Hockey Ireland’s original allocation of European places for the 2020/21 season has been reinstated following a ruling by Sport Disputes Solutions Ireland [SDSI], overturning the governing body’s independent appeals panel [HIAP] decision.
It means that Three Rock Rovers will now represent Ireland in the men’s Euro Hockey League next Easter with Lisnagarvey destined for the EuroHockey Trophy. Likewise, Pegasus will be in the women’s EHL and Loreto go to the Trophy.
This was the status following the annulment of the 2019/20 season with the places decided based on the outcome of the 2018/19 campaign – the last completed edition.
Lisnagarvey, as per the bye laws, successfully challenged that decision to Hockey Ireland’s independent appeal panel in July, saying it was a move that was “flawed and unjust” and “without reasonable rationale”.
As runaway leaders of the regular league season, the Ulster club argued “teams best placed at the time” should be the ones to represent Ireland in European competition.
That successful appeal led to an avalanche of further proposed actions with Three Rock set to take the case to SDSI while Banbridge – second in the men’s league – and women’s league leaders Loreto also lodging complaints to push their case for improved European tickets based on the precedent set.
Hockey Ireland, however, stepped in to make their own case for SDSI arbitration which would take precedence over the clubs’ actions.
As an aside, preliminary proceedings started off in a strange manner with Lisnagarvey initially called to be the “respondent” in the case before it was established that the respondent would be the HIAP decision.
It meant Hockey Ireland was effectively challenging their own appeals panel, something reflected in the SDSI ruling that, despite the HI appeal being upheld, they would have to bear the costs of the arbitration.
The principal basis of the arbitration was the HIAP decision “changed the basis upon which the men’s teams selected for Europe, based upon factual findings which were incorrect”.
Those findings suggested the HI board had not considered other options for European seeding, did not follow proper procedures and gave no rationale for their selection.
The SDSI judgement, however, said the “opposite was the case” with due consideration – while not publicly communicated – had been made on each front.
As such, the arbitrator concluded the HIAP decision was “entirely subjective” and while merit could be seen in their decision, it did not follow “any underlying legal or regulatory rationale.
“It was clearly open to the HI Board to make the decision it did,” the SDSI judgement said. “The HIAP were clearly of the view that they were acting in the best interests of the game and they did not agree with the HI Board decision.
“That was not an unreasonable opinion to hold from a sporting perspective. However, the substitution by the HIAP of the decision made by the HI Board is not supported by any underlying legal or regulatory rationale, other than that they did not agree with the HI Board decision.
“In my view it was not open to them to come to that decision in the absence of some procedural irregularity which was not the case.”
As such, the arbitrator upheld Hockey Ireland’s appeal and reinstated their original Euro allocations.
Reacting to the decision, the Board of Hockey Ireland “fully empathise with all clubs across all our leagues and provinces that have been impacted by decisions forced upon us by COVID-19 similar to many other sports.
“We have endeavoured to do the right thing in the interests of our clubs and players and we regret any upset felt by the clubs.
“We would also like to put on record our sincere thanks to the Appeal Panel for the time and effort they committed to this process and in general to all the club officials and volunteers who have committed endless hours dealing with the fall out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Finally, we would just like to thank all those hockey players and officials working in the front line and remind everyone to stay safe in these ongoing difficult times.”
Meanwhile, Pegasus’s rearranged EHL FINAL8 campaign – moved from Easter 2020 to October – was formally cancelled last Friday. As such, the wait for EHL Women to finally makes its debut is now pushed back to Easter 2021.