Grannygate

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Grannygate is the name given to several different sporting scandals, typically regarding eligibility of players for international matches. A rugby union version of Grannygate occurred in Wales in March 2000, a rugby league version occurred in New Zealand in 2006.

Rugby union[edit]

In rugby union, Grannygate was a scandal over the eligibility of international players which occurred in March 2000. The rules of the International Rugby Board (IRB) allow players to qualify to play for a country based on their parents' or grandparents' country of birth. Alternatively a player can qualify based on residency in a country for a defined number of years.

The players involved in Grannygate were:

  • Shane Howarth, former New Zealand international who gained 19 caps for Wales before being banned as he had no Welsh qualification.
  • Brett Sinkinson, New Zealand born flanker (though he never played for New Zealand) who played for Wales whilst ineligible. He was barred from playing for Wales but later returned to the Wales team after qualifying through the residency rules and achieved a total of 20 caps.
  • Dave Hilton, born in Bristol (though he never played for England) claimed Scottish qualification through his grandfather. He played 41 times for Scotland before it was revealed his grandfather was born in England and he was therefore ineligible to play for Scotland. He played one more international for Scotland after qualifying through residency.[1]

Three other Welsh players were initially implicated but exonerated as they had valid Welsh qualifications and had not played for other countries: Australian Jason Jones-Hughes, New Zealander Matt Cardey and English-born Peter Rogers who had played club rugby in South Africa and Wales. A fourth player, Colin Charvis had been first capped for Wales in 1996 while apparently ineligible, but by the time the scandal broke he had completed the required 3-year residency period and no further action was taken.

The IRB later changed the eligibility rules so that a player could only play for one country.[citation needed] This led to problems with the Pacific Islanders and the All Blacks, who had previously treated one another's players as interchangeable. New Zealander Stephen Bachop, for example, played for Samoa in the 1991 Rugby World Cup before becoming an All Black, but later switched back to Samoa. Similarly his brother Graeme Bachop represented New Zealand and later Japan. The brothers played against each other in the 1999 Rugby World Cup. Since these events, Sitiveni Sivivatu and Sione Lauaki both played for the Pacific Islanders side but later went on to play for the New Zealand national rugby team as playing for the Islanders did not require a player to commit his international future to one of the 5 sides which make up the Pacific Islanders.[citation needed]

In late 2010 it was proposed by the New Zealand Rugby Union that former test players be allowed to play for their country of heritage. This would have allowed players like Jerry Collins to turn out for their countries of birth but the move was rejected by the IRB.

Rugby league[edit]

The term Grannygate was used of Nathan Fien who played rugby league for New Zealand in the 2006 Rugby League Tri-Nations, despite not being qualified to do so.[2] Fien had played State of Origin for the Queensland Maroons in 2001 but was seeking permission to play for the Kiwis in the second game of the 2006 Tri-Nations. Fien claimed eligibility based on the grandparent rule. Fien played in the losing Kiwi team in Melbourne and in the winning Kiwi team against the Lions in New Zealand. He was later banned after The Daily Telegraph in Sydney revealed that Fien was claiming elibility based upon a great-grandmother and not a grandmother. A further consequence was that the Kiwis were forced to forfeit the two competitions points gained for the victory against the Lions which further hampered the Kiwis' efforts to make the final. Fien became eligible to play for the Kiwis in 2007 due to residency rules via his tenure with the Auckland Warriors in the NRL.[citation needed]

The effect of the incident on international rugby league was a public slanging match between the Australian Rugby League (ARL) and the New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL). Selwyn Bennett, the chairman of the NZRL, resigned over the incident and two weeks later Andrew Chalmers announced that he would also leave his job with a year still to run on his contract. Graham Lowe, a former Kiwi coach, tabled a failed bid to have the whole NZRL replaced.[3] Bennett has since claimed that the incident was good for international rugby league, accusing ARL chief executive, Geoff Carr, of knowing about Fien's ineigibility before it was revealed publicly. Bennett said: "Not only Geoff Carr but the secretary at the ARL Colin Love looked into it. The only one who didn't know anything seemed to be me."[4]

Republic of Ireland national football team[edit]

Another controversial event dubbed Grannygate[5][6] occurred on 12 September 2007 when footballer Stephen Ireland left the Irish national football squad right before an important UEFA Euro 2008 qualifications game against the Czech Republic in Prague, after claiming his grandmother had died.

The FAI chartered a plane and flew him home to Cork, but it was later revealed that Ireland's grandmother was alive and well. He then claimed it was his other, paternal, grandmother who had died and then when that story also didn't check out, said it was his grandfather's second wife who had passed away. Once this was also proven to be false, he eventually admitted that he made up the excuse in order to visit his girlfriend, who had reportedly had a miscarriage.[6]

As a result of this Grannygate Stephen Ireland quit then-manager Steve Staunton's Irish national football squad entirely and had as of 2014 not featured in the national team again. In a bizarre twist assistant Ireland manager Roy Keane by chance met Ireland's grandmother on an airplane in March 2014 and told her there might be a place for her grandson on the Irish team again.[5]

See also[edit]

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