Timor Leste or East Timor has paid a heavy price for taking a shortcut to sporting glory.
Its national football team reportedly was expelled a few days ago not only from the 2019 Asian Cup but also the World Cup qualifiers from 2018 or after the battle for football’s prized Jules Rimet Trophy in Russia.
FIFA, world football’s governing body, booted out Timor Leste from Asia’s top tournament and from the game’s inter-continental group plays for fielding 12 Brazilian players whom the tiny country’s national football federation had ruled are true-blue East Timorese.
(There are only 11 players to a side in football, men or women).
Apparently trying to put one over FIFA officials, the national federation, according to results of an investigation by the Asian Football Confederation, “faked” the papers of the Brazilians, passing them off as native-born by issuing “falsified Timorese birth or baptismal certificates.”
This corner late last year criticized the practice of Timor Leste as shameful, a position that seemed to resonate with football fans in the tiny Southeast Asian country who had decried their “national” team as an embarrassment.
What nailed Timor Leste was that it doctored the personal documents of the Brazilians when it could have naturalized the South American imports.
Naturalization, of course, is a longer process than falsification of such papers, and so the country’s football federation chose the, well, path of least resistance.
What could have also gotten Timor Leste in trouble was its misplaced sense of national pride that, through football, it could stay one penalty kick ahead of Indonesia, which invaded its neighbor in 1975.
Timor Leste was born from a bitter and bloody armed struggle from November 28, 1975 (when its colonizer Portugal left, only for the Timorese to be occupied by Jakarta nine days later) to 1999.
It was recognized as an independent country on May 22, 2002.
With freedom came the normal aspirations of a new but poor country to make it to the world sports’ stage, on top of a leader of its war of independence against Indonesia winning the Nobel Peace Prize.
East Timor’s sports authorities, apparently, were impatient and looked in the direction of Brazil, with whose citizens it shares a common language—Portuguese.
Recruitment of Brazilian football players began a few years ago and it immediately showed positive results, with the Timor Leste footballers winning against Malaysia and Middle East powerhouse United Arab Emirates, among a few countries that they shouldn’t and can’t beat.
But win they did—by sending their imports from samba land.
Of course, the lid will be blown and, after Timor Leste football honchos told the Brazilians to cool it off, their native-born players were simply no match to Saudi Arabia (10-0) and Palestine (7-0), among other much stronger teams.
The UAAP and the NCAA here should review their policies on their recruitment of basketball imports, taking to heart the Timor Leste debacle.
P.S.: The worse news for Timor Leste is that Indonesia shook off FIFA’s suspension of its national football team by reaching the fi