Solomon Islands Football Federation President William Lai is sad and disappointed after another Solomon player got banned for being overage in a youth tournament.
Yesterday the OFC banned the Solomon Islands from the next edition of the U16 Championship for fielding Maxwell Keana, who was found to be four years older than what his passport said.
Speaking exclusively to Football in Oceania, SIFF President Lai says it has been a “stressful year”, with first Chris Satu and now Keana caught using false passports. He says SIFF started cleaning house back in January, when they first got suspended, and later un-suspended.
“It is very unfortunate that this has come about. SIFF had cleaned our house when our disqualification took place at the start. We had started immediately to clean all issues on age eligibility since January this year,” Lai tells Football in Oceania.
“Whoever involved must face the law”
He says SIFF knew nothing of Keana’s cheating and that since it illegal to use false information, the people involved must also “face the law”.
“Because of this episode in which is not allowed in our law that using false information to get a passport. Whoever involved must face the law.
“Lastly, we are disappointed that we will not be allowed to take part in next year’s U16.”
Lai questions why the Solomon Islands have been disqualified for a future tournament, while New Zealand – who fielded an ineligible player at the Olympic Qualifiers in 2015 – was not.
“Remember in 2015, New Zealand was disqualified to the Olympics. While a bit different, but, still it was an eligibility issue. They never got punished for the next tournament,” Lai says.
No MRI machines
The OFC Disciplinary and Judicial Committee that has suspended the Solomon Islands has this to say about why the country has been suspended, despite not having anything to do with the player cheating with a fake passport and birth certificate.
“It is apparent that SIFF did not take all available measures to ensure its players were eligible for the OFC U-16 Championship 2018. SIFF only arranged a Medical Imaging Report on 31 August 2019, well after the OFC U-16 Championship 2018 was concluded and just before the U-17 World Cup,” the decision of the OFC Disciplinary and Juidical Committee reads.
Before any youth World Cup, all players from the qualified nations must go through an MRI scan to determine their age, to avoid situations of ineligibility. It was this test that Keana failed.
Lai says the reason for SIFF not holding one before the U16 Championship is a lack of suitable equipment in the country and claims the OFC have never offered to help them with any prior to the U16 Championship.
“Last year, SIFF did not know about MRI scans or other methods to test age. We have never been asked or supported by OFC to do so. The Solomon Islands as a nation does not have an MRI machine,” Lai says.
The OFC committee also raises questions around why SIFF told media Keana was left at home from the World Cup, for ” failing medical test”, rather than saying it was for eligibility reasons.
“It is apparent that SIFF attempted to cover up the true reason for Mr Keana’s exclusion from the Solomon Islands team for the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2019. They publically stated that it was due to Mr Keana failing a medical test, rather than for ineligibility and failed to disclose this to OFC until 28 November 2019 as part of this disciplinary hearing process (See Solomon Star Newspaper article dated 13 October 2019). The cover up by SIFF of this issue is serious and warrants a serious sanction, both due to the action itself, and because of the need to deter such conduct and ensure that member associations conduct themselves with transparency, honesty and in the best interests of the sport and it associated bodies”
When asked the question: “Why did SIFF tell the media that it was for medical reasons and not clarify that it was because of ineligibility?” by this media outlet, Lai answered: “We did a x Ray wrist scan before World Cup Finals. We are yet to verify it is acceptable or not.”
A new chapter
The SIFF President says they will not appeal the decision and urges the country to look forward.
“SIFF would like to thank those who have supported us during those hard times and stressful hours, but, it is over. Solomon football has moved on to a new chapter – It needs to be a right and good one.
“We have moved forward already since January. Personally, I feel we do not want to fight anymore. Time to spend energy to build many World Cup teams at all age levels.” Lai says.