PANAJI: Defending I-League champions Dempo Sports Club have apparently been given a raw deal by the All India Football Federation (AIFF). The two-match suspension of Dempo mainstay and former India captain Climax Lawrence handed by the so called disciplinary committee of the AIFF has definitely come as a blow to Dempo’s ongoing advent of continuing their good work in the premier competition.
The AIFF disciplinary committee in its verdict has forced a harsh and unjustifiable two-match suspension on Climax for alleged misconduct during the I-League match against East Bengal in Kolkata on November 3, but without furnishing concrete details in terms of evidence nor tangible proof of why such an action has been taken against a senior player, prompting the club to doubt of “selective targeting” by AIFF to one of their most esteemed and experienced footballer, who has played the sport with distinction while representing the country and in all fairness while maintaining highest levels of discipline on a football pitch.
In a letter directed at AIFF’s I-League CEO Sunando Dhar, Dempo SC secretary cum head coach Armando Colaco has sought explanations on why such sanctions have been imposed on Climax Lawrence.
The experienced Climax, as per AIFF has been punished with a two-match suspension, for allegedly raising his foot against referee Ajit Meetei after he denied what the Dempo players thought was a legitimate penalty appeal for them during the East Bengal match.
In his counter to AIFF, Armando asks of the federation: “May we request that the evidence which you say you have in hand be shared with us as would be reasonable to expect and fair to provide?”
“We trust that the evidence you base your decision upon is the Referee’s official match report which we hold is the right and proper basis to adopt. It is intriguing that you refer to ‘evidence in hand’ instead of straight away quoting the referee’s report, which naturally leads us to believe there is nothing incriminating in the report against Climax,” Armando states in his letter.
The letter further states: “May we ask, alternatively, if the evidence you refer to is match video footage, in which case the point we wish to make is that it is the wrong basis on which to proceed against a player, both under regulations and in terms of precedents?”
“Speaking of regulations and precedents, we feel entitled, with due respect, to enquire on what authority you took the decision to suspend Climax and on what grounds. In the absence of any dedicated disciplinary body/committee in the I-League structure and framework, we point out respectfully but firmly that it can only be the AIFF Disciplinary Committee, the nodal forum, to decide on player discipline matters in the I-League (see Section 9 Clause 49 Sub-clause (c) of the Disciplinary Laws and Procedures of the AIFF).”
“Further, we point out, again with due respect, that the AIFF Disciplinary Committee ought to follow the due process of law under the AIFF regulations to decide on Climax Lawrence. Could we ask whether such process was followed, whether the Committee met, whether it discussed the issue in question, whether it took any decision, and whether it quoted the grounds on which it arrived at such decision, and if so, may the relevant matters be shared with us officially so as to enable us to clarify, rebut and appeal and otherwise proceed properly in the matter?”.
Armando adds, “to the best of our knowledge, no meeting of the AIFF Disciplinary Committee was held, leading us inescapably to the conclusion that any suspension or disciplinary order/decision taken by any other authority is null, void, baseless and groundless ab initio.”
“Turning to the occasion on which the alleged offence took place, we feel entitled to ask why two players of the Kingfisher East Bengal Uga Okapara and Penn Orji, were not similarly disciplined at the match in question for the same so-called offence based on the same so-called evidence, specifically at match-end, when the referee was aggressively confronted over why a red card was not shown to our player, the very same Climax Lawrence whom you are pleased to discipline without so much as a corresponding censure or caution to other similar offenders on the very same occasion! We are asking this aside from and irrespective of the erroneous and unauthorised decision taken to suspend our player.”
The letter also points out at instances in various other I-League matches where match officials overlooked objectionable and questionable behaviours from other team players which warranted suspension.
“Turning to other matches in the I- League so far, we are querying, quite aside from and irrespective of the erroneous and unauthorised decision taken to suspend our player, how a number of glaring occasions of aggressive player behaviour with match officials at such fixtures were overlooked, far from being proceeded against. We are referring to the Pune FC and Churchill Bros match when disgruntled players of the former team pugnaciously accosted the match referee (over a penalty awarded to the latter which proved crucial to the match result) following which the referee had to be cordoned off for his safety, a fact on clear display in the match video footage. We are also referring to the I- League kick-off match between Dempo and Churchill Bros when a similar refereeing decision against our opponents led some of them, Roberto Silva (Beto) and Steven Dias, among others, to confront the referee menacingly, a fact on clear display in the match video footage. A third instance we are quoting is the abusive and threatening behaviour of United Sikkim FC Player and coach Bhaichung Bhutia against our team, marked by verbal violence and physical aggression in the form of the ball being flung at the referee, behaviour which attracted a mere show cause notice but no suspension.”
