October 22, 2021

PIOs and OCI card holders: Who are eligible to play for India and what is the law?

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Goal tells you all about the PIOs and OCI card holders and how can such players be eligible to play for the Indian national team…

The inclusion of Person of Indian Origin (PIO) and Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card holders in the Indian national football team has been an issue that has been in the news for a very long time in Indian football.

The Blue Tigers’ head coach Igor Stimac has been a huge advocate of the same. Head coaches before Stimac like Stephen Constantine had also raised this issue of allowing PIOs and OCI card holding players to represent India but the laws of the land do not permit this right now. 

The All India Football Federation (AIFF) had also held discussions with the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (MYAS) last year regarding the inclusion of PIO and OCI players in the national team.

Who are PIO and OCI card holders?

PIO

A Person of Indian Origin (PIO) means a foreign citizen (except a national of Pakistan, Afghanistan Bangladesh, China, Iran, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Nepal) who at any time had previously held an Indian passport.

Or either of their parents/ grandparents/ great grandparents was born and permanently resident in India as defined in the Government of India Act, 1935 and other territories that became part of India thereafter provided neither was at any time a citizen of any of the aforesaid countries.

Or who is a spouse of a citizen of India or a PIO

OCI

A foreign national, – (i) Who was a citizen of India at the time of, or at any time after 26th January 1950

(ii) Who was eligible to become a citizen of India on 26th January 1950

(iii) Who belonged to a territory that became part of India after 15th August 1947

(iv) Who is a child or a grandchild or a great-grandchild of such a citizen

(v) Who is a minor child of such persons mentioned above

(vi) Who is a minor child and whose both parents are citizens of India or one of the parents is a citizen of India – is eligible for registration as OCI cardholder. Besides, spouse of foreign origin of a citizen of India or spouse of foreign origin of an Overseas Citizen of India Cardholder and whose marriage has been registered and subsisted for a continuous period of not less than two years immediately preceding the presentation of the application is also eligible for registration as OCI cardholder. However, no person, who or either of whose parents or grandparents or great grandparents is or had been a citizen of Pakistan, Bangladesh or such other country as the Central Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, specify, shall be eligible for registration as an Overseas Citizen of India Cardholder.

Can PIOs and OCI card holders play for India?

The Government of India had barred PIOs and OCI players to represent the Indian national team in the international arena in 2008.

Upholding the central government’s policy, the Delhi High Court in 2010 had issued a judgment which read, “People of Indian Origin (PIO) and Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cannot represent India in international sports events.”

Delhi High Court’s Justice S Muralidhar had said that until the Government of India does not recognize dual citizenship in all aspects, foreign passport holders should not be permitted to play for India in international events. The decision on the participation of foreign passport holders in National Events is left to the respective National Sports Federation (NSF).

Is Dual citizenship allowed in India?

The Government of India does not grant dual citizenship to a person under the Constitution of India and the Citizenship Act, 1955.

How can PIOs ad OCI card holders play for India?

The only way PIO and OCI footballers can represent India in international football right now is by surrendering their current passports of their present countries and apply for the citizenship of India.

Some prominent eligible PIOs playing in Europe

Omid Singh: The 28-year-old Iranian winger, born to a Punjabi father and an Iranian mother had considered giving up his Iranian passport to take Indian citizenship and represent the national team in the past. Indian coach Igor Stimac too had expressed his desire to get Omid for the national team. Singh currently plies his trade with Persian Gulf Pro League club Aluminium Arak.

Yan Dhanda: Yan Dhanda, born in Birmingham was the first-ever player of Indian heritage to sign a professional contract with Liverpool in December 2015. He started his youth career at West Bromwich Albion and moved to Liverpool’s youth system in the same year and presented the Reds at the U18 and U23 level. In 2018, Dhanda moved to Swansea City after his contract ran out with Liverpool. In the ongoing Championship season, the attacking midfielder has appeared in 20 matches for Swansea City and has scored one goal.

Danny Batth: Former Wolves captain Danny Batth, born to an Indian father in England, had expressed his desire to play for the Indian national team back in 2017 after he met then Indian coach Stephen Constantine in India. He desired to represent the country his father was born in but could not due to the citizenship laws of India. The 30-year-old defender currently plays for Stoke City in the Championship.

Neil Taylor: Neil Taylor was born to a Welsh father and Indian, Bengali mother who hailed from Kolkata. The 32-year-old left-back played for Swansea City for seven seasons from 2010-2017 before moving to Aston Villa. In the ongoing Premier League season, Taylor has made 15 appearances for Villa.

Some footballers with dual citizenship who chose to represent their native nation

Ivan Rakitic: The star Croatian midfielder was born in Switzerland and had represented the Swiss national team at various youth level but later shifted to Croatia and represented their senior team eventually a place he was connected through lineage.

Kevin Prince Boateng: Kevin Price Boateng and his brother Jerome were of Ghanian descent born in Germany. Both the brothers represented the German national team at the youth level unlike his singling, Kevin Prince later decided to represent Ghana at the senior level.

Riyad Mahrez: The Manchester City footballer was born in France to Algerian parents and had spent of life in France. But eventually, he decided to represent the Algerian national team.

Zesh Rahman: British-Pakistani defender Zesh Rahman was born in England and had started his professional career in the country but in 2005 he decided to represent the Pakistani national team through his lineage.