SAN IGNACIO, Wed. Dec. 2, 2015–Football Federation of Belize, or Football Federation of Belmopan Bandits?
I write this letter hoping it may find its way in this week’s edition of the Amandala. I also write this letter to inform the general public, the football family and fans country wide of the stifling issues and dilemma affecting the football community. Let’s rewind to August before the start of what can be now termed as the most controversial football season in recent history.
In an emergency meeting called by (FFB) President Ruperto Vicente and General Secretary Michael Blease, in the presence of all team owners and Executive Members Sergio Chuc and Cruz Gamez, the President made a proposal termed as the way forward for football in Belize.
There were two very important points made in the presentation/proposal by Mr. Vicente. The first being that the FFB is recommending that the PLB (Premier League of Belize) abolish its Executive and form a Board of Directors (BOD) in which each president from each club will be a member of the BOD, and that of the 9 presidents, a Chairman of the Board would be elected. This sounded very good to the team owners/presidents. The other very important point was that each club can register a total of 5 foreign players, with 3 on the field at any given time, but that Central American players would be treated as if they were nationals (a decision passed by UNCAF at Congress, according to Mr. Vicente). Now, this sounded too good to be true, but Mr. Vicente said it was a decision passed by UNCAF.
Now, at that said time, Verdes had 5 non-Belizean players – Benito Moreira (HON), Marlon Molina (HON), Victor Cruz (Belizean by descent but bearer of Guatemalan nationality), Alcides Thomas (Brazilian) and Jesus Patino (Mexican). By the president’s proposal, however, it now meant that Verdes only had two foreign players – Jesus Patino and Alcides Thomas, as all three other non-Belizean players were of Central American nationality. Now, Mr. Vicente himself said it, and even put it in black and white: “Central American players will be considered nationals (a decision passed by UNCAF and congress.”
Verdes FC, now preparing for CONCACAF Champions League, saw this as a welcoming opportunity to construct an even more formidable team.
The Board of Directors was formed, and at the first meeting a Chairman of the Board was elected. Immediately after the electing of a chairman, a subsequent board of directors meeting was called. In that meeting, the clubs went through all points in the proposal, and agreed and/or disagreed on certain points. At the end of the meeting, one substantial point which was agreed upon was the point which stated that Central American players will be treated as nationals.
As Vice President and talent scout for Verdes FC, I glimmered at this Board of Directors decision. Immediately following the meeting, I contacted an agent friend of mine in Brazil, who assisted me in hiring a Brazilian offensive midfielder and a defender. As former manager of FC Belize, I was aware of the very talented Honduran midfielder, Jorge Aleman. I also obtained a Trinidadian striker, who was at the time playing in the USA. Now, from the proposals made to the PLB Congress by Mr. Vicente, and further voted upon unanimously by the PLB clubs, Verdes FC had 5 foreigners and 4 Central American (to be treated as nationals) players.
PLB 2015-2016 Opening Season began. Verdes played Placencia Assassins in the opener and drew. We then played our first (CONCACAF) Champions League game against Queretaro FC and drew as well. We came back to Belize and played BDF FC at the MCC and again drew. On our 3rd match, on August 30, 2015, we played the Belmopan Bandits and embarrassed them with a 6 to 1 victory – a game that shocked the entire country.
The Bandits protest
The Belmopan Bandits then proceeded to protest the game on the grounds that we fielded four foreign players, even though the Statutes said we should only field 3. The non-Belizean players who played in that game were Alcides Thomas (Brazilian), (Jesus) “Chuy” Patino (Mexican), Yoras Silva (Brazilian), Benito Moreira (Honduran) and Victor Cruz (Guatemalan/Belizean). Now, based on the proposals by Mr. Vicente, which the PLB owners had unanimously agreed upon (minutes of that meeting exist), Central American players should be treated as nationals. So, therefore, Verdes’ argument was that we had 3 foreigners on the field and two Central American (to be treated the same as nationals) players on the field.
Now this is where things get fishy. Mr. Vicente retracted his statement, and now claimed that he made the point about Central American players in error, and UNCAF did not agree on that; therefore, the PLB could not implement such an article in their regulations. Now, this was after the FFB processed and accepted registration for all players that Verdes registered. Up to date, none of the registrations have been rescinded.
