Women's World Cup qualification still in limbo

NEW DELHI, DEC. 22. The women's World Cup hockey qualification procedure has plunged into further dispute with Ireland and Lithuania approaching the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne following the decisions of the Disciplinary Commission of the International Hockey Federation (FIH) at Brussels on November 28.

The Indian qualification to the World Cup, to be held in Perth in 2002 also thus hangs in the balance. India was scheduled to play off with the United States for the seventh and last spot from the qualification rounds. But the Disciplinary Commission's decision changed that procedure and now with two teams, still deemed to be in the qualification race, approaching CAS, things have become more complicated.

The dispute arose in match No. 46 of the World Cup qualifying tournament at Amiens, France, on September 29, between Ireland and Lithuania. The classification match ended in a 2-2 draw and in the penalty stroke competition, in the second set of strokes, the umpire enforced a wrong order of stroke-taking, even though, according to the Irish side, its captain, Rachel Kohler had queried the order. Lithuania went on to win the penalty stroke competition, but Ireland lodged an appeal on the wrong order of stroke-taking. The Tournament Director upheld the appeal and ordered that the penalty strokes be re-taken from the second set of strokes onwards.

The next day, on September 30, Lithuania did not report for the re-take of penalty strokes. ``The team from Lithuania having failed to appear for the penalty stroke competition at 10 a.m. in Amiens on Sunday, 30th September, is considered as having withdrawn from the classification matches'', said the TD, Ms. Claire Peeters Monseu, in her written statement. Lithuania having deemed to have withdrawn, its match with India to decide the seventh place also failed to come off. Ireland beat Scotland 2-1 (golden goal) to occupy, what at that time was thought to be, the fifth place. India was placed seventh.

In the normal course, India would have clinched a qualification berth by this placing, but the FIH had ruled on September 16 that because of the extraordinary circumstances leading to the failure of the U.S. to make it to Amiens, following the September 11 terrorists' strikes, the seventh- placed team should play off with the U.S.

The Disciplinary Commission at its meeting on November 28 seemed to have come up with a compromise formula. It ruled that the protest by Ireland on September 29 be dismissed. However, it also ruled that though Lithuania was the winner of the penalty-stroke competition its behaviour was such that it ought not automatically qualify for the World Cup. It should join other teams in a further qualification event.

Ireland, Lithuania, India and the U.S. were asked to figure in another qualification event. This event was supposed to be the first women's Champions Challenge tournament scheduled to be held in South Africa from February 9 to 17 next year. The FIH stated that in case the host of the tournament was agreeable to the new arrangement-India and the U.S. were already scheduled to play in the competition-the event be enlarged to have eight teams to include Ireland and Lithuania.

Two of the four teams in the race with the highest positions at the end of the tournament would be deemed to have qualified for the 10th World Cup, the FIH decided. In the event either Lithuania or Ireland won the Champions Challenge neither would qualify for the Champions Trophy. In that event the team ranked next after classification matches was to qualify for the Champions Trophy.

Now that both Lithuania and Ireland have appealed to the CAS to solve the dispute, the whole qualification procedure has once again been pushed into controversy.

The Irish association has requested that the order of the FIH Disciplinary Commission be set aside, that the decision of the Tournament Director, made on September 29 be confirmed, that Ireland's position as fifth in the Amiens tournament be confirmed, that it be declared that the FIH Disciplinary Commission did not have jurisdiction to entertain the appeal of Lithuania under the statute and bye-laws of the FIH.

The Lithuanian federation, on the other hand, has requested that the decision of the Disciplinary Commission be partly changed to state that the Lithuanian team had the right to compete for the fifth and sixth places with the Scottish team. It has asked that the CAS rule that officials and bodies of the FIH be ``obliged to organise the match Lithuania v Scotland for 5-6 places in the World Cup qualifier tournament before the official World Cup finals beginning in Perth, Australia.''

Should the Indian Hockey Confederation (IHC), whose Secretary-General, Mrs. Amrit Bose, represented India at the Brussels Disciplinary Commission proceedings, also approach the CAS? The FIH has stated that it was entirely up to the Indian side.

Well before the FIH Disciplinary Commission decisions, which are now being questioned before the CAS, India had argued that it being the seventh-placed team at Amiens should have directly qualified. But under the extraordinary circumstances, as approved by the FIH, it had made arrangements to play the U.S. at home in a three-match series. The winner of the series was to qualify for the World Cup.

The IHC wanted that the Disciplinary Commission should not intervene in the issue and the protest by Lithuania be thrown out. It was based on India and Ireland's arguments that Lithuania, though it won the verdict in the Commission hearing, was asked to go through another qualification procedure. In case, either Ireland or Lithuania won the battle in the CAS, will India be asked to play the match to decide the seventh place in the qualifying tournament and then only get the right to play off with the U.S.? This is the question that the IHC should tackle.