Ecuador have been cleared to play at the World Cup finals in Qatar. Their participation had been in doubt after several other South American countries protested that they had used an ineligible player during qualifying.
However, earlier this week, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) agreed with an earlier FIFA ruling, that the player in question, Byron Castillo, did count as an Ecuadorean national.
They have not got off scot-free, though. The Ecuadorean FA have been fined 100,000 Swiss Frances for the use of a document containing falsified information. Potentially more damaging, they have also been slapped with a three point deduction ahead of qualifying for the next World Cup, which will take place in 2026, with the USA, Mexico, and Canada co-hosting.
A relief to tournament organisers
This will be a relief to tournament organisers, not least because Ecuador have been drawn in the same group as the hosts Qatar (along with the Netherlands and Senegal), and are due to kick-off the World Cup with the inaugural match against Qatar taking place on November 2oth.
The issue in question
At the heart of the issue is a right-back called Byron Castillo,, who had represented Ecuador at youth level before his nationality was first called into question when he was removed from their under 20 squad amidst allegations that he was actually born in the Colombian city of Tumaco, near the border with Ecuador.
He was also accused of doctoring his birth documentation.
After an internal investigation by the Ecuadorean FA it was decided that Castillo did qualify to play for the country and he was subsequently called up by the national team and played in a number of their World Cup qualifying games.
Chile, one of the teams that Ecuador pipped to qualifying, then made a formal complaint about his eligibility, but FIFA closed their investigation and cleared Ecuador to play in the World Cup.
All hopes that the matter was then at an end were short-lived, however.
In September, Marca, the Spanish sporting newspaper, published online an audio recording of a conversation between Castillo and officials from the Ecuador Football Federation.
In the interview, Castillo allegedly admits that he was born in Colombia, and that he entered Ecuador illegally. He also stated that the correct year of his birth was not the same shown on his birth certificate.
To back-up their claims, Marca also published both Colombian and Ecuadorean birth certificates for Castillo, highlighting the differences between the two documents.
That led to FIFA reopening their investigation, whilst the whole issue was referred to CAS in Switzerland.
What CAS ruled
The basis of the CAS judgement is that the nationality of a player is determined by the national laws of an individual country, and, since the Ecuadorean Football Federation had decided that he qualified to play for them, then it was not their place to challenge that.
At the same time, though, they ruled that Ecuador had violated FIFA’s Disciplinary Code by using a document that they knew contained false information.
Whilst Castillo’s Ecuadorean passport was valid, the information contained within contained some falsehood, and that he was actually born in Colombo.
Peru and Colombia both left disappointed
Peru finished one place below Ecuador in South American qualifying, meaning that they had to enter an intercontinental play-off against Australia for the right to play in Qatar, which they lost on penalties. They maintain that had Ecuador been penalised for playing Castillo, they would have claimed the last automatic spot.
Colombia’s claims were more tenuous. They actually finished seventh in qualifying, but because Castillo played in both games against them, they were hoping for those results to be annulled, which would have earned them a play-off spot at least.
The fact that Ecuador will start the next World Cup campaign with a three point disadvantage is likely to be of scant consolation to the pair of them.
Ecuador at the World Cup
This will be the fourth time that Ecuador have qualified for the World Cup, but only once have they got out of the group stages, and that was back in 2006 in Germany when they reached the round of 16 in Germany.
Few are expecting them to improve on that record this time.
VISIT OUR BLOG TO GET YOUR FIX FOR ALL OF THE MOST CURRENT FOOTBALL NEWS STORIES & FEATURES