Tackling the tricky eligibility question
Am I eligible to write this?
Short answer: probably not. But questions of eligibility have interested me in the past couple of weeks, mainly because of everyone's favourite winger (until he is playing their team), Semi Radradra.
There have been opinion pieces and news articles and club denials all because the 23-year-old Fijian-born Eels player is said to be weighing up whether he should play for Australia instead of the country he was born in. As he's lived in Australia for three years, he's eligible under residency laws.
It still won't help him play State of Origin – he hasn't played rugby league in NSW or Queensland before the age of 13, as the rules state – but as a Kangaroo, he will receive the many benefits of playing with the world's rugby league powerhouse, which would be hard for anyone to knock back. And along the way, there's no telling what rules could be loosened in terms of Origin eligibility.
I personally am a huge advocate for international rugby league, especially when you see just how much the game brings together and helps communities in the Pacific region. Who wouldn't want to see Semi play for Fiji in the World Cup? Imagine some of the feats he'd pull off.
However as someone with a multicultural background, I can see how black-and-white eligibility laws would grind people's gears. There are many, many Australians – or adopted Australians – who feel ties with two or three or even four countries, especially ones who are the sons and daughters of immigrants.
In Semi's case, though he'd obviously feel deeply for Fiji, I'm sure he's pretty fond of the land Down Under as well. But if he pledges to play for Australia and doesn't make the team, he has to wait until the World Cup to play for Fiji – which means no turning out for Bati until the end of 2017.
So what's the answer to any of this?
Working hard to raise the profile of countries like Fiji – with players like Semi at the forefront – is the only way the game will ever create environments where there's financial incentive on par with playing for Australia and New Zealand in the Pacific and anywhere else around the world.
Fans can't keep calling for talent to jump ship because they're good – that's the exact reason they should be turning out for Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Scotland, Lebanon…
And if they do jump ship – and they are playing for a second-tier country – perhaps it would be okay for them to stroll back into their 'other' national team if they don't get picked for the bigger one.
There's never going to be a perfect answer to this quandary because there's nothing that will ever make an entire group of people perfectly happy. In an incredibly cheesy way, I hope whatever happens, Semi is happy. Rugby league players have short careers and no one can blame them for putting their interests and the interests of their families first.
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