Background and Context of Debate:
In recent years football (soccer to Americans and Australians) has become a huge and highly international business. Once even leading teams were full of players born and brought up within a few miles of the club ground. Now many are foreigners attracted by the high wages on offer in the richest European leagues (e.g. England’s Premier League, Spain’s La Liga or Italy’s Serie A). In the Premier League only a third of the players were English in 2007-8, and in some games leading clubs such as Arsenal and Chelsea sent out sides with no Englishmen at all. To some people this development is a cause for celebration - the nationalism of the past has been set aside and the quality of games has improved with the best players in the world facing each other every week. Others argue that having too many foreigners harms the chances of domestic (locally-born) players, allows a few rich clubs to win everything, and weakens the national team.
Arguments about foreign players have gone on for many years in the media, without much being done. At the same time the increasing wealth of the top European leagues, boosted by television money and sponsorship, has sucked in the best players from all over the world. European Union rules have made this easier, as citizens of member states are allowed to work in any EU country without restrictions. However FIFA, the international body in charge of football, has now proposed to do something about the situation. At the 2008 FIFA meeting in Sydney its President, Sepp Blatter, got strong backing for his six-plus-five proposal. This would make football clubs send out no more than five overseas players in their starting eleven. The aim is to bring this into effect in the 2012/13 season but whether it actually happens remains in doubt. It would have the greatest impact in Europe, but the EU has said that it would be illegal there as it attempts to restrict the free movement of labour.
As the richest and most global sport, football gets the most attention from the media and politicians, but this debate is also important to other team sports. Cricket, basketball, baseball, sumo wrestling and handball have all sometimes seen complaints about the number of foreign players spoiling the game and weakening national sides. The arguments below focus on football and FIFA’s proposals to limit foreign players to five per side, but they could easily be adapted to other sports.