FIFA announced this week that all players involved in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup will be required to produce a valid passport 24 hours before kickoff or they will not be allowed to take the field.
It is a move targeted specifically the member nations of CAF, among whom were the only countries to field ineligible players during qualifying for the last tournament.
Burkina Faso, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Liberia, Sudan and Togo all broke eligibility rules during 2014 World Cup qualification and had 3-0 defeats awarded against them as a result, while Cape Verde were punished in the same way for failing to bench a player who was banned because of previous bookings.
In the aftermath, Nigeria’s Daily Independent newspaper investigated the reasons why African countries were prone to this form of rule-breaking by talking to a FIFA player’s agent, a CAF match commissioner and a FIFA match commissioner about their experiences.
The overarching conclusion was that teams were not making honest mistakes or relying on poor record-keeping but, instead, were deliberately cheating.
“The win-at-all-cost syndrome, desperation to win certain matches and the dishonesty are the factors responsible. There is no sincerity of purpose. When somebody is very desperate, there is nothing he or she cannot do,” Taiwo Ogunjobi, the CAF match commissioner told the newspaper.
Ogunjobi explained that, while FIFA provided information immediately after matches as to which players had received cards and what the implications of those were, CAF took its own measures by issuing a further reminder before the next match, which it would then repeat to both match officials and teams.
However, the governing body did not look closely into nationality criteria, which is why that particular problem became so rampant and neither CAF nor FIFA had come up with a way to curb it until this week when they unveiled the passport requirement.
The question is, will it provide a solution?
No other type of documentation than a passport, including identity document or birth certificates, would be allowed. However. not only does the rule not take into account the complicated logistics of acquiring travel documents, but it also does not seem enough to counter the problem of actual eligibility.
Consider these examples:
Last September, Dady Birori was found to hold two different player registrations under two different passports, with which he had been playing for six years. With his Rwandan document, under the name Birori, he played for the national team. Meanwhile, he also had a passport issued by the Democratic Republic of Congo under the name Etekiama Agiti Tady, and played for his club side AS Vita using that.
It was only when a protest came in from Congo-Brazzaville, who Rwanda played in a 2015 African Nations’ Cup qualifier, that his multiple identities were discovered, complete with different birthdates.
Birori was given a two-year ban from CAF as a result but, under the new rules, had he not been found out and presented either of the passports before an international, he would likely have been allowed to take the field.
The same applies to Herve Zengue, a Cameroonian-born player who represented Burkina Faso. Zengue had never lived in the country but was invited to play for them, having been given a passport because he was married to Burkinabe woman.
Because the passport is valid, should he present it before a match he cannot be denied the right to play even though it has transpired that he has breached naturalisation laws.
FIFA’s rules on naturalisation require that a player, who represents a country in which he was not born, to have a “clear connection,” to that country, through parentage or residency and not marriage.
Namibia complained about Zengue’s inclusion and were granted a walkover win during 2014 World Cup qualifying but were unsuccessful in their attempts to have Burkina Faso suspended from the 2012 African Nations’ Cup.
The examples given suggest it’s not the passport FIFA should want to see but a thorough background check on the players. Given how many take the field annually, achieving that may be more difficult than the new rules make it out to be.
Source: Fridose Moonda, ESPN
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