Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart (ISN)
February 19, 2018, Victoria, BC (ISN) – The Saanich Fusion Prospect Lake U15 Premier League girls soccer team is launching a last minute appeal to the Lower Island Soccer Association (LISA) and BC Soccer after being stripped of all their points in the 2017-2018 season and being prohibited from playing in the 2018 Provincial Cup playoffs which begin next week.
The disciplinary action handed down last Thursday to Saanich Fusion by the LISA Board, stems from an alleged player transfer violation that was brought to the attention of the Board in late November or early December of 2017 and that is briefly reflected in the Association’s December 2017 meeting minutes, noting simply that problem rosters would be brought to the January President’s meeting and that teams could have their games protested, but with no suggestion as to how the teams involved could resolve the issues.
It is this delay in action that is one of many concerns Fusion Head Coach, Caelen Bright. “All I was told at the time by our registrar, was that we needed to ensure we submitted the addresses of all of our players by December 1,” said Bright following a team practice Monday evening. “We did this and then were informed further that two families needed to submit proof of residency. To my knowledge, this was provided and there were no additional concerns expressed back to us at the team level regarding any transfer issues. If there was an issue that came up regarding the proof of residency, why did they not bring it to our attention then, instead of waiting until now to implement the disciplinary action, a week before Cup playoffs are to begin, when we have very little time to appeal?”
ISN attempted to contact representatives of LISA to ask the same question, as well as to discuss other issues regarding this situation and received only an e-mail reply from Executive Director Karen Hood-Deshon, signed by President Tim Satterford noting, “Lower Island Soccer Association takes all infractions of its rules and regulations seriously and considers carefully the impact of disciplinary decisions on players, coaches, parents, clubs and the soccer community as a whole,” but would not comment further on any of the specifics, citing “privacy issues in respect of the youth players involved.”
As in many youth sports associations, transfer rules are designed to ensure that teams do not “poach” more talented players from other catchment areas to create “super” teams or teams that are unfairly balanced in terms of playing strength and talent. Transfers do occur all the time and most associations – not all however – will “release” a player to another association without issue, although often times transfer rules are not applied consistently for all teams, with decisions on approval made on a case-by-case basis.
In other cases, catchment areas that do not have enough registrants to field a team in their area, will pool with other associations to create one team. That is case here with Saanich Fusion pooling with Prospect Lake at the U15 girls level, as does a second lower Island U15 girls team in the Premier League, in their case, drawing players from four different associations.
Such pooling requests are approved regularly by the LISA board and the associated member associations, but again complications can arise if players want to transfer into one association that then wants, or needs, to pool with another to form a team. In such cases too, transfer rules are often waived between the associations pooling together for the obvious reasons of simply allowing the players from multiple associations to form a single team.
Bright feels that these complicating factors have led to wide-spread non-compliance with the existing player transfer rules by member clubs over the years and that LISA has not applied the rules consistently for all teams, but instead makes exceptions for some teams and levels of play, or simply practices a wilful blindness to the violations unless a formal protest is received.
With respect to the poaching aspect and creation of a super team, Bright maintains that their team has not attempted to deliberately lure or poach players from other clubs to gain an unfair advantage over the other teams and that the association from which two of the players in question previously played for, did not even enter a team this season at the Premier level, and as such would not experience any impact of those players now having moved and playing within another association’s boundaries.
To Bright’s knowledge as well, all of her existing players met the residency requirements for playing in either the Saanich or Prospect Lake catchment areas. “Other than the additional request for proof of residency, nothing was ever flagged as being a problem once we had verified and submitted all the address requirements back in December and submitted the additional information, so technically, as far as I am aware, we had no players that needed a formal transfer in order to be able to play for us.”
Bright and her parent group feel they are being unjustly punished and that even if there was a rules violation they were unaware of, that the level of punishment being handed down by LISA is extremely disproportional to the “level of harm” to the other teams or associations. “The games amongst the four teams in this division this season have been highly competitive with many ties, or games decided by a single goal,” noted Bright. “Our team is currently sitting in 2nd place and with the two upper island teams (Nanaimo and Comox) not drawing upon players from the lower Island, we feel other teams in the league have suffered no harm from any alleged violation of the transfer rules.”
“It is also frustrating that we have not had the opportunity to be heard on this issue,” added Bright. “Players and parents, who feel they have done nothing wrong, were completely blind-sided by LISA on this decision and have not been provided with any direct communications or a fair and impartial hearing to address the allegations against the team before they informed us of the discipline.”
On the topic of discipline, it is unclear from the Disciplinary Rules, Regulations and Policy published on the LISA website whether there is a clear procedure for dealing with a team with an alleged player transfer violation. There are guidelines that exist for knowingly playing an unregistered or suspended player, for failing to register a player, or for poaching a player from another team, but in all of these cases, any fines and/or suspensions imposed are imposed on a team official, NOT on the team as a whole. Plus, in this instance, it seems that none of these guidelines are applicable here – the players were seemingly properly registered and none were “poached” from other teams.
There is a clause in the LISA Transfer Rule noting that teams that file false papers to try and circumvent the transfer rule could face forfeit of all their games, or that individual players with false addresses could be suspended, but given that all of her team’s paperwork, to her knowledge, was supposedly in order, it is unclear to Bright and parents on the team, as to what guidelines, or what specific violations LISA has based their disciplinary decisions on.
Again, when reached for comment, LISA declined to provide details on any of the specifics involved.
Bright feels that her team is being “made an example of” by LISA and simply wants the Board to reconsider the decision and allow her team to participate in the playoffs – which the team feels they have every right to participate in – and then for LISA to conduct a full-scale review of the player transfer issue, implement any required changes, and undertake an education campaign with all member clubs, executive and parents, well in advance of the start of next season.
“It seems to me that they are taking the draconian step of prohibiting these girls from playing the sport they love and that such a decision flies in the face of both LISA and BC Soccer’s (BCS) stated mission, goals, and strategic plans for encouraging and maintaining girls’ participation in the sport.”
Bright feels that associations should only resort to prohibiting players from playing in the most serious and egregious of circumstances and look for other measures such as financial fines or other sanctions to address administrative or lesser infractions of the rules.
“This decision unfairly punishes our players for administrative matters that are beyond their control and influence and we are asking for an immediate suspension of the disciplinary action to allow the girls to continue to play until a fair and impartial hearing can be held so that those who are being punished have an opportunity to be heard.”
“Our players have worked hard to enjoy their success this season,” added Bright, “and now, through no fault of their own, they are being told it was all for nothing and that they won’t be allowed to play anymore this year. It’s extremely frustrating and disappointing and I hope that the powers that be will re-think their decision and just let them play.”