Full ruling of GFA Disciplinary Committee on Hearts protest against Kotoko

The GFA Disciplinary Committee has upheld Accra Hearts of Oak’s protest against Asante Kotoko in respect of the eligibility of Obed Owusu in their Match day 25 Premier League game played on August 2, 2015.

Find below the GFA Disciplinary Committee’s full ruling:

IN THE MATTER OF A PROTEST BY ACCRA HEARTS OF OAK S/C AGAINST KUMASI ASANTE KOTOKO S/C

For fielding an unqualified player in the person of Obed Owusu in their 25th Week Premier League match played on 2nd August, 2015

PANEL: Godfred Yeboah Dame (Vice-Chairman), Godsway Glah and W. O. 1 J. W. Amoo (Members); Emmanuel N. Dasoberi (Secretary)

RULING

On the 3rd day of August, 2015, Accra Hearts of Oak Sporting Club lodged a protest against Kumasi Asante Kotoko Sporting Club for fielding an unqualified player in the person of ObedOwusu in their 25th week league match played at the Accra Sports Stadium.

The gravamen of the protest is that player No. 7, Obed Owusu who was fielded by Kumasi Asante Kotoko(hereinafter simply referred to as “Kotoko”) had received four (4) cautions in matches previously played by Kotoko, before the match in question and was therefore unqualified to play against Hearts of Oak in the 25th week Premier League match. The matches referred to were, (i) Match day 1 – Aduana vrs. Kotoko played on 17th January, 2015; (ii) Match day 7 – Ashantigold vrs. Kotoko played on 11th February, 2015; (iii) FA Cup Semi-Final match – Aduana Stars vrs. Kotoko played on 10th June, 2015; (iv) Match day 24 – Asante Kotoko vrs. Ashantigold played on 26th July, 2015.

In execution of its burden of proof,the petitioner Hearts of Oak (hereinafter simply referred to as “Hearts”),filed three letters dated 19th January, 2015, 12th February,2015 and 29th July, 2015, duly signed by the Secretary to the Disciplinary Committee of the Ghana Football Association confirming the suspension of ObedOwusu in respect of the three Premier League matches referred to above. Hearts contended that on account of this, and, by the combined effect of articles 29(1)(e), 34(1)(e), 39(5)(a)(v) and 39(5)(b)(i) of the Ghana Football Association (GFA) General Regulations, the player was unqualified to feature in the 25th week Premier League match played against Kotoko. Hearts prayed for the application of the sanction of forfeiture of a match against Kotoko.

In its defence, Kotoko admitted that the player in issue, Obed Owusu had received four (4) cautions in the official matches mentioned by Hearts and as specified above. They averred that the player, in accordance with article 39 (5) (a) (v) of the General Regulations of theGFA, was automatically suspended after the Aduana Stars vrs. Kotoko MTN FA Cup semi-final match played on 10th June, 2015 for the next official match. According to Kotoko, the player indeed served his suspension by not featuring in the Elite Clubs Cup Competition match between Dunkwa United and Kotoko played on 15th July, 2015. After serving the suspension in that match, the player was eligible to feature in any official match of the GFA. The player, according to Kotoko, thus legitimately played in the three premier league matches thereafter, namely, Kotokovrs. Berekum Chelsea, WAFA vrs. Kotoko, Kotoko vrs. Ashantigold.

Kotoko relied on the definition of “official match” given in article 5(5) of the GFA Disciplinary Code as well as article 39(8)(a) of the General Regulations to contend that the Elite Clubs Competition match was an official match of the GFA and therefore,Obed Owusu should be considered to have served his suspension by virtue of being excluded from selection for that match. They also rely on the provision in the Special Rules for the Elite Clubs Cup Competition which specifies that any sanction received in the competition that has not been fully served during the competition must be served in the next match(es) of any competition sanctioned by the FA e.g. the FA Cup and League competitions.

In reply, Hearts raised an objection to the propriety of the statement of defence filed by Kotoko. Hearts alleged that the statement of defence was filed out time in violation of article 37(8)(a) of the GFA General Regulations, which enjoins a statement of defence to be filed within three(3) days of the service of the written grounds and statement of case in support of a protest (excluding Saturday and Sunday). Kotoko, according to Hearts, were served with the protest on 12th August, 2015 and should have filed their defence by 17th August, 2015. They however filed on 20th August, 2015.

Hearts further relied on articles 17(3) and 37(1) of the GFA Disciplinary Code as well as articles 39(5)(b)(i) of the GFA General Regulations which defines “next official match” and 39(5)(b)(ii), to buttress their contention that Kotoko indeed featured an unqualified player in the match in issue.

We will first address the legal objection raised by Hearts of Oak to the validity of the defence filed by Kotoko. The resolution of same is fairly easy. It calls for just an ascertainment of the date Kotoko presented its defence to the GFA for filing. The Secretary to the Disciplinary Committee confirmed to the Committee that the defence of Kotoko was presented to the FA for filing on 14th August, 2015. It is thus eminently clear that the defence of Kotoko was filed within time, i.e. before the lapse of the mandatory three(3) days excluding Saturday and Sunday.

