New Zealand’s men's footballers will not compete at Rio 2016 after their appeal against their expulsion from the Olympic qualifying tournament at the Pacific Games in Port Moresby, for fielding an ineligible player, was dismissed by the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC).
The All Whites were thrown out of the competition in Papua New Guinea’s capital after a protest made by semi-final opponents Vanuatu over the eligibility of South African-born Deklan Wynne was upheld at a disciplinary hearing on July 12.
The OFC Disciplinary Committee had ruled that Wynne was ineligible to compete due to him acquiring a new nationality under Article 7 of the Regulations Governing the Application of the FIFA Statutes.
New Zealand Football (NZF) subsequently launched an appeal in August, which was adjourned until September due to their legal counsel being unavailable, as they argued his eligibility falls under Article 6.
The OFC Appeals Committee met in September to discuss the case, which had caused widespread embarrassment within the football fraternity in New Zealand, and announced in a statement today “following due consideration the committee found that the appeal failed”.
The development seemingly ends New Zealand’s chances of taking part in the Olympic football tournament at the Games next year, although NZF’s lawyers are now weighing up the possibility of challenging the decision at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), according to NZF chief executive Andy Martin, and they have 21 days to file another appeal.
“We are bitterly disappointed,” Martin told Reuters.
“New Zealand Football has on several occasions sought clarity from FIFA and discussed the interpretation of player eligibility.
“We have applied a consistent interpretation that if a person moved to New Zealand as a child, had not played for another country, lived here for more than five years and gained citizenship then they were eligible to play for New Zealand.
“We have played in numerous FIFA and OFC competitions and have fielded players under this interpretation and never been challenged on player eligibility.”
Martin also appears to not harbour much hope of an appeal ruling in their favour and remains unsure as to whether the final could be replayed even if they did turn to the CAS.
He also revealed that NZF had identified 16 players who could potentially breach FIFA’s eligibility rules and presented 10 cases for approval to world football’s governing body, eight of which were accepted.
Defender Wynne’s case is one of two which is under further scrutiny from FIFA and Martin insists his matches those that were approved.
New Zealand were dramatically thrown out of the Olympic qualifier in July just hours before they were due to take on Fiji in the final.
Their place was taken by Vanuatu, who were handed a 3-0 walkover win against New Zealand despite succumbing to a 2-0 defeat in their last-four encounter.
They went on to play Fiji in the final later that same day, losing 4-3 on penalties at the Sir Hubert Murray Stadium.
Fiji now look set to become the first Pacific Island team to take part in an Olympic football tournament.
September 2015: Ruling on New Zealand's Olympic disqualification to be announced soon
August 2015: Oceania Football Confederation adjourns New Zealand Football's appeal against Olympic disqualification
August 2015: New Zealand Football's appeal against Olympic qualification expulsion to be considered next week
August 2015: New Zealand Football files appeal over expulsion from Olympic qualification tournament
July 2015: Oceania Football Confederation appoints leading New Zealand solicitor as Olympic row rumbles on