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Spanish rugby head to resign after losing World Cup spot

April 29, 2022 GMT

MADRID (AP) — The president of the Spanish rugby federation will resign from his job after the national team lost its place at next year’s Rugby World Cup for fielding an ineligible player.

Alfonso Feijoo said Friday he would step down when the appeal process is completed. He also said the federation will seek to punish those involved in the case after copies of South Africa-born front-rower Gavin van der Berg’s passport were altered to make him eligible.

The federation said it was also taking action against the Spanish club where Van der Berg played.

Feijoo spoke to the media a day after World Rugby sanctioned Spain with the loss of 10 points in qualifying for using an ineligible player, consequently taking away the national team’s spot at next year’s World Cup in France. Spain was going to make its second World Cup appearance, and first since 1999.

“We are responsible but not guilty,” Feijoo said. “We lost in the offices a place that we earned on the field.”

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The federation has 14 days to appeal the decision by World Rugby but was not optimistic with its chances.

Several national team players released a statement complaining about the Spanish federation for what happened.

Feijoo said the federation was “deceived” by being given the forged copies of Van der Berg’s passport, and that World Rugby and the European rugby federation also didn’t see the irregularity.

The federation opened disciplinary proceedings against the player’s club, Alcobendas, which faced fines and relegation in the local league. Local authorities were involved and a criminal investigation was likely.

The federation said the Copa del Rey rugby final that was going to be played Sunday at La Cartuja Stadium in Seville has been postponed.

Van der Berg made his debut with Spain in December in a 52-7 win over the Netherlands in Amsterdam in the Rugby Europe Championship, which also doubled as World Cup qualifying. Van der Berg was a second-half substitute and scored a try. He also was a second-half replacement when Spain beat the Netherlands 43-0 in February Madrid.

Van der Berg arrived in Spain in 2018 and had to live in the country for three years to qualify on residency before making his debut. But he reportedly returned to South Africa for four months in 2019 and went back there again during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

It was the second straight Rugby World Cup qualifying that Spain has become embroiled in controversy. In 2018, Spain, Romania and Belgium were sanctioned for fielding ineligible players and Russia advanced to the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

Spain was also fined 25,000 pounds ($31,100) on Thursday, and the independent judicial committee convened by World Rugby said the suspended sanction of 50,000 pounds ($62,100) related to the previous eligibility breach would now be payable.

In its only previous World Cup appearance, Spain was based in Scotland and lost all three of its pool games to Uruguay, South Africa and Scotland.

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