Kadambari Raghukumar meets amateur football players feeling shut out by New Zealand regulations.
It’s a hot Saturday afternoon in Auckland’s Anderson Park.
Waiheke United are playing Mount Albert-Ponsonby today. La Banda Del Pipazo, the fan band, is also here.
They go everywhere Waiheke United goes - even on the ferry, you can be sure to hear them chanting and singing for their team.
While it seems like fun and games, clubs like Waiheke United are tackling a tough situation this football season. "We're sure we can cope, but we need more time because we're an island-based team," says Alan Llunes, about finding new players and trying to fulfil the requirements of the ‘foreign player regulation".
Alan's the captain of the team that won the Northern Division in 2021
The regulation has been around for years, mainly applied to about 10 national league teams. But since last year it now applies to almost 30-35 teams across the Northern and Southern leagues in the amateur game in New Zealand.
Essentially, it stipulates that only 5 non-citizens are allowed in the match-day squad - four foreign players and one from Oceania.
So naturally the more diverse the team, often depending on where the club's based - the harder it's hit by the rule - slimmer chances of existing players getting into the precious five on match-day.
Waiheke Island with its cafes, restaurants and vineyards draws thousands of football-crazy South Americans and European immigrants to its shores for the lifestyle and work opportunities. Naturally, many are really just on work visas, have a resident or permanent resident visa or are waiting for one of either.
More than 60% of the island's football team are South American, or European - who've lived and worked on the island for years.
"We earned our spot in the league. Our club is multicultural, that's what football is about, no?" asks Alan.
The club now have to consider finding players who may not live on the island - an expensive and tough task, particularly for the 19-25 age group where most players leave Waiheke for university, there's a small pool to choose from on the island.
Explaining the thinking behind the structural change and the regulations, NZ Football said in a written statement to RNZ:
The regulations provide for all members of the football community the opportunity to compete in the National League. It’s designed to prioritise youth development and sustainability while providing an open structure that allows any club in the country the ability to compete at a national level. One of its key purposes is to expose a larger pool of talented players to a high level of competitive football to give them the best opportunity to go on to represent their country. The eligibility rules of the National League have been developed to balance the purpose of the league, global standards and eligibility requirements of the OFC Champions League. The regulations provide for all members of the football community the opportunity to compete in the National League.
Andy O’Donoghue was born in the UK, grew up in Auckland playing junior football, and went to the States on a sports scholarship when he turned 18 in 2013. He came back in 2019 and plays with Manukau United, a club that like Waiheke, provides itself on being diverse and inclusive.
Since last year, Andy's opportunities have become limited because although he has permanent residence in New Zealand, he holds a UK passport.
"It's ironic because they say they want to be inclusive but this is discriminatory. It should be about the best players, not citizenship. Some of us have to wait years before we can get citizenship, five years in a long time in football."