By David Cook
“Any player who is not a New Zealand citizen or who does not hold a permanent resident permit, and requires an ITC (International Transfer Certificate) to play in New Zealand, is to be regarded as a “Guest Player.”
– NZF Regulation 5. 13.1
As most people know, a squad may have a maximum of three Guest Players on the team card. In Fury’s case it had two Guest Players on the team card in the game Papakura protested several weeks ago. Note, Papakura protested just one of two playoff games in which they were well beaten over the two games. They also named players in their protest who were not even on the team card, not in the squad for the game in question. The other players subject to the protest did not require an ITC to play in NZ because they have never played FIFA affiliated football and therefore as per the wording of the Guest Player regulation were not Guest players. Fury has followed the Regulation both to the letter and in the spirit the Regulation was/is intended.
That’s it. Very simple, and so the Fury, it’s situation wrapped up, are preparing for next season in the NRFL. Fury has been told to assume it will play NRFL football next season when being asked if it will field an NRFL reserve team and we were invited to the NRFL review/preview meeting recently on a Friday evening at Mt Smart which we duly attended.
Ironically, Papakura did illegally and blatantly field a Fury registered player in a few games but were only caught out once by an opposition team earlier in the season. Fury did not find out at the time.
Next and separately, notwithstanding Fury are rightfully in the clear, there is a case for scrapping clause 13 of Regulation 5, the Guest Player Regulation.
Guest Player Reg no longer appropriate
The Guest Player regulation, today, cannot be administered fairly across the board, cannot be policed and is no longer relevant. No amount of word tweaking will be of any value. I am sure football people will agree that any regulation that cannot be administered fairly for players and clubs and/or cannot be policed by simple means should be scrapped. Especially a Reg that is no longer relevant anyway. In this instance the Guest Player regulation is not a FIFA regulation. It was invented in NZ for NZ conditions as they were three decades ago.
Doubtful if it was ever an appropriate regulation for NZ it certainly is not now with top level professionals unable to be attracted to play domestic NZ football remembering not to get mixed up with A League football which of course, is not an NZ competition.
It cannot be detected who is a player from overseas, who should or should not be a guest player especially if they have British/Kiwi sounding names. We had a Uruguyan guy who was barely good enough to play in our reserve team, could not speak a word of English and his name as per his passport was Neil Young!
The Guest Player Reg was introduced in NZ in 1983 to control the flow of top professionals who were being sought and brought to NZ to play in the National League of the day. Players of a much higher standard of say Paul Ifill for example. Paul Mariner, Ipswich and England international. John Fashanu and later Justin Fashanu. Sir Trevor Brooking. Mike Channon, Brynn Gunn, Peter Mendham, Ricky Hill and many more followed in the footsteps of Steve Sumner, Steve Woodin, Bobby Almond etc who played at the 1982 World Cup for NZ.
Often such players ‘guested’ for some weeks only, hence, the term ‘Guest Player’ and not ‘import’ nor ‘overseas player’ etc. Sir Trevor Brooking and Mike Channon for example were sent on dinner speaking tours so that the NZ club could recoup some of the cost involved in bringing such players here. They were of the standard of what would be todays English Premier League, as were Mariner, Gunn, Mendham etc. The Guest Player regulation was intended to even the “the playing field ” between the ‘ have ‘ clubs and the ‘have not’ clubs. Protecting local players was a secondary consideration.
I was involved back in those days and know the situation well.
No longer do such players come to play in NZ football simply because domestic NZ clubs can nowhere near afford the kind of wages the likes of Paul Ifill command let alone current players from, for example, the English Premier League. That is one reason for scrapping the Guest Player regulation, there are many more to follow.
Non Affiliated Football
In the football World there is FIFA football and as people know, lots of “other football”, being unaffiliated football, some amateur, some social, unaffiliated tournaments and so on. When a player moves from unaffiliated football to affiliated football he/she can do so freely providing he/she is registered to play in affiliated football. ITCs only apply to FIFA affiliated football, not between FIFA affiliated football and unaffiliated football.
FIFA does not recognise unaffiliated football
An example of unaffiliated football in NZ is the Waikato Sunday Soccer League and it maybe that the pretty massive Auckland Sunday football is the same. Such football also exists in other countries on an even bigger scale. A player can play both forms of ‘competition’ on the same day if he/she wishes. One thing is for certain, the players playing such unaffiliated football are not of the standard that the Guest Player reg was introduced to control. Sir Trevor Brooking did not come to NZ from low level unaffiliated football. The situation today is far removed from the 1980s.
The top professional player is not sought and brought to play in NZ football competition nor do such players wish to come here anyway these days. As noted before, they earn far too much money at home. Today, we have some players of a far lower standard brought here but largely, a great many tread a new path ie tourists and working holiday travellers on their OE who come here of their own accord. The latter are not ‘sought and brought’.
