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Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Plea to minister over Iraqi's work ban

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith was being lobbied today to review the decision not to grant an Iraqi footballer a work permit which could 'heal divisions'.

Manchester City manager Sven-Goran Eriksson had hoped to sign Nashat Akram, a star of Iraq's Asian Cup-winning team.

But Akram, 24, cannot come to the UK because of a technicality in immigration rules for footballers.

'I shall be calling on the Home Secretary to review this decision,' said Keith Vaz, Labour MP for Leicester East.

He added: 'Here we have someone who wants to come and work legitimately, a role model for his country, whose presence here can heal divisions in Iraq.

'Parliament has given ministers the right to exercise their discretion and they should use it.

'This case sends out all the wrong messages.'

To gain a work permit, a player's national side must be in the top 70 of the FIFA rankings and Iraq has only been ranked 71 and 72.

It is a predicament, say Akram's supporters, partly caused by the current violence which makes it impossible for Iraq to host international games.

Earlier this month, Watford midfielder Al Bangura, from Sierra Leone, was granted a work permit after a decision to deport him was overturned.

City have already lost an appeal against the Home Office ruling, but hope remains after the Iraqi government took up Akram's cause. They have sent a letter to the British Ambassador in Iraq.

Midfielder Akram currently plays for Al-Ain in the United Arab Emirates.

His national team have been unable to move up in the FIFA rankings because it has been impossible to play any home matches due to fears of violence.

The team, which trains outside Iraq, has not played a home game in nearly 20 years because of fears of strife and UN sanctions under Saddam Hussein.

City boss Eriksson told the club's website: 'This is a big blow and a great disappointment to us.

'I have huge sympathy for Nashat. He is a very good footballer with an excellent international pedigree.

'He has now returned to the Middle-East and we will keep in touch with him. He is somebody who we will maintain an interest in for the long term.'

Akram's website said: 'The main reason behind the rejection is known to be the average ranking of Iraq in the last two years.

'Iraq's average ranking in the last two years was 71 which wasn't convincing to the work permit authority in the United Kingdom.'

A spokesman for the Home Office said today: 'We don't comment on individual cases.'

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