Alivereti Raka came close to stopping his application for French nationality following abuse from internet trolls.
The Clermont winger, who has officially been a French citizen since December 2018, now has his sights firmly set on being part of France’s World Cup squad. But, he revealed vicious comments published online had made him reconsider his application.
“There were people … on the Internet. They wondered why France were looking for players from so far away because there are a lot of good French players here,” he told the Canal Rugby Club programme at the weekend.
The abuse he received when news broke of his plans to apply for citizenship and play for France prompted him, briefly, to think again. “I discussed it again with my agent. I didn’t understand [why people would make such comments]. I wanted to stop working on my passport application.”
But he decided to stick it out. His successful application was published in France’s Journal Officiel, the government gazette, in late November. In January, he collected his papers at a citizenship ceremony.
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“In the end, I’m proud of myself. I’ve done a good job. Now I am French.”
Time is running out if Raka is to book his seat on the plane to Japan. Having qualified for selection, he suffered a wrist injury that required surgery and meant he missed the 2019 Six Nations. That kept him on the sidelines until March. He had earlier been out for six weeks with an ankle injury.
France’s initial World Cup training squad is due to be announced on June 18, leaving him just three months to play his way into Jacques Brunel’s thinking.
But, his goal is clear. “The World Cup? Yes, that’s the objective,” he told Canal Rugby Club.
He also revealed that playing for France was never his intention – until he was approached by FFR President Bernard Laporte, who suggested he should go through the 18-month process of applying for nationality so he would qualify for selection.
“It wasn’t me who asked to be called up for the French team. It [was] Bernard Laporte. That’s why I said yes.”
Shortly after his election in December 2016, Laporte had insisted that only French citizens would be considered for national selection. Under normal circumstances, that requires living permanently in France for a minimum five years, demonstrating a reasonable level of spoken and written French, and knowing something of the country’s history and culture.
The required length of time living in France can be reduced in certain circumstances – which allowed Raka to apply early. Since he joined join Clermont Academy in November 2014, he has married a French national and become a father – which reduced the residency requirement by one year.
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