GSL discovers Pandora’s box

RELATED COVERAGE: Governance under fire

MORE than 80 players in the Gippsland Soccer League have been found in breach of international clearance laws following an “eye-opening” investigation.

The revelation came after Falcons 2000 issued a formal complaint against Sale United using three Irish players without international transfer certificates during the 2015 season.

The Falcons later issued a legal document to the league requesting an investigation into the use of potentially ineligible players in the competition.

GSL secretary Linda Christy said while the Swans fielded players technically ineligible under Football Federation Victoria’s ITC laws, a broader investigation revealed their case was not isolated.

“It uncovered that not only did… the accused club have players that were technically ineligible, we found that over 80 players across the league were technically ineligible,” Christy said.

“Under the FFV definition anyone who was born overseas needs to have an ITC clearance, which was probably news to us and probably not widely known across the league.”

The FFV rules state all players “registering for the first time to play football in Australia, regardless of previous playing history” must apply for an ITC, including Australian citizens.

Christy said some players identified as ineligible under ITC laws had been in the country for decades, and the majority – if not all – GSL sides had names on the list, which was being prepared for release to the competition’s member clubs.

In accordance with the league’s independent discipline officer’s recommendation and legal team advice, the GSL elected not to take action against the clubs in breach, but issue stern warnings and beef up checks on ITCs prior to the 2016 season.

“We’ll distribute those players that came up on that list (to the clubs), some of them were 35 years ago, they’ve been in the country 30 years, and that was our dilemma, do we open a Pandora’s box and where do we stop?” Christy said.

“We did send them (Sale) a please explain warning letter to say that this needs to be rectified and that will be issued to probably all clubs prior to 2016.”

As the original formal grievance was lodged outside the 72-hour protest window for offences, the issue was treated as a complaint, which leaves the league with the right to “take any disciplinary action it deems necessary against the offending club and/or player”.

This means the results of the matches stand, as opposed to a protest which, if upheld, would revert to a 3-0 loss for offending teams.

Christy said the decision was a discretionary approach designed to preserve the competition’s history and results.

“FFV allows GSL as the operational, governing body to decide what we were going to do, and we decided we weren’t going to penalise everyone who’s ever played an ineligible player under the ITC rule because it would have been a Pandora’s box,” Christy said.

“I think in this instance clubs acted in good faith, I don’t think that anyone purposely played ineligible players.

“There’s a guy I’ve known for 35 years and he was on the list… because he was born in the UK… technically he was on the same list so do we roll back that club’s results for the last 35 years?”

Christy said the GSL was not the only competition affected, with FFV widely impacted as well.

“FFV advised that they’ll do the same (as us by not taking disciplinary action) because they’ve acknowledged it’s rife through their clubs as well, it’s not just a GSL problem,” she said.

“It has had a good outcome in that we are now aware of a flaw in the registration process.”

The determination not to alter competition points saw Falcons 2000 awarded their senior and reserves league championship trophies at the competition’s presentation night.

Christy said the GSL would look to issue penalties for future ITC breaches and increase scrutiny of the rule.