Substantively, the instant petition raises for determination the questions what actually constitutes “approved competitions/matches”, “official matches” of the GFA; the effect of those “official matches”; and more importantly the reckoning of how cautions and suspensions received in official competitions of the FA are served or discharged.

Before a resolution of these important questions, it is pertinent to indicate that the undisputed facts of the instant matter show that the player in question,Obed Owusu who was fielded by Kotoko against Hearts in the 25th week Premier League Match, indeed had received four (4) cautions in matches previously played by Kotoko, before the match in question. The player received a caution in the following matches: (i) Match day 1 – Aduana vrs. Kotoko played on 17th January, 2015; (ii) Match day 7 – Ashantigold vrs. Kotoko played on 11th February, 2015; (iii) FA Cup Semi-Final match – Aduana Stars vrs. Kotoko played on 10th June, 2015. He proceeded to play for Kotoko on Match day 24 – Asante Kotoko vrs. Ashantigold played on 26th July, 2015 before playing for Kotoko again in the match in issue. The true question to be resolved in this case is whether the player was in fact, qualified to even play for Kotoko against Ashantigold before featuring against Hearts in week 25. This question will be answered after an address of the legal issues raised above.

Article 4 of the General Regulations of the GFA specifies “approved competitions” of the FA to mean among others, “the Premier and Reserve League”, the “FA Cup Competition” “Friendly matches (Domestic and International)” and “any other competition and matches organized or approved”. Clearly, any competition or match organized with the sanction, approval or warrant of the GFA is a GFA approved match or competition. It would be noted that the definition of an approved competition or match is very broad and even encompasses friendly matches. One therefore cannot rely on this definition alone to determine whether a match is an official match. In our judgment, an approved competition or match is not necessarily an official match. In point of fact, a friendly match sanctioned by the GFA is an approved match but not an official match. This interpretation receives further fortification in article 5of the GFA Disciplinary Code which defines both “friendly match” and “official match” separately. One would realize that a “friendly match” bears a meaning different from an “official match”. The difference in meaning between a friendly match and an official match has to do with how clubs are chosen to participate in such matches and the consequences that follow therefrom. Article 5(4) of the Disciplinary Code defines “friendly match” as

“A match organized by a football organisation, club or other person between teams chosen for the occasion and possibly belonging to different spheres of operation; the score has an effect only on the occasion or tournament in question and, in the case of representative teams, on the FIFA rankings.”

Article 5(5) defines “official match” as

“A match organized under the auspices of the GFA for all of the teams or clubs in its sphere of operation; the score has an effect on the rights of participation in other competitions unless the regulations in question stipulate otherwise”.

It is the considered opinion of this Committee that the Elite Clubs Competition falls within the definition ofan approved competition of the FA, as given in article 4 (n) of the General Regulations of the GFA, i.e. “any other competition and matches organized or approved”. Undoubtedly, it is a competition organized or approved by the GFA. However, not all approved competitions of the GFA necessarily involve the playing of official matches. In other words, the mere fact that a competition is an approved competition of the GFA does not mean that the matches played therein are official matches. That is why a purely friendly match may be an approved match or competition, but will not count as an official match.

A careful analysis of the circumstances within which the Elite Clubs Competition is organized and played will suggest that, though same is an approved competition of the FA, it did not involve the playing of official matches. To qualify as an official match, article 5(5) of the Disciplinary Code sets the threshold clear. The score emanating from the match(es) must have an effect on the rights of participation of the clubs concerned in other competition. Clearly, the Elite Clubs Competition did not meet this standard. The results or the outcome did not have an effect on the rights of the clubs which took part in participating in other competitions.

Having found that Obed Owusu had received three cautions as of 10th June, 2015 in three separate official matches of the GFA, i.e. the FA Cup and the Premier League, this Committee has no difficulty in coming to the conclusion that the said player was unqualified to play against both Ashantigold on 26th July, 2015 and against Hearts in the 25th week Premier League match. An interpretation of both the GFA Regulations and the GFA Disciplinary Code supports the disqualification of the player in question. Article 29 (1) (e) of the GFA General Regulations defines an unqualified player as:

“A player who has received a caution in three separate official matches of the FA (i.e. the League and FA Cup Competition)”. Article 39 (5) (a) (v) also provides as follows:

“Without prejudice to the powers of the Disciplinary Committee, a player cautioned by a referee for:

(v) any other offence on the field of play, shall be informed in writing by the GFA for a first and second offence, he shall be automatically suspended from taking part in the next official match for any other subsequent offence”.

