Next Stop, Qatar: The Castillo files

Officially, Ecuador will seemingly open the 22nd edition of the FIFA World Cup when they face the host nation in the tournament opener on Nov. 20. But, that was put at risk due to one player and his birth certificate. 

A few months ago, Chile started a legal debate with FIFA when they called for a review on their game against Ecuador, claiming that Byron Castillo was ineligible to represent Ecuador. The Chilean Football Federation claimed that Ecuador’s camp had used false passports and birth certificates for selected players. 

FIFA stated that everything was clear and legitimate, despite Chile’s claims that winger Castillo was not born in Ecuador, but rather in Tumaco, Colombia. However, the officials of the largest soccer organization stated that the decision would rely on the pending investigation. 

At that time, the Ecuadorian Federation submitted new evidence to FIFA, including an audio where Castillo himself admitted that he was in fact born in Colombia. He also stated that he lied on his birth certificate and was not born in 1998; instead, he was born in 1995. 

In the audio, which first appeared four years ago, he explains that his full name is actually spelled Bayron Javier Castillo Segura, rather than what appears on his Ecuadorian birth certificate, Byron David Castillo Segura. 

The audio supported the claims established by the Chilean Soccer Federation in an attempt to return to the World Cup after eight years of absence. However, this digging operation was not enough to grant Chile a last-minute ticket to Qatar. FIFA officially announced that Ecuador would remain the second seed in the A group.  

Even after the official decision by soccer’s leading organization, we must take into account the incredible precedent that informed this case. In 2016, the Bolivian soccer federation was in a similar situation when they aligned defender Nelson Cabrera in a match against Chile and Peru. Cabrera, who was born in Paraguay, led FIFA to penalize the Bolivian side, forcing them to forfeit their two matches. The decision then raised Chile above Argentina in fifth place of the ten-team CONMEBOL qualifying group. Then, FIFA chose to keep the ruling and cause Bolivia to lose the four points earned in those two windows. Evidently, that decision was taken with ample time before the start of the World Cup. But, time is something FIFA did not have when reaching a verdict this time around. 

The Byron Castillo case also shares similarities with that of Congolese defender Chenzel Mbemba. Then playing for Portuguese side Porto FC, the defender was outed by his own club for allegedly falsifying his birth certificate. Due to increased uncertainty about his age, Porto decided to end their relationship with Mbemba after finding he had four different birth certificates each with a different age. The player had allegedly listed 1988 as his birth year when he first signed with his first two clubs in Congo. In his participation in the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers in 2011, his birth year listed was 1991. According to the Belgian club Anderlecht’s records, Embembe was born in 1994. 

The increased uncertainty regarding the falsification of birth records by the player led him to be sacked from Porto. Now, he is a starting defender for French side Olympique de Marseille. 

With these recent actions, FIFA was under pressure to quickly resolve the issue and calm the Ecuadorian fans who were uncertain about their place in the upcoming World Cup. Unfortunately, these stories will continue to appear as we continue to live in a society where migration is a constant. Many who see the story of Byron Castillo assume that it is normal for one to leave their country of origin soon after birth in order to find a better life, better opportunities and a better future. 

That is all Byron Castillo was looking for when he made this switch: a chance at his professional soccer dream, and now that is what he will obtain. Castillo is faced with a chance to show his character and skills on the pitch when later this fall he, alongside La Tri, will face similars like Qatar, the Netherlands and Senegal.