Eligibility saga out of control

Focus, Normal

The National,Monday August 10th, 2015

 It’s time for everybody involved in New Zealand Football’s eligibility saga to take a deep breath. And then take another one.

The situation seems to be escalating out of control, with speculation the Young All Whites could be kicked out of the Under-17 World Cup in Chile, following a retrospective protest by another Oceania nation.

It feels like that is going too far. If you take a step back you realise the situation is a bit ridiculous.

One of the players implicated – Oliver Ceci – has been in New Zealand since he was 3 years old, yet the strictest interpretation of FIFA’s eligibility statutes would make him unable to play for this country until he was 23.

Is this really what FIFA intended? Should their slogan now be amended to “For the Game … For the world … and for players over 23?” 

Should Ceci be prevented from playing for the only country he has ever known?

Of course not. FIFA, for all their foibles, don’t want to actively prevent players taking part in international football.

That was never the intention. The now infamous article seven clause was introduced in 2008 to stop rich nations (specifically, but not limited to, Middle Eastern countries) importing and naturalising talent from South America and Africa.

None of this applies to New Zealand. 

Almost no one comes here for their footballing career. 

They end up here due to family migration.

Even the recent comparisons between Ryan De Vries and Deklan Wynne aren’t completely aligned. 

De Vries was almost 18 when he arrived and had lived here around two years when his case was presented to FIFA. 

They said no. 

Wynne was 14 and had been in the country for more than five years ahead of the Under-20 World Cup. 

Going on previous FIFA dispensations, he would likely have been approved.

This is not, in any way, excusing NZF’s conduct. 

They have been incredibly incompetent. 

Paper work needed to be filed over Wynne, Sam Burfoot, Ceci et al. 

The majority – if not all – would have passed, going on the precedents of Raheem Sterling, Wilfried Zaha and Gedion Zelalem.

Sterling was born in Jamaica, has no English bloodlines and hasn’t lived in England for five years past his 18th birthday. 

Is UEFA about to remove England from the 2016 European Championships for playing him in a qualifier?

The 22-year-old Zaha was born in Ivory Coast, has no heritage and has played for England, and the German-born, Maryland-raised Zelalem was granted an exemption ahead of the Under-20 World Cup.

According to former NZF operations chief Glyn Taylor, the dispensation process in most cases “isn’t particularly onerous” and an answer can be delivered from FIFA’s player status committee within a couple of months. Andrew Durante’s application was complicated and drawn out because he had played age group football for Australia and sat on the bench for the Socceroos. 

Most of these others wouldn’t be.

In the case of the four Under-17s players in question, NZF haven’t sneaked Brazilians or Germans through the back door to help them qualify. 

They’ve selected players who have received all or most of their footballing education here; players who would probably receive dispensations from FIFA, who rule on a case-by-case basis, as the naturalisation of Wynne and Ceci doesn’t seem to violate the spirit of article seven.

That is the crux. It’s all about the level of the offence, which then needs to dictate the punishment.


No quick end to appeal

The New Zealand Football appeal over Deklan Wynne’s eligibility may not be heard for another month.

NZF submitted their appeal to the Oceania Football Confederation on July 31, following the Junior All Whites’ disqualification from last month’s Pacific Games.

However, any possible resolution – or decision – is still some time away because of the elongated process. And the process won’t be cheap, for either OFC or NZF, with costs expected to run into the tens of thousands, mainly in legal fees.

The OFC appeals committee is made up of nine members, all with a legal background, who are drawn from different member countries. From those nine, OFC will appoint three who will consider the NZF case. 

Any members of the committee from Fiji, Vanuatu and New Zealand will be excluded from consideration. Currently OFC are believed to be finalising the three-strong panel, and working through possible dates. 

The selected trio will consider the extensive documentation from NZF, before convening in Auckland to hear the appeal. 

NZF are expected to present their case at the appeal.

If the appeal is upheld, a possible scenario could see the final replayed with the original participants (Fiji and New Zealand). 

It wouldn’t necessarily have to staged in Papua New Guinea, but would need to be held at a neutral venue.

However, it would be problematic to replicate the same conditions. 

It could be difficult to assemble the same squad, especially for New Zealand, with several players based in the Northern Hemisphere and many others committed to the upcoming Wellington Phoenix season.

If the appeal is rejected, Fiji will represent Oceania at the 2016 Olympics and there is the possibility of further sanctions of New Zealand from FIFA. 

– Herald on Sunday