Visitors and Travellers
The Working Holiday Visa is a reasonably new pathway for persons from overseas. A limited number of such travellers between the ages of 18 and 31 can come to NZ each year. They do not primarily come here to play football. However, due to football being a truly World game the traveller will usually be from a football mad country. Therefore, once they find a place in NZ to go to for work they often seek to play football once settled. That is when they land on the doorstep of local clubs. Certain regions are more popular than others for these travellers due to seasonal work opportunities eg Bay of Plenty re kiwifruit and allied industries, Wairarapa re vineyards. The vast majority are at best lower grade players. After all, if they were good enough players to play at a high level in their home country they would be playing FIFA affiliated professional football at home and not coming here with any intention of playing football as their main objective.
So these players arrive and want a game of football, landing on the doorsteps of clubs only too willing to kit them up. When they arrive from overseas and are asked about their football background only a small percentage have played affiliated football. Often they have not even played for a club before. The fact that a few of them can be put in to a team situation and do quite well is due to the skill of the coach and the fact that they are passionate football people and have played 24/7 all of their young lives therefore possessing good “feet”. Getting these individuals to play in a structured team situation is an art in itself though.
One of the players that played for Fury and had never played for a club before let alone affiliated football (just a friend’s team) was one of those kind of guys. We set up a fun contest one day where the players had to “score” in to an empty goal from the half way line (wind was blowing across the pitch ) and had to follow up with hitting the cross bar from the 18 yard line. He did it first time! No problem one straight after the other.Then did it again. No fluke. Try it. The lad wasn’t easy to fit in to team structured football though.
In some countries football is pretty much FIFA affiliated from top to bottom. As mentioned, this is not so in many other countries where affiliated football commences at the fully professional level. Therefore, it is very probable that a lower level English player will require an ITC and yet a South American player of the same standard does not require an ITC having very likely never played FIFA affiliated football. However, neither are of a standard the Guest Player reg was/is intended to control. These guys are good for NZ football, passionate football people in a rugby mad country, they help top up team numbers, sometimes coach juniors and NZF receives fees for them playing here.
Clubs Knowledge of Regulations / Guest Player Reg cannot be policed fairly
Some clubs know the regs and many do not. It can mean that the club following the regs is disadvantaged when playing a team from a club which simply signs up such players as new players and plays any number of them regardless of whether they should have been subject to an ITC or not. There was a case a couple of years ago whereupon a club played several players from the UK who they signed on as new players ie not transferred in. They had more than the three ‘guest players’ on the team card every game. They won the league and nobody could prove anything about the ‘illegal’ players they used. Most of those players moved on the next year.
The Guest Player Reg cannot be administered fairly for all clubs because
NZF have no way of policing it and indeed, would be wasting resources given that such players do not fit the profile of a player which the Guest Player reg was originally intended. Clause 13 of Reg 5 it is a complete waste of space.
Clubs Unable To Check Player Status
When a guy from overseas turns up at a club and upon being questioned about his football background announces that he has never played affiliated football, clubs have not had a mechanism of checking their honesty. Waibop for example have required a club name (and $168.00) to seek an ITC. If there is not an affiliated club name then no check has been able to be carried out. Therefore, clubs have not been able to check on a player’s background or at least, never been advised that they can. Clubs’ cannot/should not be penalised in such situation.
Even so, should clubs have to pay to check out a guy barely good enough for their third team? Should NZF decide that it is able and will now check out such players simply on the players’ passport names and dates of birth then beware. These guys are travellers/backpackers and have as many as six countries or more stamped in their passports where they have spent time. Go figure.
The overriding factor is that if they have not played affiliated football and are in NZ they generally will not be of the standard of a Guest Player as Reg 5. 13 was intended to control and should not be treated as such. They would not be in NZ if they are good enough to play at high level of football back home. Clubs should be able to register them and move on, gaining an ITC where necessary and signed on as new players where ITCs are not required and neither class of player treated as a guest player.
We have asked NZF if they have asked FIFA’s Players Status Committee about the issue we have in NZ of players arriving here saying (and I believe the ones I have come to know well) they have never played FIFA affiliated football and do not require an ITC. It is inconceivable that every player will need to be checked out in every country he has visited and who will bear the cost of such administration? The clubs?!
Say three guys who turn up in a small country town which has a club playing in the lowest league in the region to pick kiwifruit for a month. They have already spent time in 5 other countries. Do you think the local club know to seek an ITC? Do you think they are going to pay $168.00 to obtain an ITC or to try and find out if one is needed especially when the guys are only there for say four weeks? They will and do sign them on as new players, then they may transfer to a NRFL Premier League club later in their travels!
ITCs cannot be scrapped nor should they of course plus they are a FIFA requirement but the utterly useless Guest Player reg can be.
NZF in communication with FIFA, need to provide the paying stakeholder clubs with pathways which protect them from penalties. Such pathways should clearly operate from here forward not retrospective. This is definitely not a criticism of NZF. It is up to all us football folk to assist NZF with feedback from the ‘coal face’. As well, in some instances they are dealing with regulations put in place in a previous era, when they were not in office and which are not relevant today. They need help in that respect.
[David Cook is the Chairman of AFC Fury]
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.