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'Quite despicable' - World Rugby publish scathing text from Spain's eligibility scandal

By Ian Cameron
Gavin Van den Berg of Alcobendas gestures during the spanish league (Photo by Oscar J. Barroso / Europa Press Sports via Getty Images)

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World Rugby have taken the decision to issue the full written judgment in the case of Spain’s recent points reduction that has led to them being turfed out of the Rugby World Cup for a second time in four years.

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The scathing document is heavily critical of the Spanish rugby union (FER) and their apparently lax attitude to 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 Rugby World Cup 2023 qualifying matches.

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

World Rugby found that South African prop Gavin van den Berg had not been a “resident” of Spain for a 36-month period before he played 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 because of “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 which didn’t meet the  “exceptional circumstances”  clause under Regulation 8, and even included travel around Europe.

It also found that “representatives from the player’s club had apparently, without either Spain’s or the player’s knowledge, tampered with travel stamps in the player’s passport to make it seem 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 domestic player to benefit the club. However, notwithstanding the amended stamps, the player had been out of Spain for longer than the permitted period.”

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The tampering with the passport was described as ‘quite despicable’, although it was pointed out that neither the player nor the union were aware of the skullduggery.

“The machinations then revealed over the apparent tampering with, and (ab)use of, the copy of the Player’s passport are quite despicable and reflect very badly on those that may have played a part in such events. However, these events are not directly relevant here. A proper explanation, in evidence, from the responsible club officials might have been helpful, but was not essential. All three allegedly complicit club officials declined to give evidence.”

The report points out that  “the passport tampering is irrelevant, except that it does point up the lack of any FER inquiry of the Player.”

The fact that player had posted on social media while traveling around Europe during his residency – writing ‘Saffa touring Europe’ – was also brought forward as evidence of how the residency rules were being absent-mindedly flouted.

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The FER were heavily criticised for their shoddy administration around the breach, not least given they had been sanctioned and kicked out the last World Cup over a similar incident.

“The Committee further expressed concerns that the Union did not appear to have an appropriate process in place to review the movements of players that were relying on residence for eligibility.

“The Committee noted that the Union had been sanctioned in the past for selection of non-eligible players (in what is referred to as the RWCQ 2019 Case) and in those circumstances expected the Union to have stringent processes in place to ensure that the circumstances of each player had been carefully considered prior to being selected.

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

The player was noted as giving a candid testimony in the case and the panel recommended he faced no individual sanction.

“The Player’s state of mind and of knowledge of R 8 [Regulation 8] – or lack of knowledge – is found throughout his evidence… there was no conversation with, let alone education of, the Player as to R 8 and eligibility. Which were amongst the very matters stressed in the Bell matter only 18 months or so previous.”

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

 

 

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