It would be noted that article 29 (1) (e) has unequivocally specified the official matches of the FA to be the League and the FA Cup competition. Those are the competitions for which the consequences of a suspension on account of having received three cautions relate. For the avoidance of doubt, article 39 (5) (b) (i)puts the issue to bed when it defines “the next official match” which a player is required to be suspended from after having picked up three separate cautions as follows:

“In this section, “next official match”, means a match in either the league or the FA Cup Competition…..”

The contention that Obed Owusu validly served his suspension in the Elite Clubs Competition flies in the face of this provision. Matches in the Elite Clubs Competition, from the foregoing, did not even constitute “official matches”, in the first place. A “next official match”, which a player is required to miss on account of having attracted three separate yellow cards in three different matches, must necessarily be matches played in the League or FA Cup, upon either a cursory reading or careful interpretation of article 39 (5) (b) (i). In effect, cautions received in the FA Cup or League are purged in only either the FA Cup or the League. Indeed, article 39 (5) (b) (ii) of the GFA Regulations abundantly illustrates this point when it enacts that “cautions given in special competition shall be applicable to those competitions only.” It presupposes that unless there are express regulations to the contrary, any caution in a special competition (as the Elite Clubs Cup) is to be confined only to that competition. This is consistent with international standards.

See for instance, article 114 of the CAF Disciplinary Code.

Article 17 (3) of the GFA Disciplinary Code says that if a player receives a caution in three separate matches of the same GFA Official matches, he is automatically suspended from the next official match. The GFA may in exceptional circumstances depart from or amend this rule before the start of a particular competition. The Committee is unaware of any amendment to article 17 (3) or its applicability. The reliance by Kotoko on this provision is thus, baseless.

We have already found that the definition of official match in article 5 of the Disciplinary Code makes it impossible for the Elite Clubs Competition to have been within its contemplation.

In the light of all of the above, the Committee finds the contention of Kotoko that Obed Owusu served his suspension in the Elite Clubs Cup, utterly unmeritorious and without any sound basis. The player was unqualified to have played against Hearts of Oak in the 25th week Premier League since he, in fact, served no suspension by playing against Ashantigold on 26th July, 2015.

This Committee notes that special rules were formulated for the Elite Clubs Competition. Paragraph 2 page 5 thereof contains a provision that any sanctions not served in that competition that had not been fully served during the competition must be served in the next match(es) of any competition sanctioned by the FA, e.g. the FA Cup and the League. It is our considered view that this provision does not in any way, alter the situation. As is clear from a reading of that provision, same was intended to cater for situations where one picks up cautions or a suspension from the Elite Competition and proceeds to serve it in the FA Cup or League, and not vice versa. If the GFA intended to depart from the provisions in article 39 (5) (b) (i) of the GFA Regulations or article 17 (3) of the Disciplinary Code, it would have been express.

The special rules devised for the Elite Clubs Competition must be interpreted strictly to be solely applicable to that competition, and not, to all competitions of the GFA, including statutorily recognized official matches. Those special rules cannot receive an interpretation which has the effect of an amendment or alteration of the force and effect of the GFA Regulations.

Having found that Obed Owusu was unqualified to play against Hearts of Oak, the next question is to decide the consequences that follow from the act of Kotoko in fielding that unqualified player. The consequences of fielding an unqualified player are spelt out in Article 34 (1) (e) of the GFA General Regulations as leading to a forfeiture of the match played by the team which fielded the unqualified player, pursuant to a protest. Article 34(2) mandatorily requires that no matter the scores at the end of the match in question, the team which fielded an unqualified player shall be considered as having lost the match and three points and three goals shall be awarded in favour of the innocent team, unless the innocent team is leading by more than three goals at the time of the offence in which case the scores will stand. Three points and three goals are further required by Article 34(5)(a) to be deducted from the total accumulated points of the defaulting club. A fine of GHC 5,000 is also to be imposed if the default was in respect of the Premier League.

The Committee has no option but to apply the various punishments specified by the GFA Regulations. Accordingly, Hearts of Oak S/C is awarded three points and three goals in respect of its 25th Week Premier League Match played against Kumasi Ashanti Kotoko. Three points and three goals are also deducted from the total accumulated points of Kotoko in the Premier League. A fine of GHC 5,000 is to be paid by Kumasi Ashanti Kotoko, half of which is to go to Hearts of Oak.

The Committee hereby entreats all league clubs to pay particular attention to the laws of the game especially in an area as important as the consequences following from a caution handed a player and how same is to be purged. We would also urge clubs participating in the Premier League to exhibit candour and sincerity in their interpretation of the Regulations of the GFA. The Committee is baffled by the conscious effort by Kotoko to ensure that ObedOwusu supposedly served his suspension in a match which, on a cursory reading of the relevant provisions, did not constitute an official match.

DATED AT ACCRA THIS TUESDAY, 1ST DAY OF SEPTEMBER, 2015

Godfred Yeboah Dame
(Vice-Chairman)

Source: Ghanafa.org