August 13, 2022

Ecuadorian defender Byron Castillo played twice against Chile in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers. (Photo by Marcelo Hernandez/Getty Images)

Ecuador will retain their place at the 2022 World Cup after a FIFA investigation into a player’s allegedly falsified birth certificate failed to find evidence that would disqualify the South American nation.

Football’s world governing body said on Friday that after analyzing the case of Ecuadorian defender Byron Castillo, it had closed the disciplinary proceedings and, in essence, rejected Chile’s bid to grab Ecuador’s spot. at the World Cup.

The Chilean football federation, citing ‘irregularities’ in Castillo’s documentation and ‘countless evidence’ that he was not born in Ecuador, had filed a formal complaint with FIFA, whose disciplinary committee s took up the case last month. Chile believed that if Castillo was declared ineligible and Ecuador granted retroactive withdrawals, the Chileans could drop from seventh to fourth in the South American rankings and qualify for Qatar 2022 after all.

But FIFA ruled that no disciplinary action would be taken, and Ecuadorian football officials celebrated. The President of the Ecuadorian Federation, Francisco Egas, said that “sporting justice has been done”.

Chile has 10 days to challenge the decision. He reportedly intends to file an appeal, first before the FIFA Appeals Committee and then, possibly, before the Court of Arbitration for Sport. But for now, Ecuador remain comfortably qualified for the World Cup, which begins on November 21. His official Twitter account reacted to the news with a single emoji.

The Byron Castillo Affair

Castillo is one of thousands of Ecuadorian players whose documentation has been investigated by the Ecuadorian Football Federation (FEF) and the country’s civil registry. Until last year, with swirling questions, Ecuadorian football officials had retained Castillo, a young full-back full of talent, from the national team. “I think it’s about playing it safe, avoiding trouble,” FEF vice-president Carlos Manzur said in March 2021. Selecting Castillo, he said, would be a “risk”.

But that summer, Ecuadorian authorities allowed Castillo to represent the country. He made his national team debut in September and appeared in eight qualifiers as Ecuador booked their place in Qatar.

The controversy, however, reignited this spring amid an unrelated transfer dispute. A Colombian journalist published a birth certificate, which was reportedly presented in court and belongs to Castillo, which appeared to show that he was born not on November 10, 1998, in General Villamil Playas, Ecuador, but rather on July 25, 1995, in Tumaco, Colombia. The name on the certificate was “Bayron Javier Castillo”, not Byron David Castillo, and Ecuador said Bayron was the older brother of the now deceased Byron. But of course, all the questions came up.

A week later, after calculating that retroactive withdrawals could elevate Chile to the World Cup instead of Ecuador, the Chilean football federation filed its formal complaint with FIFA. The following week, FIFA agreed to take up the case. Chile argued that “serious and conscious irregularities in the registration of players cannot be accepted” and that “the world of football cannot turn a blind eye to so much evidence”.

Ecuador, however, maintained that Castillo “is an Ecuadorian citizen for all legal purposes, both in the civil sphere and in sport”. Egas, the president of the FEF, later supported that “FIFA is not an authority that can determine the nationality of a player.”

FIFA, of course, has rules governing eligibility, but nothing in those rules made Castillo ineligible. Even though Castillo was born in Colombia, according to FIFA statutes he would be eligible to play for Ecuador if:

1) he is an Ecuadorian citizen; and
2) he has never represented Colombia in an international senior football competition; and
3) he has lived in Ecuador for at least five years.

Whether Castillo meets these three requirements has never been disputed. His parents, born in Colombia, moved the family to Ecuador before or after Byron was born. He has an Ecuadorian passport and has played for Ecuadorian teams all his footballing life.

Even though Castillo was actually born in Colombia and obtained citizenship via a forged birth certificate, the argument has been that this is an Ecuadorian government problem, not a FIFA problem.

FIFA has not released its reasoning for dismissing the case.

Castillo suffers amid scrutiny

FIFA’s investigation lasted four weeks. As he strode out of public view, Castillo suffered in the spotlight. After conceding a penalty to his Ecuadorian club, Barcelona SC, he burst into tears and appeared to shout at his trainer: “Sácame! Sacame!” Take me out! Take me out!

The coach, Jorge Celico, responded to his request and said after the game: “Byron Castillo is a victim of the power of modern-day media.” He said Castillo carried a heavy “emotional burden” and it was the product of the “struggle” over his citizenship and eligibility.

His teammates rallied behind him and the club offered him psychological support. But the pressure did not let up. In fact, the problem has followed Castillo throughout his career, even since he was a teenager. In 2015, an Ecuadorian club rescinded an offer due to administrative irregularities. Ecuadorian national teams also feared the consequences of his participation.

His talent, however, was undisputed. Castillo became Ecuador’s starting full-back shortly after being cleared and helped his country qualify.

They were drawn into Group A alongside Senegal, the Netherlands and Qatar. They will kick off the tournament on the opening day against the hosts, who will field several foreign-born players themselves. And Castillo will, in all likelihood, be there.