New Zealand has been controversially excluded from the final of the Oceania Football Confederation Men’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament, meaning that the country will not be eligible to appear as Oceania’s representative in the 2016 Olympics Football Tournament in Rio.
After New Zealand defeated Vanuatu 2-0 in the semi-final on July 10, the Vanuatu Football Federation lodged a protest with the OFC Disciplinary Committee that Deklan Wynne was an ineligible player. The protest was upheld, and consequently New Zealand was adjudged to have forfeited the match, Vanuatu being awarded a 3-0 win, and they will now go on to face Fiji in the final (which is also the Gold Medal match in the Pacific Games, being held in Papua New Guinea), with the winner going through to the Olympic tournament in Brazil next year.
It is as yet unclear as to why the South African-born Wynne was ruled to be an ineligible player, but the fact that he gas been so considered is being hotly disputed by New Zealand Football, whose CEO Andy Martin said, “We strongly refute the ruling regarding the ineligibility of the player in question and we will be challenging this decision.” In the meantime, NZ Football is making no further comment until that challenge process is complete.
The OFC’s decision to rule that the 20-year-old Wynne is an ineligible player is baffling because he has not only appeared without controversy for New Zealand in the recent Under 20 World Cup, staged on home soil, but also for the senior men’s side, the All Whites. The governing body gave no further explanation for its decision, saying only in a statement, “In accordance with Article 7 of the Regulations Governing the Application of the Statutes, a member of the New Zealand Under 23 squad has been deemed ineligible to represent New Zealand.”
The reference to Article 7 of the FIFA statutes suggests that Wynne has not met the appropriate qualifying criteria to be considered a New Zealand player. These are that either the player has a parent or grandparent born in the country they wish to represent, or that they have lived in that country continuously for at least five years sine the age of 18. While Wynne at 20 is too young have met the last of these conditions, it can only be assumed that he has qualified to play for New Zealand through his ancestry, as previous appearances for his adopted country would suggest.
Many New Zealand football fans are questioning how either NZ Football has made such an administrative blunder in selecting Wynne, or the OFC has got its facts so wrong. Whichever is the case, it is unlikely to have been resolved before the final, which New Zealand will now miss along with its chance of appearing at the Olympics.