ACC to consider legal action over Westdijk case
For the Board of the KNCB, 2011 ended as it had begun: with the unwelcome prospect of a possible legal action raised by one of its member-clubs in the civil courts.
A year ago the issue was the Hoofdklasse championship, the outcome of which had been thrown into confusion – and with it promotion to the Topklasse – by the revelation that Dosti Amsterdam had fielded two players who did not meet the competition’s residence regulations.
This time it is the question of whether VRA Amsterdam seamer Berend Westdijk was eligible to play in the final play-off match against ACC and whether, if he was not, VRA’s victory in that game should be allowed to stand.
Days before Christmas the Bond’s Appeals Committee announced its judgement on a case brought by ACC against the Board, finding for the latter and determining that the result should stand. But an article on ACC’s website makes clear that the club continues to reject the Board’s arguments, and is considering taking the matter to the courts.
The dispute goes back to the second of the three-match play-off series, when the umpires reported that Westdijk had twice violated article 1.3 of the disciplinary code, first by a remark he made after two deliveries had been called wide, and then by lying on the pitch in an apparent demonstration of dissent after a leg-before appeal had been turned down.
That match took place on 4 September, and with the decider scheduled for the following weekend, it was evident that the Bond’s normally rather ponderous disciplinary procedures would be tested to the limit.
Two Level 1 offences would normally lead to a one-match suspension, and Westdijk was informed on 6 September that this was the case. Two days later VRA responded, indicating that the player acknowledged the first violation of the code but not the second, and that the club was therefore lodging an appeal against the suspension (since a single offence normally leads to a warning).
On 10 September, the day before the final match, the chairman of the Bond’s Disciplinary Committee confirmed the one-match suspension pending a full hearing, which would have meant that Westdijk was unable to play. Later the same day, however, the chairman of the Appeals Committee ruled that since an appeal against that suspension had already been lodged, it could not be put into effect until the matter was resolved, and that therefore he could take the field after all.
ACC, who had obviously been following developments closely, were unhappy about this decision, and made it clear before the start of the match that they were playing under protest. Irrelevantly but most inevitably, Westdijk’s role in the game led to even more controversy when, with the last pair together and VRA needing just two runs to win, he survived a massive appeal for a catch at the wicket, and then, with the scores level, holed out off a high full toss only for the delivery to be called a no ball and VRA to squeeze home.
But ACC’s real grievance was about the fact that he had been allowed to play at all, and on 23 September they submitted a formal appeal. This was heard on 21 November, leading to last week’s judgement in the Board’s favour.
At the heart of the dispute is the existence of two apparently conflicting regulations, and uncertainty about which of these the Bond was applying when it proposed Westdijk’s one match suspension. Although article 18.2 of the Statutes was invoked in the original letter to the player, the Bond’s subsequent position was that it was really the procedure under article 3a of the Disciplinary Regulations that it was following, acknowledging that the letter ‘contained imperfections’.
The ACC case is that under article 18.2 there is no provision for an ‘interim’ decision as applied by the chairman of the Disciplinary Committee, and that the Chairman of the Appeals Committee therefore had no power to waive that decision later the same day.
But invoking the European Convention on Human Rights the Appeals Committee finds that the Bond’s letter of 6 September became irrelevant once the two chairmen had made their respective judgements, and that there is therefore no basis for overturning its own chairman’s decision to allow Westdijk to play.
Whether or not ACC decides to take the matter further, it is clear that some significant changes will need to be made if such disputes are to be avoided in future.
The procedures in article 3a of the disciplinary regulations are designed to streamline the process, and they work well where a player accepts an automatic punishment. But problems begin to arise as soon as a case is contested, as is evidenced by the fact that the Discipline Committee was unable to schedule a formal hearing of the Westdijk case until 15 September, four days after the last, decisive match of the season. By that time, in fact, VRA had withdrawn its appeal, allowing the one-match suspension to stand – as it presumably will, next season.
If an appeal automatically leads to a suspension being delayed pending a hearing – and it is difficult to see how, under any principles of natural justice, it can be otherwise – then clearly there is a danger that clubs may lodge an appeal simply to ensure that a player is able to take part in a crucial match.
Perhaps the KNCB needs to find a way of moving closer to the ICC’s procedures, whereby appeals against suspensions following second or subsequent Level 1 offences or a Level 2 offence are heard by a single official (in this case a nominated member of the Appeals Committee), and only more serious offences require a full meeting of a committee.
With a certain compression of the timescales for reporting, acting upon and answering disciplinary matters and members of the Disciplinary or Appeals Committee available in rotation to deal with any cases, it should be possible to ensure that any issue is resolved between playing dates.
Otherwise, there will be a clear risk that cases like this one will occur again in the future.