Asian football passport row could continue with more players

Sep 15, 2016

Al Nasr was eliminated from the Asian Champions League on Wednesday despite outscoring El Jaish of Qatar 3-1 in the two-legged quarterfinal

SEOUL, South Korea — Al Nasr was eliminated from the Asian Champions League on Wednesday despite outscoring El Jaish of Qatar 3-1 in the two-legged quarterfinal.

But there was major controversy along the way involving the United Arab Emirates side.

Two goals in the 3-0 victory by Al Nasr in Qatar in the first leg were scored by talented striker Wanderley. The Brazilian joined Al Nasr in June from fellow UAE club Sharjah and was registered as an Indonesian national after acquiring a passport from the southeast Asian nation.

In a statement issued Monday, however, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) ruled the passport was fake. The striker was already provisionally suspended while the investigation was carried out. At the same time, the organization ruled, Al Nasr "forfeited" the first leg and El Jaish was awarded a 3-0 victory.

El Jaish scored the only goal Wednesday to officially win the quarterfinal 4-0 on aggregate and advance to the semifinals.

The AFC refused to disclose the identity of two other players currently under investigation, but according to Jack Kerr of the Sports Integrity Initiative, an organization dedicated to transparency in sport, there could be more than 30 players in Asia playing under fake documentation.

"Even FIFA and the AFC have trouble working out how many players are using fake or fraudulent passports," Kerr told The Associated Press. "After all, given the close ties between government and sport in Asia, there may be people within the bureaucracy forging documents for players."

In April 2015, the UAE was the focus of a similar episode, though one confined to domestic soccer. Sharjah questioned how Al Wasl's Brazilian player Fabio Lima had ended up with an Uzbekistan passport that reportedly had belonged to a female. Within a week, Sharjah had withdrawn its complaint.

Registering players as Asian can be useful to clubs. In the UAE league, as in most leagues in Asia and in the federation's Champions League, a '3 plus 1' rule is in place. Under the rule, clubs are limited to fielding four foreign players -- three from anywhere in the world and one from another AFC member nation. A highly-rated Brazilian striker with an Asian passport could be highly-sought after addition to many rosters.

There has been controversy with national teams, too. FIFA is investigating a complaint filed in October 2015 by the Palestine Football Association. It is alleged that in a 2018 World Cup qualifier, East Timor fielded seven ineligible Brazilian-born players.

Wanderley's case has been handled rapidly. His two goals in the first leg win in August alerted media in Indonesia, No. 191 in the world in FIFA's rankings, with questions asked about him being a possible recruit for the national team.

On Aug. 31, Jakarta's Justice Ministry said no passport had ever been issued to the player. The AFC, satisfied that the documents are fake, is now focusing its investigation as to which party — player, club or both — is responsible for the deception.

El Jaish's win in the second leg came with Wanderley watching from the sidelines.

Al Nasr denounced the forfeit decision on social media. Ahead of the second leg in Dubai, the club's coach Ivan Jovanovic said he could not accept or understand it.

"But this pain and disappointment becomes even bigger when it doesn't come on the pitch, but with a decision from an office or an institution" said Jovanovic. "I believe they (the AFC) should continue the same way, with the same speed and passion, to check all the players in all Asian competitions, players who have two passports, two nationalities."

Al Nasr is planning to appeal the AFC's decision and could even take the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the international Swiss-based body that deals with legal issues.

More investigations are possible, according to Kerr.

"FIFA and AFC have really dragged their heels on this, which has allowed the situation we have now to develop," he said. "But the suspension of Wanderley shows that attitude is starting to change. He may be the first domino. But it's hard to know what they'll do next."




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