'It's disgusting' - TW Braga director on £8,500 Fifa fine
Northern Irish grassroots team TW Braga and junior outfit Kilrea United have been fined 10,000 Swiss Francs, about £8,500, due to technicalities over player registration.
When clubs are already struggling due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the clubs say the financial setback could not have come at a worse time.
Fifa's issue with TW Braga related to the registration of Hassam Ayari, who joined the club after living in New York. His family loved Northern Ireland so much they decided to settle there.
Tim Wareing, academy director at TW Braga, spotted then eight-year-old Ayari's ability on YouTube and after a conversation with his father, it was agreed he would join the club.
His mother is from Lithuania and, although he travelled on a European Union passport, Fifa has declared Ayari required international clearance despite, at the time, receiving advice to the contrary.
Ayari has since been picked up by Sheffield United and has been impressing in the Blades' academy set-up.
However Wareing said an email from Fifa, which contained the fine, "came out of the blue" in May.
"The information we were given then was he had travelled to Northern Ireland on an EU passport so we could register him like we would any other player," said Wareing.
"We felt that it had been dealt with. We are a grassroots club in Northern Ireland, we followed the directive of what we were advised.
"If we are guilty of anything it is maybe a bit of naivety, it turns out he required an ICT, which is about international clearance and it can be done for free by your governing body.
"We had no idea that this had to be done and no-one advised us to do this."
Despite the of impact of his registration, Wareing says everyone at the club is proud of what Ayari has achieved.
"He's arguably the most technically gifted player I've worked with in 25 years as a coach," said Wareing.
"We won the Lisburn League in his first season in Northern Ireland. He had a short spell at Irish League sides Cliftonville and Ards before returning back to Braga.
"His next move was to Sheffield United and the Premier League. As a club we're over the moon that we played a part in his journey.
It's an absolute disgrace
Being self-employed and a father to four children, Wareing was understandably shocked by the news he had to find £8,500 at a time when many families are feeling the financial pinch.
"I was nearly shaking when I was reading the email. For me, being self-employed, my last group session was on 18 March," he added.
"I don't want to make this a sob story because so many families up and down the country are going through the same thing.
"We are all struggling to pay bills and put food on the table for our families, so to see a fine of that amount from Fifa was disgusting."
At the 2018 World Cup, the Russian and Polish football associations were each fined 10,000 Swiss francs by Fifa for discriminatory and offensive banners in the crowd.
Wareing said he felt it was a disgrace that Fifa had handed out a similar punishment to those for racist and offensive banners.
He also pointed out that any fine issued by Fifa under 15,000 Swiss francs cannot be appealed against.
TW Braga were given 30 days to pay the fine, and with only 10 days remaining, Wareing says he wishes he had more support.
"It's the most isolated I've ever felt in my life," he added.
"I've been left as an individual, and as a grassroots club, to deal with the powers that be on my own.
"I was hoping we would get some support or guidance, but that hasn't been there which is quite disappointing."
Fifa used to mean so much
Remarkably, Kilrea have already raised enough money through a GoFundMe page to pay the fine and have pledged to give any additional donations to charity.
TW Braga are on a similar path and Wareing says the generosity of the football community has been "a humbling experience".
"We're trying to do our best to survive and every little bit that is given will help our club and provide football for all."
Larne owner Kenny Bruce and former Irish League player Gerry Flynn have both donated, something Wareing describes as an "unbelievable gesture".
"When you're a young boy growing up, the word Fifa meant so much because you think of the World Cup, however I became very disillusioned by the game when this fine came in," added Wareing.
"Don't get me wrong, I love coaching kids and my hunger is there, but the professional game has become so dethatched form the grassroots game. It is sickening.
"On the other side, how the football family has come together and the generosity is fantastic to see.
"We can hopefully get through the ridiculous, disgusting fines that Fifa has imposed on us and we can continue to thrive as clubs."