Doncaster Belles lose appeal over demotion from Women's Super League

Doncaster BellesBy Mark Baber
July 1 - In a major blow to Doncaster Belles and their supporters, the club has lost its appeal to retain its place in the re-structured English Women's Super League. The FA has re-assigned clubs to leagues according to various license criteria, rather than performance on the sporting field.

The FA released a statement on Saturday, following a hearing in front of an Independent Appeals Panel , "confirming Doncaster Rovers Belles FC have been unsuccessful in its appeal to retain its place in FA WSL1 following a decision not to offer the club a licence to compete in the top domestic women's league from the 2014 season onwards."

"The FA would also like to confirm that the licence offer to compete in The FA WSL2 next season is still open to the club, subject to licence criteria that still needs to be met."

The FA states the reason why the club was not offered a FA WSL1 license was the failure to meet minimum facility requirements, (the Belles only have third call on their ground) alongside concerns regarding their commercial and marketing strategies.

Both sides to the dispute agree, in the words of the FA that "The Belles have a long and proud tradition as one of the founding members of women's football in this country, dating back to 1969. They have won the FA Women's Premier League ("WPL") twice (at a time when the WPL was the top tier in women's football), and the FA Women's Cup on six occasions. The Club has been runner-up in both competitions on numerous occasions. During its dominant period, between 1978 and 1993, the Belles lost only one league match.

More recently, in 2009 the Belles launched a social enterprise initiative, to promote community, social, health and educational services, with female sport as a focal point. There can therefore be no dispute as to the Belles' pre-eminent reputation within the women's game."

Turning down the appeal, the panel pointed out that through the FA reorganisational plans "The clock was effectively being set back to zero," and all clubs had to go through an assessment process and interviews. As a result of this process the Belles' were only offered a conditional place in WSL2. The panel emphasised that according to clause 12 of the regulations, "The FA will be free to exercise its discretion in licensing clubs as it sees fit, subject to compliance with the terms of the licensing process as set out in this document. There shall be no appeal against the exercise of such discretion."

The FA argued that the Appeals Panel was merely a 'creature' of clause 12, so an appeal could only be made on the very narrow and limited basis that the FA "has not complied with the terms of the licensing process", as set out in the terms and conditions. The Belles argued the FA should not make is decision arbitrarily or capriciously and indeed should ask the right questions, take account of only relevant considerations; and to act reasonably and fairly.

The FA won the legal argument, with the panel saying "no appeal lies to this Appeals Panel against the way in which The FA exercised its discretion to offer - or not to offer - licences to applicant clubs." Furthermore, the Appeal Panel argued the FA did act in a conscientious and fair manner, and in good faith and exercised its discretion in a way that was genuine and rational.

Unsurprisingly, the Belles were unhappy with the decision and Alan Smart, Vice-Chairman of Doncaster Rovers Belles LFC, said: "Football shouldn't be about administrative decisions; no one has a divine right to play at the highest level for ever but the beautiful game should be about the meritocratic winning or losing of promotion or relegation after a season full of highs and lows.

"The whole club are naturally gutted, but we remain committed to our core values. We shall continue to fight to uphold our belief in a sporting competition where results are determined on the field of play"

Thanking the clubs many supporters, Smart added the club was already consulting as to whether further legal action should be pursued and will meet with the FA again next week.

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