Soccer: AFC Fury furious at northern league ruling

By Cordwainer Bull

The AFC Fury are furious at northern league ruling. Photo / BPT
The AFC Fury are furious at northern league ruling. Photo / BPT

Tauranga soccer club AFC Fury plans to appeal against an Auckland Football Federation (AFF) ruling that has disqualified the club from competing in the northern league next year.

The appeal to New Zealand Football (NZF) will prolong a dispute which has already simmered for over two months. Matters came to a head on Friday, when the AFF ruled the Te Puna-based club fielded two ineligible players in the end-of-season home and away northern league qualifying playoff series it won against Papakura City.

Papakura was well beaten over the two matches but successfully protested that Fury had fielded more than the three permissible "guest players" in its team.

Under competition regulations any player who is not a New Zealand citizen or does not have permanent residency, and requires an international transfer certificate, is regarded as a guest player.

Fury argued it had complied with the guest player regulation, but after a rigorous investigation, AFF awarded Papakura City the points from both legs of the tie and declared it winner of the 2013 playoff series.

AFF investigated the status of a number of Fury players and ruled two of them were ineligible for the playoff tie. While they should have been subject to an international transfer certificate, none was sought.

But Fury chairman Dave Cook has vowed to appeal, focusing his case upon the procedure the AFF used to gain the information on which it based its decision.

Cook said international clearances had not been sought because the players told the club they had not been formally registered with overseas clubs.

Players had made written declarations saying they had not played affiliated football, and there was no database of information or process available to club administrators to verify otherwise.

Pablo Savia Gavagnin told Fury he had only previously played at university in Uruguay and signed a declaration to that effect.

The other player, Alejandro Ferrari, was signed from rival club Tauranga City United, and Fury believed he did not need international clearance given he was already playing domestic football here.

Auckland Football CEO David Parker said the findings came after a thorough process "which safeguarded the interests of both clubs and preserved the integrity of the competition".

"We acknowledge this has been a lengthy process but, in the circumstances, both Auckland Football and New Zealand Football have done everything possible to reach an outcome as soon as possible," Parker said.

"Given what was at stake for both clubs and the (northern league) competition itself, it was our responsibility to use every available resource to make a fully informed decision."

But Cook said it was unfair the AFF resorted to avenues to track information on players which were not available to club administrators when signing the players.
"Natural justice demands that both parties in any dispute have equal access to information," he said.

"In a Bill of Rights situation, for example, a case fails if a person has not been afforded his/her rights at the outset. Anything that occurs subsequent to the breach is inadmissible.

"We were not afforded the same privilege as AFF. Worse still, we pay fees to Federations and NZF and they have not supported us with pathways to make our situation secure.

"Indeed, in this case they have taken advantage of their privileged position to penalise one of their paying stakeholders.

"AFF have used a checking process that was not open to our club when we signed the players nor at any time last season or before.

"Clubs in our region, at least, have never been able to check on a player's background by simply putting forward his/her details to NZF. We have always had to seek an international clearance and pay a fee. If we were not aware of a club to seek a clearance from, we could not proceed with the request.

"In this case, the players told us they had not played affiliated football and that was their belief. We were unable to check."

Cook said NZF has now begun implementing such a process, but it was not in place in the 2013 season.

"Clubs could only take the word of the player until a couple of weeks ago."

Cook believed his club was the victim of "malpractice" and said the issue should concern all clubs in the northern region.

"Natural justice demands that we cannot be punished based on information available only to AFF. The processes they used to gain information were simply not available to ourselves when we signed the players and indeed nor at any time the past."

He suggested the northern league second division should be 13 teams in 2014 if the AFF wished to appease Papakura.

Meanwhile Cook argued the guest player regulation was an anachronism, introduced 30 years ago for circumstances which no longer existed.

"The Guest Player regulation is not a FIFA regulation," he said. "It was invented in New Zealand for NZ conditions as they were three decades ago.

"It cannot be detected who is a player from overseas, who should or should not be a guest player especially if they have British/ Kiwi sounding names.

"We had a Uruguayan guy who was barely good enough to play in our reserve team, could not speak a word of English and his name on his passport was Neil Young."

The Guest Player Regulation was introduced in New Zealand in 1983 to control the flow of top professionals - such as England internationals Mick Channon and Trevor Brooking - who were brought out to play in the national league of the day.

Often such players "guested" for a couple of weeks only - often in conjunction with speaking tours - hence, the term "Guest Player" rather than "import".

Cook, who was also a club administrator back then, said the Guest Player regulation was intended to even the playing field between the "have" clubs and the "have nots", and protecting local players was a secondary consideration.

Ironically, today the "three guest players" provision does not apply to the ASB Premiership, which allows four such players.

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