The issue of eligibility came to fore at the Touch World Cup 2019 in Malaysia when the Cook Islands was unable to field a team in the open men’s category after four players were deem ineligible to represent the country.
The supporters of the national team were disappointed that their players were denied the opportunity to represent the Cook Islands because their parents were not born here.
In a statement, Federation of International Touch director Gary Reynolds said they have seen several comments on various posts regarding player eligibility at the World Cup.
Reynold said these comments were factually incorrect and dismiss important context.
“Regardless of whether or not individuals agree with the eligibility policy, the fact remains it has been a requirement since 2010, that non-resident non-nationals must have a parent (not grandparent) born in the country they intend to represent,” Reynolds said.
“There was nothing new in this aspect at the 2019 Touch World Cup, only a greater commitment to ensuring the policy was being adhered to. A proper player eligibility accreditation process was first rolled out at the 2018 Euros (with a focus on the open divisions), and again at the Youth World Cup last year.”
Reynolds said some of the social media comments indicated that the Cook Islands men’s open team were disqualified. He said this was incorrect.
“Only the players in that team who were ineligible were affected by the policy, the 10 eligible players were welcome to play.
“When the issue was discovered during the player accreditation process, FIT provided options to the Cook Islands administration, including redistributing players from their other teams to fill the void in men’s open.
“The Cook Islands tour management declined these options and ultimately chose to forfeit their matches on the basis of player welfare - as playing with only 10 players for 8 matches would have been extremely difficult.
“The compromise that FIT finally made was to permit the team to play the forfeited games as friendlies with 14 players (including the ineligible players), provided each opposition agreed. FIT made this decision, so that the group was not in Malaysia for a week and unable to participate at all. However, these matches are not considered test matches and the results were not recorded.”
Reynolds said all nations were advised repeatedly prior to the tournament through their regular updates to tour managers, to check the terms in the eligibility policy and ensure all players they selected were within the rules.
Arriving in Malaysia with players that were not eligible is regrettable but was entirely avoidable, he added.
“The Cook Islands administration admitted to their oversight and failure to check the policy, instead taking the word of others on face value rather than consulting FIT.
“FIT absolutely understands that eligibility is an emotive issue and one which will receive some attention in the coming year. It is also an issue with little consistency across sports, and no ‘global standard practice’ for FIT to fall back on.”
Meanwhile Reynolds said even among the Pacific nations with their smaller domestic populations, there was no consensus on whether allowing second generation expatriates would be beneficial to their development.
He said FIT would not make a knee jerk adjustment on this matter, adding it will take some time to review and consult with all their member nations.
“As the international governing body, we have a duty to consider the impact of policy changes on all members and to ensure that our international representation pathways have legitimacy, are universally enforceable, and are fair to most.
“The worst thing we could do is to prematurely make changes to ‘fix’ something and inadvertently bring about unintended negative consequences.”
Cook Islands managed a bronze and silver medal at the Touch World Cup 2019 which concluded earlier this month.