The eligibility of Belgium and Romania players has been called into question as Rugby World Cup 2019 qualifying controversy continues
Eligibility controversy in World Cup 2019 qualifying
The Rugby World Cup 2019 qualifying controversy has taken yet more turns in recent days, with the eligibility of players fielded by Belgium and Romania during the Rugby Europe Championship called into question.
First, Germany coach Pablo Lemoine, who guided Uruguay to the 2015 World Cup, revealed on a Uruguayan radio show that the eligibility of Belgium hooker Victor Paquet was being investigated.
Paquet made his Test debut as a replacement in the match against Germany and has been quoted as saying he qualified for Belgium through his great-grandmother.
However, World Rugby’s Regulation 8 states that you can only qualify to represent a nation different to that in which you were born if that country is the nation of birth of your parent or grandparent, or you have lived in that country for 36 consecutive months. So having a great-grandparent who was born in Belgium would not make Paquet eligible.
Second, the eligibility of Romania centre Sione Faka’osilea is also under the microscope.
Born in Tonga, Faka’osilea made his debut for Romania in March 2017 having completed the three-year residency period.
However, the Russian federation called for an investigation after it was reported that Faka’osilea represented Tonga on the 2012-13 World Sevens Series.
Playing for a national sevens team in an international tournament ties you to that country and you’re not allowed to represent a different nation at international level.
Rugby’s entry into the Olympics has opened a loophole to this rule – one that Tim Nanai-Williams used to represent Samoa at Rio 2016 – but is not relevant here as Faka’osilea has not played in any sevens events for Romania.
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If investigations find that Paquet and/or Faka’osilea were ineligible to represent Belgium and Romania respectively, it could have far-reaching consequences for the 2019 World Cup.
Last week Tahiti were kicked out of the qualifying process for Japan 2019 having fielded two ineligible players in their qualifier against Cook Islands. The match result was overturned and Cook Islands now move onto the Asia-Oceania Play-off against the winner of this year’s Asia Rugby Championship.
If Romania and/or Belgium are also found guilty of breaching rugby’s eligibility regulations, they too could have their results from the past two years’ Rugby Europe Championships, which doubled as a RWC 2019 qualifying tournament, expunged.
That could see Spain qualify automatically as Europe 1 and join Pool A at the 2019 World Cup rather than go into more qualifiers. They are currently due to play Portugal in a play-off, with the winner playing Samoa over two legs with the aim of securing the Play-off Winner spot, also in Pool A.
Yet Spain could also find themselves in hot water, with the possibility of points deductions or fines, following the actions of their players after that Belgium defeat, where they surrounded the Romanian referee.
Spain have also had the eligibility of two of their players questioned, according to Americas Rugby News. Two of their players, Thibaut Visensang and Mathieu Bélie, previously played for France U20, which used to be designated their next senior national representative team and thus would tie a player to France should they play against another U20 team that also had the same status, as in the case of Wales’ Steve Shingler in 2012.
It appears Visensang did not play in any match against Wales, the only other U20 side as a next team at the time, so he is eligible for Spain. Bélie, however, did play against Wales U20 in 2008 and as such should be tied to France and ineligible. The crux of the issue could be whether France informed Bélie that by playing in the Wales match he would be ineligible for any other nation, as Wales had done in the Shingler case.
It is now a case of waiting to see the outcome of the Rugby Europe investigation and any statements from World Rugby, but action needs to be taken quicker than we saw in the Tahiti case. Their match against Cook Islands was in August 2017, with the investigation findings not announced until last week.
With World Cup qualifiers coming up in the next few weeks and months, the governing bodies need to move swiftly so teams know where they stand.
For the moment, it’s something of a mess and does not portray rugby in a positive light at all.
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