A grassroots football club from Belfast has been hit with a staggering CHF 10.000 Swiss Francs (£8.5k) fine due to, what is essentially, an admin technicality over the registration of a talented young footballer.
TW Braga is a youth focussed, but football for all, club and academy that aims to provide quality coaching and education in addition to competitive games for their young footballers. Previously TW Academy struck up a rapport with the youth department of Primeira Liga side SC Braga. Following exchanges on coaching courses and a shared approach on development ideas, a unique affiliation and concept resulted in TW Braga. This also meant that they were able to transcend the traditional political lines in Northern Ireland that would create a welcoming and inclusive home of football for those from all backgrounds. In a very unwelcome and untimely situation during the current Covid-19 pandemic, world governing body FIFA have made a damning oversight by inflicting a heavy and disproportionate sanction on TW Braga.
The reason for the fine is very disappointing yet there is much positivity in the background of the story due to the prominence and potential of a young trailblazing player who has certainly caught the eye.
The Talented Protagonist
New York born Hassan Ayari came to the attention of TW Braga Academy Director Tim Wareing via a YouTube skills reel and following contact and participation in their programmes, his family had such a positive impression of the project and Northern Ireland overall. They subsequently decided to uproot from the USA so that Ayari could pursue his dreams as a fully fledged member of the TW Braga set-up. In 2013 when the move materialised, the player was registered with the local league set-up in a ‘normal’ way by virtue of his Mother’s Lithuanian background. He therefore had travelled to Northern Ireland on an EU passport. Ayari’s progression included spells with Irish League sides Ards and Cliftonville. He returned to TW Braga before sealing a move to the academy of Sheffield United in 2018. The talented teenager is currently part of the Blades Academy U18 squad.
However, TW Braga have been hit with the hammer blow fine. FIFA stipulated that the correct registration processes were not followed after the transatlantic switch and Hassan Ayari needed international clearance, which never happened. The devastating news was received by Wareing in an email from FIFA, which has resulted in an existential threat to the viability of the whole club. The story has been picked up across the local media in Northern Ireland with outlets including: BBC NI Sport, UTV and Belfast Telegraph. Sky Sports News also ran the story as did O Jogo, the Portugese daily sports newspaper.
The Director’s Response
24/7 Football spoke to Tim Wareing of TW Braga for more insight and to get an update on the response.
24/7 – FIFA have set out a 30 day period for this fine to be paid. What is the outlook if this draconian fine is not paid within that time frame?
TW – “ We don’t know. We asked for the grounds of the fine to be sent from FIFA, which has not haven’t arrived. We simply don’t have the money as a small grassroots club. I haven’t worked from 18 March due to the Covid-19 virus as all coaching has stopped but I have continued to offer free online zoom training sessions from my back garden and from our YouTube channel.
Will they ban us from competing in Europe? Will they ban us from competing in the Irish FA Small Sided Games program? Who knows. We had to have a plan b so we set up a GoFundMe page. The generosity of people has been so humbling and offered our family, our club and all the players such a lift.
24/7 – Tell us a bit more on the link-up with SC Braga.
TW – The Braga project started in July 2013. Hugo Vicente was the assistant academy director at SC Braga. We met previously on a coaching trip in Holland in 2009 (at the time he was working at Benfica). We became good friends & kept in contact. I visited him & SC Braga. Then we helped set up for Braga to come play in a tournament in Dublin. In preparation they came to Belfast to play my TW Academy. We drew 1-1 with SC Braga. Hugo couldn’t believe at the time the kids only came in for one training session per week & all played for different clubs. He said can you imagine what you can achieve if you have access to them three-four times per week & your own club!
The concept was born then. Due to the political divide in Northern Ireland we didn’t want to call our team after an area in Belfast. We wanted to be a club open to all. So linking our community program, TW Sports, with SC Braga we became known as TW Braga. We have players that come from all over Northern Ireland. Braga’s name from Portugal is bringing children from Protestant & Catholic areas together. I’m not sure SC Braga realise the positive impact & how their club brings children together in Northern Ireland.
We have teams from U6-U14, an over 40’s team, a disability team and a community programme offering Toddler Soccer (ages 2-5), Mini Soccer (ages 5 +) and a schools programme.
24/7 – What potential knock on impact could this have on your young footballers in the academy?
TW – We are confident we can raise the amount but imagine if we didn’t have to find that sort of money from people who are struggling up and down the country. Imagine instead if that money could be invested into the club how that would benefit our players!
24/7 – What message would you aim to relay to FIFA, at this stage?
“When I was a kid I was so excited when I heard FIFA as that meant the World Cup or the new game for the Sega! Now, they are so far detached from the grassroots game it is disgusting. If they were to send someone from their plush offices in Switzerland to see the impact our programme has in young people’s lives in Northern Ireland they might rethink. Our programme isn’t just about football it is about people. It unites Protestant and Catholic children and their parents together. Our slogan is ‘Creating Better Players, Better People.’ maybe FIFA should come and learn some important values from us.
Having said that it turns out we have broken a rule. That can’t be ignored and I don’t wish to ignore that fact. I believe the only thing we are guilty of is being naïve. We weren’t aware of the rule, we were misguided as a grassroots club. I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus as that’s what has been done with us. The same player has been registered four times with three clubs in Northern Ireland so it begs the question as to how this has been missed by our governing body? For me we have been failed by the Irish FA, not just from a registration point of view but from a human and pastoral point of view. We have been left alone to deal with FIFA.
I want to finish on a positive. The people who have donated, who have shared, who have phoned, text, emailed, I thank them. The Northern Irish media have been amazing. Many people forget that along with being a coach I am a husband and a father. My wife and four children have suffered but the love and support that they have given, as well as from our families and friends has been life saving.”
As mentioned, TW Braga have launched a public appeal for support via gofundme.com which has been linked at the bottom of this piece. We would encourage you to support them with what you can. Every little helps as the 30 day period is due to lapse in around 10 days from today.
The club has been greatly supported by another Northern Irish outfit who have been handed down a very similar fine due to an eligibility dispute. Kilrea United, a junior club from County Londonderry managed to raise in excess of £13,000.00 and have made a grand gesture of solidarity to TW Braga, to the sum of £1000.00
24/7 Football would like to express our thanks to Tim Wareing of TW Braga for speaking to us and to offer our support to their appeal. For more information, please go to the GoFundMe page here.