Following appeals lodged by Romania and Spain, an Independent Appeal Committee has upheld the decision of the Independent Disputes Committee relating to breaches of player eligibility during the European regional Rugby World Cup 2019 qualification process.
On 15 May, an Independent Disputes Committee found that Belgium, Romania and Spain had breached World Rugby Regulation 8 by fielding players who were either ineligible to represent them or previously captured by another union. The Independent Disputes Committee issued competition points penalties as well as suspended fines. Romania and Spain subsequently lodged appeals.
An Independent Appeal Committee, comprising World Rugby’s independent Judicial Panel Chairman Christopher Quinlan QC (chair), former USA international and World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee Phaidra Knight and chair of the EPCR Independent Disciplinary Panel Mike Hamlin, was convened to examine the following grounds for appeal submitted by the unions:
- Romania’s appeal of the points sanction handed down by the Independent Disputes Committee, which it argued was manifestly excessive
- Spain’s appeal of the decision of the Independent Disputes Committee, which (i) decided that the match between Belgium versus Spain should not be replayed; and (ii) found that two ineligible players were fielded during the European regional Rugby World Cup 2019 qualification process and (iii) Spain also argued that the sanction was excessive
In accordance with the scope of the appeals process, Romania and Spain needed to prove a) the decision of the Independent Disputes Committee was in error; b) in the interests of justice that the decision should be overturned and/or c) that the sanction imposed was manifestly excessive or wrong in principle.
In applying that test, following a full review of the evidence, including statements, submissions and new material placed before it from Romania, Spain and World Rugby, the Independent Appeal Committee found:
- The Independent Disputes Committee followed the correct approach in imposing a points deduction that was consistent with decisions of numerous panels in different tournaments and leagues within the game, including previous Rugby World Cup qualifiers
- Romania’s appeal was dismissed on each ground: In regard to the circumstances of the breaches, the Independent Appeal Committee found there was no reason to move away from the long-established and consistent principle (including in 2003 and 2019 RWC qualifiers) of imposing a points deduction. The total imposed, given the facts, was not manifestly excessive
- Spain’s appeal was dismissed on each ground: The Independent Appeal Committee upheld the Independent Disputes Committee’s finding that the two players were previously captured by France and therefore and ineligible for Spain. The Committee therefore determined that the sanction imposed was consistent with established practice. Following consideration, the replaying of the Belgium versus Spain versus match would have proved academic in light of the points deduction.
The Independent Appeal Committee also reinforced the Independent Disputes Committee’s statement that the case demonstrates that unions, acting in good faith, can make mistakes and that World Rugby should take steps to avoid a repeat of these circumstances.
In accordance with World Rugby regulations, the decision of the Independent Appeal Committee is final and binding with no further right to appeal.
Note: The Independent Disputes Committee, hearing the original disputes case, comprised: Sir James Dingemans, Sir Peter Fraser and Lex Mpati