The player at the heart of Spain’s dramatic expulsion from next year’s Rugby World Cup was unaware that his club had tampered with travel stamps in his passport to make him appear eligible for selection by the national side, it has been revealed.
Gavin van den Berg, a South Africa-born prop playing for the Madrid-based club Alcobendas, believed that he qualified on residency for Spain after completing a 36-month period in the country, and was capped by Spain against the Netherlands in 2021 and 2022.
However, Van den Berg was out of the country for 127 days during his first year, with his reasons for doing so failing to meet any exceptional circumstances, meaning he had not spent long enough in Spain over the three-year spell to qualify on residency at the time he was selected. Players are required to spend at least 10 months in each year in their new country, as required under Regulation 8, making him ineligible for selection by Spain at the time he was called up having spent a lengthy period back in South Africa in 2019.
In a shocking twist, World Rugby has now revealed that representative from the player’s club had apparently, without either Spain or the player’s knowledge, tampered with travel stamps in the player’s passport to make it seem that the player had not been out of Spain for more than two months (62 days) in that first year, to facilitate the player’s reclassification as a domestic player to benefit the club, with Van den Berg and the Spanish national side believing everything was above the board.
The discrepancy emerged when Romania gave World Rugby a photograph of Van den Berg at a wedding in South Africa in 2019 two weeks before he had supposedly left Spain according to the dates in his passport.
“When they showed me the copy of my passport that Alcobendas Rugby Club had provided to FER [Spain’s rugby union]I saw that the dates of the exit stamps from Spain and the entry stamps in South Africa in 2019 did not match with the actual dates of my trip,” Van den Berg explained in a declaration.
As a result of Van den Berg playing for Spain despite being ineligible, Spain were achieving 10 points by World Rugby them down to fourth in the Rugby Europe Championship, losing their automatic qualification slot for the 2023 Rugby World Cup to Romania. Portugal have also moved above Spain into the repechage qualification spot, with Spain missing out on a first men’s World Cup appearance since 1999.
Spain were also forced to pay a £75,000, £50,000 of which had been suspended from 2018 when Spain were fine points for another inelig breach after qualifying for the Rugby World Cup, where their spot was taken by Russia.
Van den Berg has not been punished as a result by World Rugby, but Spain has been found to be at fault for “not putting in place certain appropriate systems and in not properly implementing other systems which had been put in place” ahead of selecting Van den Berg.
Alcobendas have since removed the officials allegedly involved from their positions but the Spanish Cup final between the club and El Salvador set to be played in Seville has been postponed, with Alcobendas also facing possible relegation.