Sports

Chile Loses Appeal Seeking Ecuador’s Place in World Cup

Chile failed Friday in its latest attempt to have its South American rival Ecuador thrown out of soccer’s World Cup, another setback in a high-stakes campaign that threatened to alter the field for the sport’s showcase championship only two months before the tournament’s opening match.

An appeals committee at soccer’s governing body, FIFA, rejected Chile’s newest claim, agreeing with an earlier decision by a disciplinary panel to reject the contention that Ecuador had fielded an ineligible player in several qualification matches. The FIFA appeals panel provided few details on how it reached its decision, though it said the fact that Castillo held permanent Ecuadorean citizenship as justification for siding with the original verdict in the case.

The case involves the Ecuador defender Byron Castillo, who Chile contended was not only born in Colombia but also three years older than is stated on the documents used to identify him as Ecuadorean.

Chilean officials said they would make one final attempt to overturn the decision, and strip Ecuador of its place in the tournament, by appealing their latest defeat to the final arbiter of sports disputes, the Lausanne-based Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The fight over the eligibility of Castillo, who plays professionally in Mexico, has for months generated uncertainty over Ecuador’s place at the World Cup, which opens in November. One of four qualifiers from South America, Ecuador is scheduled to face host Qatar in the tournament’s opening game on Nov. 20.

Chile, which filed the appeal in conjunction with Peru’s federation, now has fought a public battle to denounce Ecuador and Castillo, has one last possibility to secure a verdict in its favor.

Under FIFA rules, fielding an ineligible player could result in a forfeit of any match in which an ineligible player took part.

Ecuador finished fourth in South America’s qualifying competition, claiming one of the continent’s four automatic places in the World Cup. But Chile had demanded that Ecuador forfeit the eight qualification games in which Castillo appeared, and that its opponents in those matches be granted three points per game. That outcome, Chilean officials had calculated, would rearrange the qualifying results in South America and lift Chile into fourth place, and into the World Cup, at Ecuador’s expense.

To support its claim that Castillo should not have been allowed to play for Ecuador, Chilean officials scoured public records and social media posts and hired media consultants in Europe to keep attention focused on its case, and its claims. Chile’s federation, meanwhile, sent to FIFA registry documents, including birth certificates and other evidence — even paperwork that, it said, proved where and when Castillo was baptized.

A FIFA disciplinary committee rejected the claims against Castillo and Ecuador in June, but the organization’s rules allowed Chile to make its case anew to an appeals body. The hearing took place via video conference on Thursday but Castillo did not take part.

In the days before the hearing, officials working on behalf of Chile’s federation unearthed excerpts from an interview Castillo provided in 2018 to investigators in Ecuador in which he appeared to confirm Chile’s claims.

Castillo’s background has been shrouded in questions for several years after a wider investigation into player registrations in Ecuador looked into hundreds of cases and resulted in punishments for at least 75 youth players found to have falsified records. Wary of a mistake that might jeopardize Ecuador’s World Cup hopes this year, officials from its national soccer federation had held off on selecting Castillo for the senior national team until this year.

Two years ago, in fact, the president of a special investigation commission convened by the federation appeared to suggest Castillo was Colombian, something that Chilean officials continued to argue they had substantiated.

The details of that case were likely known to FIFA when it made its initial ruling. Ecuador’s soccer federation finally selected Castillo after his nationality was recognized and formalized by judicial bodies there.

For FIFA, the lingering case has been an additional burden as it grapples with ongoing concerns about the preparedness for Qatar to stage the World Cup. It got an assist from Ecuador in August, when the country’s soccer federation agreed to a request that its game be moved a day earlier so that Qatar could play in the tournament opener on a day free of other matches.

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