn Féin member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, welcomed the court’s ruling.
Butler said: “I hope that we have now heard the final word on the matter. The reality is that the Irish FA have done themselves a considerable disservice by proceeding along this path, rather than simply accepting the rules as determined by FIFA.
“The Good Friday Agreement enshrines the right to Irish citizenship to all northern-born residents and challenging this in the manner the IFA have done has put back sporting relations on this island, as well as souring relations between the IFA and northern nationalists.”