Is East Timor Illegally Putting Together a National Soccer Team With Brazilian Players?
The East Timor Football Federation won't reveal how they were able to get so many Brazilians onto the national team.
FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation may be turning a blind eye to the illegal movement of players into Asia.
Timor-Leste, also known as East Timor has been improving steadily in recent years, and just recently moved ahead of Indonesia, the country it broke away from at the turn of the century, in the FIFA rankings.
The team has progressed beyond the preliminary stages of Asia's World Cup qualifiers for the first time, and earlier this month, in their sleepy capital of Dili, they almost pulled off a remarkable draw against one of the biggest teams in the region, the United Arab Emirates.
A large part of Timor's improvement has been done through the recruitment of Brazilians with no discernable links to this poorest nation in Asia. And neither FIFA, the AFC or the local FA will say how they qualify.
According to FIFA regulations, a player born in one country can play for another country if they have lived there for five years as an adult, and get citizenship. But none of Timor's Brazilian contingent appear not to have lived or played in the half-island nation as adults—if at all.
In stark contrast to the team's home-grown talent, all of Timor's Brazilians are professional footballers who make a living playing in countries as diverse as Brazil, Bolivia, the UAE, Mexico, Kuwait, Portugal and Slovakia.
They would also qualify to play for the Asian side if they had parents or grandparents from there. However, despite a Portuguese colonial legacy in Timor-Leste, there is no strong history of immigration between the two countries.
"Until 2000, I would say there was no migration, and since then it has been limited, mostly via marriage," says Damien Kingsbury, a Melbourne professor who specialises in politics and security in Southeast Asia, particularly Timor-Leste.
Sydney academic Amanda Wise wrote in 2004 that 20,000 citizens of Timor-leste had migrated to Australia in the years since Indonesian occupation, half that number had gone to Portugal, and smaller numbers had gone to Macau, Mozambique, Canada, the United States, Ireland "and other parts of the world." In other words, the numbers who had moved to Brazil were insignificant.
Timor-Leste's Australian embassy puts the number in Brazil at about 500.
Even with Brazil's reputation as an international football factory, it seems doubtful that a community this small—if it exists at all—could produce so many more quality players than the population based in Timor-Leste.
Neither FIFA nor the Asian Football Confederation will say how the players in question qualify to play for the team. An AFC spokesperson says all players are eligible and verified to play, but cited confidentiality issues when asked to explain how.
FIFPro, the international players' union, says nothing prohibits federations from releasing this information.
Repeated attempts to contact Timor's FA, whether by phone or their Yahoo account, have gone answered.
"A wave of naturalization of players from Brazilian origin always sound suspicious in football," says Antoine Duval, a senior research at the Asser Institute for International & European Law, by email. "There is always a possibility that the players in question have lived continuously for at least five years after reaching the age of 18 on the territory of East Timor, but this seems unlikely.
"In any case, if the player in question has not reached the age of 23, the acquisition of the new nationality will not have been made in accordance with the (lineage) criterion."
Duval says FIFA has "vowed to be strict on the implementation of these requirements, especially in light of the upcoming Qatar World Cup and the legitimate suspicions regarding the future Qatari team."
But the lack of transparency over Timor's Brazilians suggest we may never know how diligently player eligibility is policed.