Monday, May 20, 2024

‘Humiliation’: Belgian hockey season in limbo as Royal Leopold punished over visa fiasco

Just days before the league play-offs, top Belgian side Royal Leopold have been handed a severe punishment from its national governing body after illegally using tourist visas for overseas players across its men’s and women’s top sides, a verdict the club on Friday labelled as a “humiliation”.

Following a judgment by L’Association Royale Belge de Hockey (ARBH), Leopold have lost all their season points from matches involving Argentinian pair Federico Monja and Olympic silver medallist Agustina Albertario in the men’s and women’s league respectively.

It means that Leopold will not play a part in this weekend’s league play-offs – instead facing relegation play-offs – while the women’s side are demoted to Division 1.

Monja and Albertario had played matches for Leopold on a tourist visa at the start of the season, with rules stipulating that compensation or salary is not allowed.

The story had first reared its head last October, according to Belgian media. Eleven clubs had issued complaints against the inclusion of the Argentinian players, while the ARBH found that the club had breached Article 8 of its internal rules.

Philippe Verdussen, president of Royal Leopold, said in a statement on Friday: “This decision is considered a profound injustice and a humiliation by all the players, players, coaches, staff, managers, members and many supporters of our club, who, through their membership of Leopold, adhere to the values, principles and ethics that prevail within our club.

“They are all shocked and bruised by the accusations made at the end of an investigation and a disciplinary procedure that violated the most basic principles of the rights of the defense and the proper administration of sports justice.”

In all, the men’s team lost 17 points in which Monja featured and dropped from a play-off place to 10th in the standings. Meanwhile, the women’s side dropped to last place in the top flight.

Leopold said it would “exhaust all avenues of appeal” following the decision but wouldn’t get in the way of this weekend’s play-offs.

It follows Leopold men being forced to relinquish top spot to Waterloo Docks two weeks ago after coach Agustin Corradini oversaw a game in which he was suspended.

The Royal Belgian Hockey Association (KBHB) imposed a 0-5 forfeit defeat on the Brussels club after the side beat Antwerp 5-1.

“Agustin Corradini had received a third yellow card as a staff member during a women’s game earlier in the day,” the KBHB said. The ruling stated that he should be automatically banned from coaching after that match, but took charge two hours later against Antwerp.

Earlier this season, Gantoise had failed to renew the work permits of two of its Argentinian players after the Christmas break, which saw their draw with Leuven turn into a regulatory defeat.

League Rankings

ION Men’s League:
1. Waterloo Ducks 2. Racing 3. Braxgata 4. Gantoise 5. Leuven 6. Herakles 7. Dragons 8. Daring 9. Orée 10. Léopold 11. Beerschot 12. Antwerp
Belfius Women’s League: 
1. Gantoise 2. Dragons 3. Racing 4. Braxgata 5. Waterloo Ducks 6. Daring 7. Victory 8. Antwerp 9. Herakles 10. White Star 11. Mechelse 12. Léopold

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