MADRID (Reuters) – Spain were disqualified from the World Cup because three members of Alcobendas Rugby Club falsified a copy of an ineligible player’s passport, the Spanish Rugby Federation’s (FER) board of directors told a news conference on Friday.
Spain secured a World Cup berth for the first time since 1999 after finishing second in the Rugby Europe Championship (REP) but were disqualified from next year’s tournament in France for fielding Gavin van den Berg, who is of South African origin, in two matches in the qualifiers.
World Rugby, the sport’s governing body, launched an investigation after a complaint about Van den Berg’s eligibility was filed by Romania, who had missed out on automatic qualification after finishing just behind Spain.
FER vice president Jose Maria Epalza told the news conference that Romania had handed World Rugby a photograph of Van den Berg at a wedding in South Africa in 2019 two weeks before he had supposedly left Spain, according to the date in the copy of the player’s passport supplied to the federation.
“There is no alleged document forgery, it was a forgery what happened when members of Alcobendas falsified the player’s dates of exit and entry into Spain in order to comply with eligibility requirements,” Epalza said.
The federation said there was no evidence the player was involved in falsifying the copy of the passport.
“The player says he was not aware of the falsification but he signed the papers that stated that he was eligible, he knew the days he was in Spain, so something he might have known,” Epalza, a former Spain player, coach and director of Rugby Europe, said.
The FER said that three members of Alcobendas had recognised in a written statement to the federation that they had modified the dates on the passport copy.
Alcobendas told Reuters on Thursday that “all those responsible have left the club” including “members of staff and one player”.
The club added that the player who had departed was not Van den Berg.
The federation said that in order to be eligible, Van den Berg would have needed to spend 36 months residing in Spain, including at least 10 months in each year.
Van den Berg, however, had spent more than two months out of Spain in 2019. Van den Berg has not commented on the allegations.
Federation president, Alfonso Feijoo Garcia, said that he and his entire board would resign following the conclusion of the disciplinary process that was opened against the club and the three members involved.
Spain’s disqualification means Romania qualify automatically for the World Cup and Portugal go into a playoff for a place at the tournament.
(Reporting by Fernando Kallas; Editing by Toby Davis)