‘Pretty despicable’ – World Rugby publishes scathing text on Spain eligibility scandal

World Rugby has taken the decision to issue the full ruling in writing in the case of Spain’s recent point reduction which has seen them removed from the rugby world cup for the second time in four years.

The scathing document is highly critical of the Spanish rugby union (FER) and its seemingly lax attitude towards eligibility.

In April, World Rugby imposed a 10-point deduction and a fixed fine of £25,000 on Spain after they were found guilty of fielding an ineligible player in two qualifying matches for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

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Subject to appeal, the points deduction applied to the Rugby World Cup 2023 table means that Romania will qualify as Europe 2 in Group B replacing Spain, and Portugal will replace Romania in the Final Qualification Tournament in November 2022.

World Rugby discovered that South African prop Gavin van den Berg had not been a “resident” of Spain for a period of 36 months before playing for Spain on 18 December 2021 and 5 February 2022.

The document shows that Spain claimed that van den Berg was only absent from Spain for more than two consecutive months due to “exceptional circumstances”. In fact, it found that he was absent from Spain for a total period of 127 days in the first year of that 36-month criteria period, time that did not meet the “exceptional circumstances” clause under Regulation 8, and even included travel. . around Europe.

It also found that “representatives of the player’s club had apparently, without the knowledge of Spain or the player, altered the travel stamps in the player’s passport to make it appear that the player had not been out of Spain for more than two months (62 days). ) in that first year, to facilitate the player’s reclassification as a national player for the benefit of the club. However, without prejudice to the modified stamps, the player had been outside of Spain for more time than allowed.

The passport tampering was described as “pretty despicable”, although it was noted that neither the player nor the syndicate were aware of the cheating.

“The machinations later revealed regarding the apparent tampering and (ab)use of the player’s passport copy are quite despicable and reflect very poorly on those who may have played a role in such events. However, these events are not directly relevant here. An adequate explanation, in evidence, from the responsible club officials might have been helpful, but it was not essential. The three allegedly complicit club officials refused to testify.”

The report notes that “the passport tampering is irrelevant, except that it points to the lack of an FER investigation of the player.”

The fact that the player posted on social media while traveling in Europe during his residency, writing ‘Saffa on tour in Europe’, was also presented as evidence of how the residency rules were being absentmindedly flouted.

The FER was heavily criticized for their mismanagement around the breach, not least as they had been sanctioned and banned from the last World Cup for a similar incident.

“The Committee further expressed concern that the Union did not appear to have an appropriate process for reviewing the movements of players who relied on residency for eligibility.

“The Committee noted that the Union had been sanctioned in the past for the selection of ineligible players (in what is known as the RWCQ 2019 Case) and in these circumstances expected the Union to have strict processes in place to ensure that the circumstances of each player had been carefully considered before being selected.

“The Committee further noted its dissatisfaction with the Union not seeking confirmation of the Player’s eligibility prior to selecting the Player to represent the Union.”

The player was noted to have given candid testimony in the case and the panel recommended that he not face any individual sanctions.

“The player’s state of mind and knowledge of R 8 [Regulation 8] – or lack of knowledge – is found throughout his evidence…there was no conversation with the Player, let alone education, about R 8 and eligibility. That they were among the same issues emphasized in the Bell matter just 18 months or so ago.”

Spain has the right to appeal within 14 days of a full written decision and World Rugby said “no further comment will be made until the process is complete”.

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