Irish FA reveals botched email behind delay
PSNI FC have called for an "urgent review" of the local football appeals system after relegation from the Championship was confirmed.
The club had called for their demotion to be cancelled but eventually saw their case against the NI Football League rejected by the Irish FA Appeals' Board. That delayed decision came just five days before the new league campaign was scheduled to start.
The board announced its "unanimous" decision on Monday morning, with the PSNI now set to begin next season in the third tier of the NI Football League, the Premier Intermediate League.
It is now expected that NIFL will finally confirm the fixtures for the upcoming 20/21 Championship and PIL seasons, which are due to begin on Saturday.
There had been much frustration over the lengthy appeals process, which had begun over three months ago when the appeal was submitted on June 30.
The Irish FA, in its verdict, explained the proceedings of the drawn out process, including how an email sent to an "incorrect" address caused a 13-day delay.
There were two requests from PSNI for discovery on documents relating to the initial decision, the first being rejected as it was "too generic" while the second was granted on September 2.
NIFL obliged a week later but, after the documents were sent to an "incorrect PSNI email address" by the Irish FA. The error was only discovered and corrected 13 days later, on September 23.
The PSNI were then given time to process their final submissions, made on October 2.
After its appeal was rejected, the club released a statement noting its disappointment and frustration over the decision and the manner of it, which it claims is a "legitimate concern for local football generally".
The club said it believes it has "strong grounds" to further appeal but has to consider the "risk of costs of taking the case to arbitration" following the recent experience of Amateur League side Donaghadee FC, who were hit with significant costs in the wake of their own failed arbitration case.
It is understood Irish League side Institute, forcibly relegated from the Premiership last season, relented on their arbitration challenge due to the potential legal bill involved.
"We are concerned by the risk of costs of taking the case to arbitration which would see our club likely go out of business if found liable," read the PSNI FC statement.
"The appeals system as it stands requires urgent review as the small clubs like ourselves are disadvantaged in their pursuit of justice given the potential high costs of taking the matters to arbitration to challenge unjust decisions."
The IFA Appeals Board noted the PSNI's "considerable concerns" over the handling of the case but insisted it had managed the appeal "as expeditiously as possible in the circumstances".
The PSNI had asked for their relegation to be cancelled as the club contested that the NI Football League's decision to decide the final league placings via a points per game model was in "breach of the principle of sporting integrity" - the first in a total of 17 points, three of which were later dropped.
Among their complaints, the PSNI alleged that the decision-making process was "procedurally unfair" and that there was a failure to "manage potential conflicts of interest". They also said that the points-per-game model did not "allow for consideration of home games or relative strength of opposition".
NIFL denied all allegations, pointing out that "sporting integrity" was one of the three key principles considered throughout the decision making process, that two independent members were present on the Steering Group and it was those who had the task of identifying a third party that applied the mathematical model to decide final placings.
NIFL concluded that "all grounds of appeal are unfounded" and the Appeals Board were in agreement.
The Appeals Board did not accept that sporting integrity had been compromised, nor that the PSNI or other lower-league clubs were not engaged with. It also rejected the notion that conflicts of interest were not considered.
The PSNI's concerns over the mathematical model were also rejected.
"Having made the decision to end the season and determine clubs final positions using a mathematical model, the Appeal Board is satisfied that NIFL did what was appropriate and that was to instruct a third party provider with significant experience in that field," read the decision.