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  • Writer's pictureRick Peña

Ecuador and Byron Castillo Remarkably Escape FIFA’s Reckoning, But Must Now Face CAS

Updated: Jan 17

The 2022 World Cup is coming in November and fans are ready to watch their countries compete for one of the crowning achievements in the most popular sport in the world. The Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) has prepared for years for this upcoming tournament, but an unexpected obstacle has surfaced from South America. In the coming weeks prior to the start of the World Cup, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) will hear an appeal by Chile against Ecuador on a case regarding Ecuadorian international player, Byron Castillo.[2] The ramifications of this hearing could lead to historic consequences against Ecuador.

Chile alleges that Ecuador violated FIFA regulations by fielding an ineligible player, Castillo, in eight qualifying games leading up to Ecuador’s qualification to the 2022 Qatar World Cup.[3] These allegations could lead to Chile replacing Ecuador at the World Cup since Chile failed to qualify as one of the top four teams in South America.[4] Chile initially brought the claim to FIFA, but FIFA dismissed Chile’s claim in June. In August, Chile appealed to FIFA after producing more evidence that shows Castillo was born in Colombia and not Ecuador, contrary to the Ecuadorian birth certificate he produced.[5] Yet again, FIFA dismissed Chile's appeal in September despite the overwhelming evidence levied against Ecuador. Chile was left with one final legal option: appeal to the CAS. As more evidence arises surrounding Castillo’s Ecuadorian eligibility, the question now is, “Will the CAS ban Ecuador from the World Cup ten days before they are set to play the opening game against Qatar in front of 60,000 fans?"

Qualifying for the World Cup is a big deal; but for a country like Ecuador, qualifying for the World Cup is indescribable. Ecuador is a country of just over 17 million people.[6] In comparison, the great South American soccer countries, like Brazil, Argentina, and Colombia, all have populations upwards of 45 million people. [7] While populations are not a direct indicator of a country’s success in soccer, population numbers can shed light on the difficulties smaller nations face to compete against the resources of larger nations. Prior to 2022, Ecuador qualified for the World Cup only three times in the nation’s history.[8] In contrast, Brazil has won the world cup five times.[9] The disparity between Ecuador and some of the larger nations made Ecuador’s 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign inspiring. The team tied Brazil and Argentina, thrashed Colombia, and ultimately finished fourth in South American World Cup qualifying, bettering historically successful countries like Colombia.[10] The only thing that could prevent the Ecuadorian players from proudly waving their country’s flag on November 20 is a decision by the CAS to remove them from the World Cup entirely.

The CAS could reverse FIFA’s decision, rule in favor of Chile, and enforce FIFA’s strict regulations. FIFA’s regulations related to fielding ineligible players provided FIFA with the discretion to discipline Ecuador. Disciplinary measures could have included forcing Ecuador to forfeit all the games in which Castillo featured or removing Ecuador’s qualifying points altogether, either of which could have resulted in removing Ecuador from the World Cup.[11] Most recently in 2017, FIFA similarly applied these discretionary regulations to a case involving Bolivia.[12]

In that case, FIFA decided to punish Bolivia for fielding an ineligible player in World Cup qualifiers by forcing them to forfeit the two games in which the player featured.[13] The difference between Bolivia and Ecuador is that Bolivia had yet to qualify for the World Cup when they fielded an ineligible player. The current situation is unprecedented because of Ecuador’s World Cup qualification status, and now the CAS must decide if they are willing to enforce the disciplinary measures that would remove a nation that has already qualified for the World Cup.[14] If Ecuador is forced to forfeit the games in which Castillo played, it would lose the necessary points to qualify for the World Cup.[15] The CAS may decide to enforce FIFA's discretionary powers, but forcing Ecuador to forfeit all eight games in which Castillo played could be a headache for FIFA because each country that played against Castillo likely would claim that they deserve to replace Ecuador in Qatar. Alternatively, the CAS could decide to temporarily ban Ecuador entirely from the World Cup for extenuating circumstances, an action FIFA has previously done to seven other countries.

In World Cup history, seven countries have been banned from participating in the global tournament.[16] Three of those countries were banned for their roles in international wars: Germany and Japan in 1950 and Russia in 2022.[17] South Africa was banned for over 30 years for refusing to recognize black-owned football clubs.[18] Chile was banned in 1994 after their goalkeeper cut himself with a hidden razorblade on the field.[19] Myanmar was banned from the 2006 World Cup for withdrawing from a qualifying match.[20] The seventh banishment was enforced against Mexico before the 1990 World Cup for fielding four players during qualifying that were above the age limit.[21]

At face value, Ecuador’s actions hardly rise to the levels of starting world wars or fielding over 33% of a lineup with ineligible players. However, the CAS has presided over World Cup decisions before and handed down rigorous rulings. In fact, the CAS was the final body that ruled over the decision to ban Russia from the 2022 World Cup, denying Russia’s appeal and definitively shutting them out of the tournament.[22] Now, all eyes will turn to the CAS where a decision is expected by November 10, just ten days before Ecuador is set to take the field against Qatar in the opening match of the 2022 World Cup.[23]

Given FIFA’s decision to pass on disciplining Ecuador and the fact that the CAS is expected to decide Ecuador’s fate less than two weeks before the first game kicks off, it would be shocking if Ecuador is removed from the World Cup entirely. The logistics of removing one team and replacing it with another may be too complicated for FIFA to process in such a short time. Nevertheless, Ecuador should not be complacent. The CAS may not want to disrupt the 2022 World Cup, but that does not mean Ecuador cannot face long term consequences given the mountain of evidence provided by Chile.

References: [2] CAS to hear Chile appeal over Ecuador World Cup player on Nov. 4 and 5 - source (13 October 2022)


[4] Id.

[5] Josh Fordham, FIFA ask Byron Castillo to attend hearing after it emerged he was actually born in Colombia and leaving Ecuador at risk of being kicked out of Qatar World Cup (14 September 2022)

[7] Id.

[8] Kyle Archer, Has Ecuador been in the World Cup before? La Tri’s Tournament Record (26 September 2022)

[9] Soham Mukherjee, How Many World Cups have Brazil won? Documenting their performances over the years! (30 April 2022)

[11] Barnaby Lane, Ecuador faces being kicked out of the FIFA World Cup after evidence that player used fake birth documents emerges (13 September 2022)

[13] Id.

[14] Denis Balibouse, CAS accepts Chile‘s appeal over Ecuador World Cup player (30 September 2022)

[15] Lane, supra.

[16] Joshua Mbu, Seven countries that have been banned from playing in the Fifa World Cup in past amid Ecuador passport scandal (14 September 2022)

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] Russia Loses 3rd Soccer Ruling at CAS Ahead of WCup Playoffs (21 March 2022)

[23] CAS to hear Chile appeal over Ecuador World Cup player on Nov. 4 and 5 – source, supra.

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