FIFA calls off New Zealand-Fiji game in visa row
October 12, 2007
WELLINGTON (AFP) Football's global governing body Friday called off an Oceania World Cup qualifying match between New Zealand and Fiji after the Wellington government refused a visa for the Fijian goalkeeper.
Simione Tamanisau was refused permission to enter New Zealand for Saturday's game because the government said his father-in-law was in Fiji's military forces.
New Zealand has introduced a ban on travel here by members of the Fijian military and their families following last December's coup which toppled the South Pacific nation's elected government.
Oceania Football Confederation general secretary Tai Nicholas said FIFA's view was that the government's decision clashed with the accepted practice of providing visas for those playing in World Cup qualifiers.
FIFA asked the government to reconsider but was told the ban would stand.
“In view of the refusal of the visa, FIFA wishes to confirm that it will not allow the match to take place in New Zealand without the said player being made available to participate,” Nicholas said.
“Football is truly a global game and to have a match involving political interference sets a bad precedent.”
But New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters slammed FIFA's decision as unjust and “a complete U-turn.”
“Football New Zealand was assured just a couple of days ago that the game would be played as scheduled,” Peters said.
“No one has the right to a visa. Entry to another country is a privilege, and all countries retain the right to exclude individuals in accordance with their immigration policy.”
New Zealand captain Tim Brown said the sudden decision one day before the scheduled match was a blow.
“We're hugely disappointed, it's come completely out of the blue,” Brown said.
The Fiji Football Association welcomed the decision after earlier in the week angrily protesting the decision to stop Tamanisau entering New Zealand.
“I am pleased that it has been resolved, but it is very unfortunate that it took until so late in the day to have this decision made,” Fiji Football Association president Sahu Khan said.
He described the New Zealand government's refusal to issue a visa to Tamanisau as “very childish.”
It was not immediately clear where or when the match would be rescheduled. It could be played in a neutral venue or in New Zealand if the government backs down and allows Tamanisau to enter, Nicholas said.
The two countries are still scheduled to play the return leg of the match in Lautoka, Fiji, on Wednesday.
Saturday's match would have been the first in the qualifying series between New Zealand, Fiji, New Caledonia and Vanuatu for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.