World Rugby has made the sensational decision to boot out Romania, Spain and Belgium from the 2019 World Cup following a recommendation from an independent committee which was set up to investigate the 2017 and 2018 Rugby Europe Championship.
Heavy fines totalling over a quarter of a million pounds have been issued to the three countries, while Russia will now play in the tournament as Europe 1, joining Ireland, Scotland, Japan and the play-off winner in Pool A.
Germany will now go into the European play-off with Portugal.
The decision is subject to a 14-day appeals process.
The independent Judicial and Disputes committee looked into the 2017 and 2018 Rugby Europe Championship, which acts as a qualifying event for the World Cup and found that Belgium, Spain and Romania fielded ineligible players and ruled that each team be deducted five championship points for each game in which an ineligible player or players participated.
The committee, comprising Sir James Dingemans, Sir Peter Fraser and Lex Mpati, also looked at the controversial Belgium versus Spain game after complaints over the appointment of a Romanian referee and accusations of bias.
In a statement they said: “In respect of the Belgium versus Spain match result, having considered all the evidence, including submissions from World Rugby, Rugby Europe, Spain and Belgium, the independent committee refused the request made by World Rugby and Spain to set aside the result of the match and determined that the match should not be replayed.”
When it came to the eligibility issues, the independent commission which looked at evidence including statements and submissions from World Rugby, Rugby Europe, Belgium, Romania, Spain and Russia. Their conclusion was the following:
- Belgium had fielded one or more ineligible players on 7 occasions during the 2017 and 2018 Rugby Europe Championships (of which 6 matches related to Rugby World Cup 2019 qualifying)
- Romania has fielded one ineligible player on 8 occasions during the 2017 and 2018 Rugby Europe Championships (of which 6 matches related to Rugby World Cup 2019 qualifying)
- Spain had fielded one or more ineligible players on 9 occasions during the 2017 and 2018 Rugby Europe Championships (of which 8 matches related to Rugby World Cup 2019 qualifying.
In respect of the sanctions, pursuant to Regulation 18, the independent committee determined the following:
- The deduction of 5 points for any match in which a union fielded an ineligible player (40-point deduction for Spain, and a 30-point deduction for both Belgium and Romania). Therefore, based on a re-modelling of the Rugby Europe Championship tables in the context of Rugby World Cup 2019 qualifying, Russia would qualify as Europe 1 into Pool A replacing Romania, and Germany would replace Spain in the European play-off against Portugal
- World Rugby Regulation 8 stipulates mandatory financial penalties for breaches of £25,000 per ineligible player for a union not represented on the World Rugby Council and £100,000 for a union represented on Council. Therefore, the following financial sanctions will be applied, suspended for a period of five years conditional that no breaches occur during that period:
- Belgium: £125,000 GBP (at a rate of £25,000 for a union not on Council x 5 ineligible players)
- Romania: £100,000 GBP (at a rate of £100,000 for a union on Council x 1 player)
- Spain: £50,000 GBP (at a rate of £25,000 for a union not on Council x 2 ineligible players)
The Independent disputes committee said although mistakes were made by Rugby Europe and participating unions, they had not acted in bad faith. The committee also recommended that World Rugby re-emphasise the importance and sanctity of Regulation 8 and any other steps that will prevent a repeat of these circumstances. That was because it was desirable to take any steps which avoided the risks of qualification being determined off the pitch.
World Rugby gave their reaction to the independent committee and said.
“In line with the decision, Russia will qualify for Rugby World Cup 2019 as Europe 1, joining Ireland, Scotland, Japan and the play-off winner in Pool A, while Germany will progress to the European play-off with Portugal, subject to the appeals process.”
“While the independent disputes committee has determined that mistakes were not made in bad faith by Rugby Europe and some participating unions, World Rugby is extremely disappointed with the unfortunate and avoidable events, as expressed when announcing the convening of the independent committee.”
“Regulation 8 covering eligibility is essential to maintaining the unique characteristics and culture of elite competitions between unions, and the integrity of international matches depends on strict adherence to eligibility criteria set out in the regulation.”
“The committee’s decision and findings clearly demonstrate issues with the processes adopted by some of the participating unions relating to the eligibility of players as well as the delivery and organisation of the Rugby Europe Championship.
“World Rugby is committed to addressing these issues and will lead a review of European tournament delivery in the context of Rugby World Cup qualifying in full partnership with the Rugby Europe regional association. This will include Rugby Europe’s processes relating to eligibility and match official appointments in order to prevent a repeat of these unfortunate events.
“In addition, World Rugby has already formally reminded all unions and regional associations of their obligations regarding Regulation 8 and will reiterate at the Annual Meeting of Council this week, while World Rugby will also oversee match official appointments at all stages of future Rugby World Cup qualifiers.
“Fans who have purchased tickets for Rugby World Cup 2019 matches involving Romania via official channels will be entitled to a full refund for the face value of the ticket should they not wish to attend. Requests for refunds will need to be submitted by the ticket purchaser to the company they purchased their tickets/ticket-inclusive package from.
“No further comment will be made while the 14-day appeal window is open.”