Sunday 17 December 2017

Schools' fury at harsh penalties

MARIE CROWE

UP to 1,400 children look set to miss out on playing Leinster schools soccer this year because of confusion over a new registration process.

It has emerged that the FAI Schools' Leinster branch has excluded 57 teams from playing in their post-primary competitions because of technical errors made when the schools were registering their teams.

Thirteen schools had all of their teams removed from competition and 18 schools had one or more of their teams removed for failure to comply with the association's rules, specifically in relation to registering teams via the newly-introduced online method.

It is understood that there were teething problems with the new system and that the branch dealt with over 1,300 queries by email about the process.

Many of the schools thrown out of the competitions had begun preparations with training sessions and games and all had paid an entry fee of €30 per team which will not be refunded. Larger schools would have more than one team entered.

Letters signed by the branch honorary secretary Declan McGrath informing schools that their teams would not be permitted to play this season were circulated at the end of November. McGrath concluded the devastating letter by saying, "we look forward to your participation in next season's competitions".

Schools were also informed that they could appeal the decision for a fee of €100. It is understood that four of the schools appealed but none were successful. However, all were told if they wanted to appeal further they could do so at a cost of €300.

The Sunday Independent spoke to teachers from three schools and they were extremely aggrieved by the situation.

One teacher from a rural school said they couldn't believe how harsh the penalties were.

"It's a new system which is set to run for two years and be reviewed next May. I don't know why they are punishing a load of schools for a scheme that might not even be in operation next year.

"We individually entered all the players and we followed the procedure. We received the email to say we hadn't completed our registration but when we went online we could see our teams and all the details so we thought we had it all done.

"They offered a training night in Abbotstown which is fine for Dublin schools but not for ones down the country. But they didn't even notify me about it; they sent the email to last year's manager. They hadn't updated their system.

"I also train the Gaelic football team in the school and there has never been an issue with registering players. They are very accommodating and make it as easy as possible."

A teacher from a Dublin school had the same experience with the system and feels that they need to be more flexible.

"The FAI are supposed to be promoting the game not stopping kids from playing. Our school is from a disadvantaged area and they loved having the chance to play. We thought everything was in order because we were playing and had paid.

"After we were excluded from the competition we were encouraged to appeal following a phonecall to the Leinster branch secretary. We paid the €100 but our appeal was rejected and now they want more money from us. Our school doesn't have the money to appeal further, they have already paid the appeal fee once, paid the registration and have paid for supervision for teachers to bring the team to games."

Another teacher whose school has been involved in schools soccer for many years said they don't want to be associated with an organisation that doesn't put children first. The teacher added that in the light of cutbacks, the school didn't have money to appeal.

"Funds are tight and it's very hard to justify paying additional and unnecessary fees to play soccer. Our teachers are busy, they are coaching teams in their free time trying to promote the game. They don't have the time to keep going back and forth with this process. The teachers are not the ones losing out, the kids are.

"Our school is predominantly a GAA school so now the other coaches are licking their lips as a result of all the soccer players having no competitions to play in. They have the pick of a whole new group of players. The bigger picture is that these kids will play other sports because they are being prohibited from playing soccer. I know they sent emails but in one school I know the janitor looks after the teams and he doesn't have regular access to email."

Leinster Branch Schools secretary Donal Conway defended the decision to disqualify the teams.

"This is a process and there are rules," he said. "We moved the deadlines and emailed the schools. We are depending on their mentors to do it right.

"I've heard the word 'crisis' bandied about but this isn't a crisis, there are thousands of other kids playing in Leinster.

"The key question is where the fault lies; we moved deadlines four times and emailed individual schools three and four times. We used individual email addresses and then those of colleagues and always copied the school email address. Sadly, the fault lies with the relevant mentors and not the new registration process or the volunteers who run the Leinster Branch."

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