Northern Irish youth club beg for FIFA mercy over fine

TW Braga say they cannot afford the financial penalty handed to them for their failure to properly register teenager Hassan Ayari

Sheffield United youngster Hassan Ayari
Image: Hassan Ayari joined Sheffield United from Northern Irish club TW Braga

An amateur youth football academy in Northern Ireland has pleaded with FIFA to waive a "crazy" fine of over £8,000 for a breach of player registration rules.

TW Braga say they cannot afford the financial penalty handed to them for their failure to properly register teenager Hassan Ayari, who now plays for Sheffield United.

Another grassroots club, Kilrea United, have been left overwhelmed after raising over £13,000 online to pay a similar fee.

The IFA, believed to be sympathetic towards the clubs, has been fined around £12,000 relating to the TW Braga case.

Below we examine how events unfolded.

TW Braga

The club: Named TW Braga so they would not be associated with being either a Protestant or Catholic club, they play in the Lisburn League as a youth football academy, opening their doors to all members of the community. Their business offers coaching for children and competitive games on a weekly basis. They also provide coaching for disabled kids.

The case: New York-born teenager Hassan Ayari joined the TW Braga academy following his move to Northern Ireland. He has since joined Sheffield United, training recently with their first team.

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Hassan Ayari
Image: TW Braga were fined more than £8,000 for failing to properly register Ayari

FIFA's discipline committee found TW Braga breached their regulations in relation to the 'registration of players and the protection of minors' when signing him. TW Braga insist they were told by local football authorities in Northern Ireland that it was fine because he was travelling on a European passport. He was registered on four separate occasions with three different clubs before joining Sheffield United. The club has now been forced to start a GoFundMe page to pay the bill before this week's deadline.

The reaction: "I was physically shaking when I got the email. This fine is crazy. They decided to fine the Russian FA and the Polish FA the same amount for racist banners from their supporters. We have been slightly naive. I feel so frustrated that this has come in a pandemic. I haven't worked since March and I'm under a lot of pressure at home just to pay bills.

"As a small grassroots club we have nowhere near that level of money available. It shows how out of touch FIFA are with the average Joe. We do this for the love of the game. I've given 25 years of my life to football but I feel so isolated and at a time we already have heightened anxiety with everything that's going on globally. Can we pay the fine? No we can't. I don't have it. The club doesn't have it. They're treating us like we're a professional club. If one of those clubs doesn't pay they are not able to compete in Europe or the Premier League so does that mean FIFA would stop us playing our small-sided games? FIFA is a law onto their own. It's disgusting. If the fine is less than 15,000 francs you can't even appeal it.

"It's an utter disgrace and shows how far detached they really are from grassroots football. We just followed the procedures that the league and IFA asked us to do to register the player at the time. FIFA said we should have had International Clearance and we weren't aware this had to be done at youth level. I'd heard about it around bigger transfers such as in the Premier League. Hassan came from New York on an EU passport because his mother is from Lithuania. We explained this scenario to our local league and were told if he was coming on an EU passport it was fine."

Tim Wareing (Academy Director)

Kilrea United

The club: A cross-community club based in a small village in Northern Ireland and the hometown of European Cup winner Martin O'Neill, they play in the Coleraine and District League. Their players do not get paid and they keep their club running with the help of local business sponsorship and they rely on social fundraisers such as 'night at the races' to pay pitch rental and travel costs for away games. They offer ball boys £5 to retrieve lost footballs on match day to prevent them having to pay out £52 for each lost item and their committee is made up of five volunteers who combine running the club with their day jobs as a barber, joiner, welder, bathroom salesman and window blind fitter.

The case: Kilrea signed 18-year old Pierce Hill-Worrall and received confirmation from their local league the Plymouth-born teenager was eligible to play. It emerged later he had not received international clearance when he originally moved to Northern Ireland a number of years earlier.

Kilrea were found to have breached the registration rules and lost out on their league title after being deducted nine points. They thought it was the end of the matter until the FIFA fine of almost £8,500 left them stunned. They have since raised the money via an online fundraising page and have also donated a sum of money to TW Braga.

The reaction: "Our secretary received the email and told us 'I hope you are sitting down for this.' As far as we were concerned the player in question was signed and we had confirmation from our local league. He played for two other clubs in Northern Ireland before this.

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"The case was brought to the IFA and they found we were at fault. We got a points deduction and lost out on the league. It was a bitter pill to swallow but we took it on the chin. We feel the fine is disproportionate to the size of football club we are. That level of fine is given to national teams for bigger issues such as racism.

"That sum of money would keep us going for five years. We're a team made up of bricklayers and joiners and the people running the club are all volunteers. This is a scenario that big clubs like Liverpool have to deal with. None of us could bare the thought of the club folding so we started a GoFundMe page. It was the last throw of the dice and the response was incredible. We hit our target in less than 24 hours through donations from businesses and from the football community. We cannot thank them enough."

Benny Cunning (Committee Member)

FIFA has yet to offer a response.

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