The debate on whether PIOs should be allowed to represent the country has been going on for a while now.
Over the years, the concept of national teams giving opportunities to players born in other nations to represent them has taken a prominent shape. Qatar – set to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup – have multiple players in their squad originating from other nations. They’ve developed a rule which allows players born in other countries to represent the national team – something that has benefitted them majorly. In Indian football, there has been a lot of debate going on over the representations of PIO players. Better known as ‘Person of Indian Origin’, a PIO is a foreign national with the right to obtain an Indian passport.
The national team coach Igor Stimac has been a big advocate for allowing PIO footballers to play for India. However, until now, there has been no talented foreigner with an Indian-origin to have represented the country.
Who are PIOs?
A Person of Indian Origin (PIO) is a foreign citizen (with the exception of Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, Iran, Bhutan, and Nepal), who has held an Indian passport at any time.
Additionally, PIOs can also be someone whose parents, grandparents or great grandparents were born and permanently resided in India. Someone whose parents/grandparents/great grandparents lived in any territory that became a part of India are PIOs as well. This is provided they weren’t a citizen of any of the aforementioned countries.
They can also be the spouse of a Citizen of India or a PIO.
Can PIOs represent India?
The Government of India barred Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) from representing the country in international sporting competitions in 2008.
In 2010, the Delhi High Court upheld the government’s policy. They issued a judgment that insisted that a PIO cannot represent the country at the international level.
India does not grant dual citizenship (a person with passports from multiple countries). As a result, the Delhi HC insisted they cannot allow foreigners to play for India in international sporting events.
Some of the PIOs interested in representing India
Over the years, a number of PIO footballers have made clear their interest in representing the Indian football team. Stoke City centre-back Danny Batth is someone who’s openly voiced his dream of playing for India, with his dad being of Indian-origin.
Omid Singh, who nearly joined SC East Bengal last season, is another player who Igor Stimac wanted in his side. The creative, talented Iranian’s father carries an Indian passport, allowing him a chance to get one as well.
Harmeet Singh was born and raised in Norway but his parents originate from Ludhiana. Known as the ‘Norwegian Iniesta’, the impressive midfielder has enjoyed a decent career and played all over Europe. A few years ago, he admitted that he would like to play for India instead of Norway.
Former NEROCA FC star Aryn Williams is another player eligible to play for India because of his mother’s side of the family. In an interview with Khel Now, Williams admitted that he would be willing to give up his Australian passport, if it meant he could play for the Blue Tigers.
How can PIOs become eligible to play for India?
The only way for a PIO to get the opportunity to play for India in international competitions is if they give up their passports. They can then apply for Indian citizenship. Upon receiving that, they will be eligible to represent the country.
In order to apply for Indian citizenship, the individual must be registered as an OCI (Overseas Citizen of India) for at least five years. They must also be residing in India for at least one out of those five years.
Naturally, many of the PIO’s have been hesitant to surrender their own passports to play for the Blue Tigers. The entire ordeal being a time-consuming one means that not many actually go through with it.