The HKFA Board have voted to reschedule the Sapling Cup semi-final between Happy Valley and Lee Man, while throwing its own Disciplinary Committee under the bus. The Bees, however, have vowed to boycott any rearrangement of the match.
The fallout from Happy Valley’s overdue payment of insurance premiums continues to linger for a second week, even after the Hong Kong Football Association’s Board of Directors voted to reschedule the club’s semi-final against Lee Man. The vote was held after a special board meeting was convened on Friday to discuss whether the match should be rescheduled at all.
Pui Kwan-kay, the chairman of the HKFA and Happy Valley, abstained from Friday’s meeting after he was accused of bias for attending last week’s board meeting where the matter had also been discussed. After two hours, General Secretary Vincent Yuen, who was not present during the deliberations, revealed that the Board concurred with the Appeals Committee’s decision on 27 February to lift Valley’s ban and agreed to reschedule the match.
“The board believe that after the matter was referred to both the Disciplinary Committee and the AC, they did not have solid grounds to support the DC’s decision to impose a seven day ban.” Yuen said. “They’ve sided with the AC’s view on the issue.
“The DC’s decision had a (negative) impact on Valley’s ability to prepare for their Sapling Cup match against Lee Man on 24 February. The board considered the matter of sporting integrity because, of course, it’s better for the result to be decided on the pitch and on that basis, the board have decided that the HKFA shall rearrange the match for a later date.”
The decision will undoubtedly fan the flames of a brewing controversy which began on the evening of 22 February, when both Valley and Pegasus were immediately banned from competition due to both clubs’ overdue payment of insurance premiums. Both clubs had been in arrears for several months when the DC made its judgment.
Importantly, the DC imposed an additional seven day ban on both clubs, effective from their date of payment. The DC’s rationale was that both clubs’ opponents needed “proper time to prepare” and thus out of “fairness”, neither club could have their ban lifted immediately after payment. Even if either club exercised its right to appeal, the punishment would still be in effect until the AC heard the appeal.
But on Friday, Yuen went on offence, aggressively driving home the point that the DC’s seven day ban was counter-productive. “If it weren’t for the (seven day ban), (Happy Valley) may have paid their premiums right away,” the General Secretary asserted. “Does a violation of the rules merit such heavy-handed punishment? (The AC) felt that a seven day ban was excessive and also considered the fact that (Pegasus) dutifully paid their premiums the day after (on the 23rd). That’s why they upheld the appeals.”
The AC ruled on the morning of 27 February to immediately lift the bans, allowing Happy Valley to take on Eastern later that night, and for Pegasus to play Rangers last Sunday afternoon. In response, the Bees issued a statement in which they blasted the HKFA for rescheduling a match that they believe had already been awarded as a walkover in their favour. The club vowed to boycott any rearrangement of the match and declined to comment on Friday’s decision by the board.
Yuen responded to Lee Man’s boycott by characterizing the episode as a “misunderstanding” of the rules. “In general, most decisions can be appealed, so how can you regard them as absolute?” he questioned. “The fact is that the DC’s judgments are not final – perhaps there’s been a misunderstanding on that. The HKFA have only stated that the match would not be played as scheduled. The secretariat only cancelled the match because they did not see a way for the match be played, at the scheduled time.”
In the DC’s decision, they ruled that any scheduled matches during either club’s ban would be deemed as forfeits, and their opponents would be awarded a 3-0 victory in absence of playing. The HKFA’s public relations department clarified the following day that the match “will not be held”, thus opening the door for the match to be rescheduled.
Yuen added that if Lee Man refuse to play in the semi-final, the matter would be dealt with “in accordance with the regulations.”
Lee Man Football Club's official statement of 27 February 2021
— LMFTV (@LMFTV1) February 27, 2021
As for Pegasus, the General Secretary tried to draw a line of distinction between their case and Valley’s due to the fact that the Horsemen were able to pay their premiums before the judgment took effect at noon on 23 February.
“If someone screws up, and they’re able to make remediation, should this not be taken into consideration?” he asked. “This may be something for a judge to suss out but don’t forget, we’re a football association. We have to consider extraneous factors, such as how this will impact the landscape of local football?”
When asked whether the HKFA had effectively allowed Happy Valley and Pegasus to escape punishment, Yuen was testy once again with reporters.
“How would you know that there won’t be consequences?” he barked. “At this time, the board haven’t discussed any penalties but that doesn’t mean there won’t be any.”