BELIZE CITY, Mon. May 7, 2018– Surprising to many football fans, the Premier League of Belize (PLB) held game 1 of its 2017-2018 Closing Season Finals series yesterday at the Norman Broaster Stadium in San Ignacio. As late as Thursday night, the weekend Finals game was in doubt, as the BDF team was still in camp, hoping for a return to action in a re-play of their semifinals game 2.
In our last report in these sports pages on Thursday night (May 3) of last week, titled “PLB football suspense,” we were still awaiting the verdict on a BDF FC protest against the outcome of their decisive semifinals game 2 against Verdes FC in San Ignacio on Sunday, April 29. The referee report on that game said that Verdes FC had won, 3—0; and thus, Verdes had advanced to the Finals on the strength of a 3-2 aggregate victory, BDF having won game 1 the previous week by a 2-nil score in Belize City,
But the matter was not that simple. A strange occurrence in that 3-nil game had rocked the football community, and shaken the foundation of the sport’s cherished image of “Fair Play.” Referees are human, and it is nothing new or strange when they make a controversial call in a game. But what happened in San Ignacio in the Verdes FC vs BDF FC game was beyond controversial; it was tantamount to outright robbery. Fans can live with missed calls or bad calls by referees as an inevitable part of the game, because it is all subjective, and one fan sees things differently from another, depending on which team you support. But, once the referee has made his call, the game proceeds according to the well-known and established rules. When referee Reid nullified the scored penalty by BDF’s Trimayne Harris, but then refused to allow a re-take of the penalty, the house of “Fair Play” was shaken to its foundation. He had blatantly violated the Laws of the Game, Law 14 on penalties, to be specific. So grievous was the damage to the spirit and integrity of the game, that an FFB release on Friday said that both the referee and linesman involved in the play have been suspended from further officiating. (Since when is a linesman to share equal blame for a referee decision?)
When we went to press last Thursday night with a decision still pending on the BDF protest, it was our belief that both the PLB and the FFB would be carefully considering the way forward to salvage the image of the sport, especially since both the PLB President and the FFB President are former owners of Verdes FC. But, if the “Fair Play” house was shaken to its foundation by Reid’s actions, it practically came crashing down in the couple days that followed our last report in these pages.
Considering the expressed intention of the BDF management to lodge an appeal (and “going all the way to FIFA”) if their protest was denied, and it already being so near to the weekend, we had expressed the opinion that the tournament “might well be taking a break this coming weekend.”
Our reason for taking that view, was because of the highly controversial and constitutionally challenging nature of the case, as well as its potential damage to the image of football among paying fans.
The recent chronology of events was like this:
Mon. April 30 – BDF protest letter to PLB: “.. BDF FC is protesting the game.. on the basis of the referee misinterpreting the law and did not allow the penalty to be retaken… and attached to this letter is the ‘Law 14 The Penalty Kick’ for verification… humbly asking that the game is replay at the said location with a different referees after review by the Disciplinary Committee/ Protest Board..”
The BDF team was reportedly in camp all week, expectantly awaiting the outcome of their protest, and looking forward to a possible re-play of the game. Up to press time on Thursday night, May 3, no verdict had been announced.
3:25 p.m. Fri. May 4 – FFB press release on PLB game: “The Football Federation of Belize (FFB) is in receipt of the decision made by the Premier League of Belize’s (PLB) Disciplinary Committee re the above captioned (sic)
“The FFB and PLB fully supports and respects this decision as it clearly follows the PLB Regulations 2017 VI Section 4D and the IFAB Laws of the Game 2017/2018 Law 5 Section 2.
“As humans, it is normal to make errors, and unfortunately, Referee Christopher Reid and Assistant Referee Wendelle Esquiliano erred in a crucial quarter final match that had significant ramifications. They have since been suspended from officiating in the PLB and all other Tournaments until further notice.”
7:50 p.m. Fri. May 4 – PLB urgent press release: “The League is informing you that the match scheduled for May 6th at the Norman Broaster Stadium at 4:00 pm between Verdes FC and Belmopan Bandits SC will play as scheduled.”
So, the FFB/PLB had decided to treat the matter as a simple case of referee error; but his decision is still final. So much for “Fair Play.” The historical problem with the FFB has always revolved around some technicality or the other, that an aggrieved party is found to have overlooked, and so his case, however genuine, is thrown out. In this case, the PLB/FFB both agreed that a gross error had been done by the referee, requiring that he be suspended; but they chose to give more weight to the PLB regulations about the “referee decision” being “final,” than to the overall principle of “Fair Play,” as it affected the fate of the BDF team.
But the army, which maintained discipline on the field of play, would not go down without a fight. They followed the rejection of their protest with a letter to the Appeals Board of the FFB/PLB on Friday, May 4.
Sat. May 5 (time not known) – BDF lawyer to PLB General Secretary: “ BDF FC had deem it necessary to take it a step further to appeal to the PLB Championship Appeals Board/ Football Federation of Belize Appeals Committee on the 4th May, 2018.
“To date, no response to this decision has been made; yet, the PLB deems it fit for the game between Verdes FC and Belmopan Bandits SC, scheduled for the 6th May, 2018, to carry on as per normal business, which is in direct contravention of FIFA Laws of the game, fair play, and an injustice to member clubs of the League. This letter serves as a letter of demand to the PLB to postpone the above mentioned game until this matter is settled.
“Failure to comply with this letter of demand will force us to initiate legal proceedings against you as per the instructions of our client.”
Well, the PLB/FFB have proceeded with their Finals Game 1 on Sunday at the Norman Broaster Stadium, where Verdes FC drew, 1-1, with Belmopan Bandits SC; so, where the hopes of BDF FC are concerned, it is pretty much a “done deal.” It is left to be seen if the Ministry of Defence will prevail on the BDF FC team management to refrain from their expressed determination to take this battle all the way to FIFA.
What’s next for BDF? What’s next for Fair Play in Belize football?