“It is natural, therefore, to react to the player suspension with an overwhelming feeling that our player, and thereby our team, is being unfairly singled out for harsh treatment,” contended Armando.
“Aside from and irrespective of the erroneous and unauthorised decision taken to suspend our player we would hope to know the cause of the inordinate delay in proceeding in the matter, involving no fewer than 16 clear days after the event. You would appreciate that for a matter such as this any delay in such matters prompts the speculation about interests other than official or sports-worthy governing the decision,” he continues.
“Would you explain, aside from and irrespective of the erroneous and unauthorised decision taken to suspend our player, why he was not given the right, as courtesy, correctness and fairness demand, to be heard, to be given the chance to clarify? If the disciplinary action comes not on the field at the very instant of the so-called offence but follows over two weeks later, Climax and my team officials and I could have been instructed to provide clarifications, an approach which has not been adopted, much to our regret.”
“The player whom you are seeking to discipline for ‘offensive behaviour’ against the match referee is one whom your Federation found worthy of sporting and sportsmanlike attributes in sufficient measure to lead the national football team as its captain. Climax has captained our side as well and has a long and glorious playing record so far, a record which is marked by dignity, gentlemanly conduct, and sportsmanlike behaviour throughout. The team to which he proudly belongs is the side which has excelled in football and sportsmanship alike in greater measure than any other playing side, a pointer to the prevailing culture of which Climax Lawrence is part and product.
“In clarification without prejudice to the decision taken by AIFF to suspend Climax, we wish unilaterally to explain that the unfortunate development which led to the lively, animated but by no means violent, ugly or abusive discussion between Climax and the match referee was the denial of a crucial penalty to our side (a refereeing decision which was proved later on to have been erroneous, one which was admitted even by our opposing side, Kingfisher East Bengal’s coach Trevor Morgan as wrong).
“Would it not serve the Federation better to ponder upon and take measures to prevent poor refereeing judgement, especially those decisions that become crucial game changers instead of the unthinking, one-track pursuit and punishment of player passion and exuberance, or the singling out of one team and one player for punishment on frivolous grounds?”, queried Armando explaining that football like most sports is filled with emotions and players do react on the spur of the moment which is not meant to cause any harm. “Climax has been selectively targeted,” he added.
“In any case, surely the punishment, if any, ought to be proportionate to the offence in a case involving player infringement of discipline, quite side from and irrespective of the erroneous and unauthorised decision taken to suspend our player? With the background of the case as above, is it not unfairly harsh, if not downright outrageous, to seek to impose a two-match suspension on a player for a rare, fleeting display of passion, when seen against a code (Section 9 Clause 50 Sub-clause (a) of the Disciplinary Laws and Procedures of the AIFF, together with Clause 51) which imposes merely a single-match suspension even for offences attracting four yellow card cautions in the course of a stage of a competition?”, reasoned Armando explaining that ‘spur-of-the-moment reactions should not be taken to logical conclusions’.
“The foregoing circumstances have given rise to the unfortunate impression that the punishment is being sought to be awarded with motives other than playing discipline in mind. Is it not fair to reason so in the light of the fact that one of the next two matches at which you oblige Climax to sit out is a crucial one for the club, and that the absence of its key player is likely to be influencing its course and result?”
“In the current situation, we would appeal to you to dispel these impressions, allow wisdom, fairness, as well as the letter and spirit of law to prevail by revoking the suspension on Climax urgently and at the earliest instance and turn your attention to issues that really matter, all of which would be for the good of the game and thereby, sport in the country.”
The letter reminded the AIFF that Dempo SC reserves the right, in the absence of a fair, reasoned response from AIFF, to resort to action under Section 9 Clause 54 Sub-clauses (a), (b) and (c) of the Disciplinary Laws and Procedures of the AIFF, together with Clause 51) relating to arbitration, by turning your erroneous and unauthorised decision taken to suspend our player into a dispute requiring arbitration as provided for in the regulations.
Under the present situation is looked irrational that the rules of the I-League do not permit Climax to appeal against the decision and will have to sit out the next two I-League matches against Air India and Mohun Bagan.
Meanwhile, the letter also refers the case of Dempo player Ryuji Sueoka, stating that the “club submits that with the disciplinary action in terms of a yellow card shown to him having been taken by the Match Referee, the matter is closed, having been submitted to and duly accepted owing to the action being part of the playing regulations.”