(Reuters) – Members of Alcobendas Rugby Club apparently tampered with travel stamps in an ineligible player’s passport, without the knowledge of Spain or the player, an independent judicial committee said on Thursday after Spain’s team were disqualified from the World Cup.
Spain secured a World Cup berth for the first time since 1999 after finishing second in the Rugby Europe Championship but were disqualified for fielding Gavin van den Berg, who is of South African origin, in two matches in the qualifiers.
World Rugby 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 behind Spain.
The judicial committee said Van den Berg had not been a resident of Spain for the necessary 36-month period before he played for Spain on Dec. 18, 2021 and Feb. 5, 2022.
It said members of Alcobendas had tampered with his passport to make it seem that Van den Berg had not been out of Spain for more than two months in that first year, to facilitate his reclassification as a domestic player and benefit the club.
“However, notwithstanding the amended stamps, the player had been out of Spain for longer than the permitted period,” the statement said.
“The Committee imposed no penalty on Gavin van den Berg in the circumstances, on the basis that the failures leading to his offence were largely those of Spain in not putting in place certain appropriate systems and in not properly implementing other systems which had been put in place.”
The committee imposed a 10-point deduction and a fixed fine of 25,000 pounds ($30,990.00) on Spain.
“Spain has a right of appeal within 14 days of the full written decision and no further comment will be made until the completion of the process,” the statement added.
Spain’s disqualification means Romania qualify automatically for the World Cup and Portugal go into a playoff for a place at the tournament.
($1 = 0.8067 pounds)
(Reporting by Manasi Pathak in Bengaluru; editing by Clare Fallon)