By Andrew Warshaw
September 16 – Chile have failed in their attempt to have Ecuador kicked out of the World Cup by FIFA, infuriating the head of their FA who described the judgement as a “dark day” for the sport.
Chile’s protracted appeal against Ecuador’s participation, arguing that their south American counterparts should be thrown out for fielding an ineligible player in qualifying, was heard on Thursday, with FIFA’s decision to preserve the status quo coming just 24 hours later.
The Chileans appeared to have a strong case that FIFA’s own eligibility rules were broken, arguing that the eight games in which Byron Castillo (pictured) played in World Cup qualifying should have the results awarded to Ecuador’s opponents. This would have meant Chile qualifying at Ecuador’s expense.
But perhaps in the knowledge that upholding the appeal would lead to a logistical nightmare in Qatar, FIFA dismissed Chile’s case that Castillo was actually Colombian even though there appeared to be ample documentation to prove it.
Chile prepared its case soon after the World Cup draw on April 1. Since then, FIFA and the Qatari organisers have been steadily selling thousands of tickets and accommodation rooms to fans including those of Ecuador.
Even Castillo admitted he was born in Colombia yet FIFA, whose appeals committee rarely if ever overturns decisions of its disciplinary panel, ruled that its appeal judges “deemed that on the basis of the documents presented, the player was to be considered as holding permanent Ecuadorian nationality in accordance” with the country’s legal statutes.
To add insult to Chile’s injury, FIFA had invited Castillo to appear at Thursday’s hearing but it is understood he did not take part even though he did not have to travel since the appeal was heard remotely.
The verdict, which upholds a FIFA disciplinary ruling from June, keeps Ecuador on track to take centre stage in playing the host nation on the opening day of the World Cup November 20.
But the affair is not over and may yet result in the mother of all organisational ordeals.
The Chilean federation immediately confirmed it would now go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) which will have to arrange an urgent hearing with just nine weeks left until the World Cup starts.
“This is a dark day for football and for the credibility of the system,” Jorge Yunge, general secretary of the Chilean Football Federation, charged in a statement.
“The footballing world heard a player who helped Ecuador qualify for the FIFA World Cup admit he was born in Colombia and that he gained an Ecuadorian passport using false information. No wonder he refused to participate in the FIFA hearing. What does it say about Appeal Committee that confronted with all this still they fail to act?
“Of course, we will refer this to the Court of Arbitration for Sport because the weight of evidence is clear and we urge the Appeal Committee to deliver the grounds of the decision very quickly because there were enough unjustifiable delays and postponements in this case.”
FIFA would perhaps point to a clause in its statutes which says that “any person holding a permanent nationality that is not dependent on residence in a certain country is eligible to play for the representative teams of the association of that country.”
But there is precedent which partially backs up Chile’s case. In the 2018 World Cup qualifying group phase, Bolivia forfeited two games in which it fielded an ineligible player as a late substitute. FIFA received complaints from Chile and Peru regarding Bolivia defender Nelson Cabrera, who was born in Paraguay and had previously played for Paraguay’s national team.
Eduardo Carlezzo, lawyer for the Chilean Football Federation, denounced FIFA’s ruling as being tantamount to condoning cheating.
“I have never seen in my entire life as a lawyer an injustice like this one,” Carlezzo declared.
“There are a huge number of documents that, alone, prove without any reasonable doubt that the player was born in Colombia. In addition to that, everyone heard his confession, given during an official investigation carried by the own Ecuadorian Federation. Furthermore, the player joked with the system by not attending a hearing and nothing of that produced any effect. What else is needed?
“It clearly seems that anything we could be able to file would not be enough to validate the claim. Sad day for football and for the fair play. The message is clear: cheating is allowed. We will appeal to CAS.”
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