MADRID (Reuters) -Spain have been disqualified from next year’s Rugby World Cup in France after fielding an ineligible player in two matches during the 2021-22 Rugby Europe Championship, the Spanish federation (FER) and World Rugby announced on Thursday.
Spain’s disqualification means Romania qualify automatically and Portugal go into a playoff for a place at the tournament.
Spain had secured a World Cup berth for the first time since 1999 with a 33-28 win over Portugal in March to finish second in the Rugby Europe Championship.
It was the second time they had qualified for the World Cup but World Rugby, the sport’s governing body, launched an investigation after a complaint filed by Romania, who missed out on automatic qualification after finishing just behind Spain.
According to a source close to the FER, the investigation found that the date of entry into Spain on the passport of Gavin van den Berg, who is of South African origin, had been falsified to comply with eligibility requirements.
Later on Thursday, the FER said after meeting the General Director of Spain’s National Sports Council (CSD), Albert Soler, that it would file a complaint on Friday to the Prosecutors Office seeking a probe into an “alleged passport forgery”, adding that Alcobendas Rugby are under investigation.
Alcobendas told Reuters that “all those responsible have left the club” including “members of staff and one player”.
However, the club added that the player who had departed was not Van den Berg, who “left World Rugby’s hearing unpunished”.
Alcobendas also said they expected to make a statement after a news conference scheduled by the FER and CSD for Friday.
The FER has also postponed the Spanish Cup final between El Salvador and Alcobendas, which was scheduled to be played on Sunday at La Cartuja Stadium in Seville.
“An extraordinary disciplinary procedure was initiated against the Alcobendas Rugby Club from the moment it was known that there was a possible modification of an official document that granted Gavin van den Berg eligibility status, as well as those allegedly responsible,” FER said in a statement.
According to the federation, Alcobendas could be relegated and all the parties involved in the alleged falsification could face criminal charges.
World Rugby fined Spain 25,000 pounds ($31,080) and stripped the country of five points for each of the two games in which Van den Berg played, causing them to miss out on qualification.
“The Spanish Rugby Federation (FER) continues with the extraordinary disciplinary procedure initiated at the time and will shortly call a press conference to offer all the explanations that are required,” the FER said in a statement.
It is the second time Spain have been denied a World Cup place for fielding ineligible players. Before the 2019 tournament, they were sanctioned with Romania and Belgium for repeatedly using ineligible players in qualifying.
At that time Spain used Mathieu Belie and Bastien Fuster, who had both played for France Under-20s, in eight qualification matches, leading to a 40-point deduction and 50,000 pounds suspended fine.
($1 = 0.8044 pounds)
(Reporting by Fernando Kallas; Editing by Toby Davis and Ken Ferris)