Now, Verdes could have also fought this off the field. But we were hoping and believing that justice would prevail. Verdes was aware that Bandits had played two ineligible players in the said game – Elroy Smith and Felix Miranda. Now, what made them ineligible? Elroy Smith was yet to receive his International Transfer Certificate from the Honduran Federation. The FIFA regulations state clearly that a player cannot be registered to two Federations at the same time, and that a player must receive an international transfer certificate in order to be registered to a different Federation. Elroy Smith did not receive his ITC until September 2nd. He had already participated in 3 PLB games. Now, if a player plays in a game and is not properly registered with the Federation, then that team that fielded that player would have said to have forfeited that game. Now, this is 3 games he played in. There is no statutory limit on this. That is 9 points Bandits should have lost automatically. But nothing seems to be automatic in this equation. Then there was Felix Miranda. He was still under contract with San Ignacio United. The Football Federation was aware of the status of both these players, but still chose to make an illegally ad hoc decision of granting permission in writing, that these players were allowed to play. Rather than playing the game under protest, we played the game. We didn’t only win the game, we humiliated Bandits. The National Team of Belize now travelled to Canada to play in the first leg of the World Cup Qualifiers. On the plane, a senior member of the FFB was observed stating that the Belmopan Bandits would win their protest, and guaranteed that they will be rewarded with the 3 points over Verdes. Of course, this would be denied by all parties involved in that conversation. However, I challenge them to take up the matter. In this day of technology, every single cell phone is equipped with a voice recorder. Now this was a damning revelation to the Verdes organization. However, we held our ground, as we knew and believed that justice would prevail.
Protest Committee rules in favor of Verdes
It would then come to pass that the (PLB) Protest Committee, after reviewing all the details, would rule in favor of Verdes in the protest. Rather than making this done and final, the Director of Competitions for the FFB was then instructed to make a statement in which he instructed the Appeal Committee of the FFB to review the decision of the Protest Committee. Now, what gives him this power? Surely, not the PLB Statutes, nor the FFB Statutes; not even the FIFA Disciplinary Code grants such authority. Article 79 of the FIFA Disciplinary Code states the jurisdiction of the Appeals Committee: The Appeal Committee is responsible for deciding appeals against any of the Disciplinary Committee’s decisions that the regulations do not declare as final or referable to a body. Now, correct me if I am wrong, but it mentions nothing about appealing a protest. But let’s move on. So even though the Appeal Committee did not have such jurisdiction, they still met on the matter. The chairman of the Appeal Committee writes a letter to the FFB Secretariat and Director of Competitions on October 16th stating that he agreed with the decisions of the Protest Committee. Now the chairman has such authority to be the casting and deciding vote on a matter which the committee cannot come to a decision on. Article 83,114,127, of the FIFA Disciplinary Code gives him such authority. However, the FFB secretariat instead sends out a letter stating that, after reviewing the reports submitted by the Appeal Committee, they have decided that the Appeal Committee is divided in the issue. The Appeal Committee cannot be divided, because the FIFA Disciplinary Code states clearly that the Chairman has the final and casting decision. So why did the FFB not give a ruling based on the chairman’s decision? A simple answer to that is because he was not of the view that the Bandits protest held any grounds, and that the points should remain as is.
FFB Appeals Committee overturns decision
Let us fast forward to November 30, 2015. A new letter is sent from the chairman of the Appeal Committee. In this letter he states that, further to the previous letter of October 16, 2015, and after receiving advice on Saturday, November 28, from attorney Michael Peyrefitte (the FFB’s legal advisor), the FFB “Appeals Board hereby overturn the decision taken by the Premier League of Belize (PLB) Protest Board in connection with a PLB match between Belmopan Bandits and the Verdes F.C. on Augusts 30, 2015.” Not only did the Appeal Committee not have the jurisdiction to overturn the decision of a Protest Board; but they went against the FIFA Disciplinary Code, and were directly or indirectly influenced by both the General Secretariat of the FFB and the Legal Advisor of the FFB, as well as the Director of Competitions. Article 85 1 of the FIFA Disciplinary Code states, The judicial bodies of FIFA pass their decisions entirely independently; in particular, they shall not receive instructions from other body.
Now, I am not a legal scholar, but I would like to believe that Mr. Peyrefitte is a way better attorney than to not know the statutes of an organization that he is legal advisor to. It now makes me believe that he did not indeed give any legal advice to the Appeal Committee. Or did he? Either way, whichever it may be, the Appeal Board’s decision went against FIFA Disciplinary Code twice, and therefore should be scrapped.
Poetic justice – Verdes vs Bandits in semifinals
However, we will not appeal the decision for two reasons. One: The FFB does not have an active Ethics Committee (no surprises there); and TWO: We will let poetic justice play out a bitter sweet fate for the Belmopan Bandits. We will win this one on the field…again. The three points taken away from Verdes and given to Bandits, now makes way for a VERDES vs Bandits playoffs match-up.
I will conclude with the very same question I began with. Whose Federation is it? Is it the Football Federation of Belize or the Football Federation of the Belmopan Bandits? you decide.
Vice President, Verdes Football Club
P.S I have attached all subsequent documentation proving the validity of points in my letter.
(Ed. Note: We acknowledge receipt of said documentation. Prior to the FFB’s reversal of decision, awarding the 3 points to the Bandits and removing them from Verdes, the playoff semifinals Game 1 had matched #4 Verdes vs #1 Police United, and #3 Bmp Bandits vs #2 Placencia Assassins. Now, with the revised standings, the semifinals Game 1 will instead be #4 Verdes vs #1 Bmp Bandits, and #3 Placencia Assassins vs #2 Police United. )