Unlocking Nepali Football's Potential: The Diaspora Visa Opportunity

The government of Nepal has already granted non-resident citizenship to two former presidents of the Non-Resident Nepali Association (NRNA) on Tuesday of last week. Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda has handed over the non-resident Nepali citizenship to the chairpersons Kul Acharya and Badri KC.

As soon as the current President Ramchandra Paudel certified the Citizenship Bill, which has been passed by the Parliament but has not yet been approved, now any non-resident Nepali who renounces Nepali citizenship and holds the citizenship of other countries will be able to get NRNA citizenship.

PM Dahal with two former NRNA Chairpersons issuing certificate

This provision has been brought by the government with the purpose of attracting large number of non-resident citizens to invest within Nepal. With this a person who has obtained the citizenship will mainly get the social and cultural facilities of Nepal .But it has been completely banned in the political sector of the country.

Unlocking Nepali Football's Potential through Diaspora Visa Opportunity

Thus, for the first time, due to the flexibility shown by the government to the Nepali nationals living abroad, the Nepali sports field, especially football, will be opened to a certain extent for some footballers who are playing in different big clubs of the world wearing the country's jersey.

More than a dozen footballers of Nepali origin are playing in UK, Australia, Hong Kong, India as citizens of different countries. Some of the big and well-known names are Ashmita Ale, a member of the British women's football team, Kiben Rai, the famous club football star of Wales, Bivesh Gurung of the UK, Bikas Meraglia of Italy, etc.

Kiben Rai with his family (left), Bivesh Gurung with his cousins (right)

Before when the NRNA citizenship was not verified, these players would have to give up their passports if they wanted to play for Nepal's national football team. From a selfish perspective, which is not beneficial for these players too. As it is risky for their own future to jump into Nepali football where they can't even survive after giving up their high level playing life.

A Glimpse of success into SAFF football through diaspora

By bringing the provision of diaspora visa, Pakistani football made it to the second stage of the World Cup qualifiers for the first time. After almost 15 months of FIFA ban, Pakistan football would have taken a long time to wake up. But Pakistan made a strong team by gathering all the players of their origin who are playing in various big tournaments in Europe.

   Marvin Hamilton (left) , Dillon De Silva (Right) two Sri Lanka diaspora against Nepal SAFF 2021

The practice of playing the Diaspora in this way was done by Sri Lanka in the SAFF Championship held in the Maldives in 2021. They took out two players, Martin Hamilton and Dillon de Silva from Britain. At the same time, Bangladesh also made a strong effort to take out Eletta Kinsley, a citizen of Nigeria, but Kinsley's dream remained incomplete as the federation did not show interest. Well, only last March, Kinsley made his debut in a friendly match against Seychelles.

Eleta Kigsley in action against Seychelles for  Bangladesh
The same Sri Lanka that brought the provision of diaspora also managed to stop the stronger side Yemen, with a 1-1 draw in the home match of the World Cup first qualifier. However, Sri Lanka could not make it to the second round after losing 3-0 in the away match. In this way, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, who are playing the same regional tournament together with Nepal, are giving place to Diaspora players in the national team & doing well.

Can a foreign player of Nepalese origin represent the national jersey of Nepal ?

It is clearly stated in the NRNA Citizenship Act itself. A person with this citizenship will be able to enjoy the following facilities:

  • Issuance of identity card on their application along with necessary documents and fees;
  • Right to open accounts in convertible foreign currencies;
  • Investments can be made in variable foreign currencies;
  • Investing and repatriating profits earned from investments;
  • The right to carry on an industry or business;
  • Purchase of land for residential purposes;
  • Free visa to enter Nepal as long as the NRNA card is valid (10 years).
  • Right to apply for long-term (within validity of NRN card) free family visa.

It's not stated anywhere above-mentioned that a Nepali citizen of foreign origin are not allowed to play for the national team.  Generally, Nepali citizenship is required to represent Nepal's national football team. However, it is also possible if the NRNA citizenship is amended by the government of Nepal to take into account with specific rules and eligibility criteria.

Nepalese diaspora Kiben Rai in action for Nweport County 

As former minister Jhakri said in the 11th NRNA World Congress , highly skilled and professional Nepali people from foreign can be given access to the same field through diaspora visa. For this, if there must be an initiative of the National Sports Council along with the All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) to regulate Nepali football, under special circumstances, dual citizenships will be allowed to represent the nation. But all this will depend on Nepali laws and policies of ANFA.

Pakistan's football practice of Diaspora

From September 2021, like many other countries, Pakistan has allowed people of Pakistani origin living abroad (diaspora) to potentially represent the country in sports, including football. Here are some general points to consider regarding diaspora citizenship and eligibility to play for the national football team:

1. Citizenship Status: Diaspora individuals who have retained or acquired Pakistani citizenship may be eligible to represent Pakistan in international football competitions.

2. Diaspora Initiatives: Some countries actively encourage individuals from their diaspora communities to engage in national sports and may have specific outreach programs to identify and recruit talent from abroad.

Easah Suliman captain (England), Rahis Nabi (England) & Abdullah Iqbal (Denmark) against Camboadia

3. Dual Citizenship: Dual citizenship policies can impact eligibility. Some countries permit dual citizenship, while others do not. Pakistan has allowed dual citizenship in certain cases, but the rules and regulations may change over time.

4. Eligibility Criteria: The eligibility of diaspora citizens to play for the national football team may depend on factors such as age, experience, skills, and the team's needs. The PFF sets the eligibility criteria for national team selection.

5. FIFA and AFC Regulations: Pakistan is affiliated with FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), and eligibility rules must align with their regulations. These governing bodies may have their own rules and requirements for players' eligibility.

An urgency in Nepal football & hope of diaspora

In this way, if the government of Nepal can give the right place to the highest talent of its citizens of foreign origin, then the sports of Nepal can reach the height in the future with very little investment.

Also, in a situation where the country is financially broke, the government does not invest even one percent of the total budget in the sports sector. In this situation, it seems appropriate to give Diaspora players a place in Nepali football and other sports fields with special conditions through the NRNA citizenship which has been used recently. At the same time, the own young Nepalese talents should not be neglected. Nepali football would rise if sufficient investment is made in the grassroots as well.

Nepalese born Hongkong U-23 international midfielder in action 

The dream of watching Kiben, Bivesh, Ashmita playing in Nepal jersey would be possible for the common Nepali football fans in this section. While saying this, there is another big question that will those players play for Nepal?? The answer to that will depend on what kind of atmosphere Nepal's football creates in the future.

Even now, there are more than a half dozen of big Nepali names in the top leagues of Hong Kong where a Nepali football player cannot reach even if he wants to. The same is true in Britain. There are many famous players of Nepalese origin in Indonesia, Wales, Italy and other countries.

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