Foriegn National Membership Suspensions – What, Why, and How To Get Back On The Field ASAP:

This week the British American Football Association announced decisive action to suspend the membership of many of the foreign national members of the British game, following issues uncovered that compromise the insurance eligibility of any player who cannot ‘produce proof of normal residency in the UK’.

Essentially, any foreign national who is in the UK on either a visitor visa, or foreign nationals who have not been in the country for six months, are not eligible for BAFA National Leagues membership. The only exception to this is for military personnel on duty in the UK or students on a Tier 4 visa.

With the season just days away, in order to protect its membership BAFA took the decisive measure to suspend ALL foreign national Association members who had not previously provided proof of eligibility, with the onus now on the players and clubs to provide such evidence as swiftly as they are able.

This sanction impacts all formats of the British game, outside the BUCS University leagues, and so expectations are when all’s said and done we could be looking at potentially hundreds of the thousands of BAFA members finding their membership temporarily suspended while they endeavour to provide proof of eligibility.

How have we come to this?

As hinted at in the BAFA Announcement, the action was taken following ‘an investigation into another matter’ – widely believed to be the Tamworth Phoenix’s call for an investigation of the eligibility of Leicester Falcons players, the confidential contents of the complaint having been subsequently leaked to the wider community.

With the Falcons set to kick off their season with their Premiership debut against the Sheffield Giants on Sunday, the move looks likely to immediately quash any possibility of the Falcons fielding any new players acquired through their recently announced partnership with the Universities of Derby (UK) and Baker (US).

Furthermore, both the Falcons and many other teams across the Britball Nation will now need to scramble to provide proof of eligibility over the next 48hours even for those players who definitely are eligible for National Leagues insurance, but do not yet have appropriate proof attached to their BAFA Registration documentation… at least if they wish for their players to take the field in this weekend’s fixtures – and this looks to include those participating in the Flag and U17’s Contact seasons set to get underway on Saturday as well!

Returning to what seems to have brought this issue to the fore, this is not the first time the Falcons as a programme have been involved in controversy surrounding player recruitment, as the team was deducted a win in their highly successful 2011 campaign for not following proper transfer procedures, and then forced to forfeit their 2012 season for fielding ineligible players – resulting in the Head Coach, Club President, and a lot of players departing the team, finding themselves demoted ahead of their 2013 campaign.

The subsequent seasons have seen the Falcons attempt to rebuild, rebrand, and re-climb the Britball ladder, with their 2018 campaign capping off four-straight playoff-bound seasons with promotion to the Premiership North.

However, the 2012 scandal has continued to cast a shadow over the programme, with particular scrutiny cast their way when the Falcons announced the further addition to their growing partnership with the University of Derby’s American Football programme, the Braves. The aforementioned cross-Atlantic partnership with Baker University in the US would see American student-athletes complete postgraduate scholarships at Derby, with the bonus being that they would theoretically also be able to participate in the wider Falcons Academy during the summer months – including, it was believed, kitting up for the Falcons’ Adult side during their 2019 Prem North debut season.

Now, it seems that at best the Falcons will need to wait until 2020 in order to be able to field any of the products of their new partnership. Even then, there remains questions as to the eligibility of ANY Tier 4 Visa student’s ability to participate in any league outside of those managed by BUCS, following changes to the UK’s visa policies as they relate to student-athletes (DC have raised this specific query with BAFA’s BUCS Commission Lead in the hopes of providing further clarification in this area.), as well as the likelihood that BAFA are indeed conducting an ongoing investigation into the Falcons, with any ramifications that may potentially bear for the Prem North’s newest addition.

Does it effect me?

If you’re a UK citizen, and state that in your BAFA Membership Registration, then you should be fine.

If you are registered as anything other than a UK Citizen, then odds are your BAFA Membership has been suspended, pending proof of ‘normal residency’, military posting, or Tier 4 Visa status.

If you believe you may fall into this category, your first port of call is the team you are registered with. They should be receiving an email listing all impacted members of their organisation.

Please note, these suspensions impact ALL formats of BAFA-led American Football, bar the University game. This includes all Adult, Women’s and Age Group formats of the game, both flag and full contact. Suspended players are ineligible to participate in ANY BAFA-insured activities, including training and coaching, as well as of course competitive league fixtures.

I’m suspended?! …What can I do about it?

Aware of the wide-reaching implications of this action, BAFA have put extra measures in place to help support their membership in resolving eligibility issues as swiftly as possible.

Director of Competitions Steve Rains is reaching out to all clubs that have been impacted to let them know which players’ memberships have been suspended, and a new email account has been set up to assist with queries relating to this announcement – eligibility@britishamericanfootball.org.

The BAFA Registrations team have been put on alert and set up an ‘incident team’ to handle an expected frenzy of enquiries and evidence submissions over the coming days, with priority given in the first instance to clubs involved in fixtures this weekend.

In line with this, roster deadlines have been extended until 1000 on Sunday 14 April for this weekend’s adult league fixtures, with the goal being to check supporting evidence of residency and restore membership as quickly as possible.

How do I prove eligibility?

I reached out to BAFA for further information as to what documentation is required to provide evidence of eligibility, and they have shared the following information regarding suitable proof of normal residency:

“If you do not have a UK passport you must send high-resolution images/copies of as many of the following identity documents as you have available to eligibility@britishamericanfootball.org:

  • A current and valid visa and passport.
  • Right to residence documentation, such as a UK Residence Card/Registration Certificate.
  • Proof of study (Institution-issued course details, including date of enrolment, in order to establish 6 months of residency).
  • Proof of employment (Employer-issued document including date of employment, in order to establish 6 months of residency.)
  • British Driving Licence.

Unfortunately, those who are unable to provide any of the above evidence will be ineligible to participate in BAFA National League activities until such time as said evidence is provided and approved. This includes non-game day activities such as training or coaching while you BAFA Membership is suspended.

What are the consequences for participation while suspended?

As noted in the announcement, Clubs who are found to have breached this competition rule will be fined £100 in each instance (escalating as for all fixed penalties if not paid within 14 days).

Contrary to some claims, there are currently no plans to ban players/teams who are found to have breached these competition rules, though those who are unable to provide proof of residence will indeed be unable to have their membership reinstated and obviously BAFA reserve the right to take further action as necessary should circumstances warrant such.

Importantly, for those concerned their own insurance may be invalidated by taking the field alongside/against an uninsured player/coach, BAFA’s insurance providers have assured them that this only negates the coverage of the offending member and not any of the legitimately insured members.


 

Thus far, reactions to the announcement across the community have been decidedly mixed. Some in the community have praised BAFA’s swift and decisive action following realising the potential risks to their membership, supporting what they believe to be the NGB’s crackdown on teams attempting to create a competitive edge. Meanwhile, others have criticised the move as either overly heavy-handed – a blanket approach that impacts far more Association members than necessary – or potentially even damaging to the development of the game in the UK; citing how imported athletes, including many of the UK’s own elite players, are the lifeblood of some of the top European American Football Leagues.

What are your thoughts on BAFA’s decision? Are there areas you feel it would be helpful for BAFA to provide further information and guidance? We’ll be reaching out to BAFA for further comment over the coming days, so if you’ve got anything to share on the subject let us know in the comments down below, or via our Facebook page!

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Nick

Nick 'Willy Tee' Wilson-Town hails from the South West where he's spent the last decade bouncing around various teams at the university and senior level. He came to fame on the now departed unofficial forum thanks to his regularly irreverent Uniball predictions and general 'BUAFL wafflage'. Follow him on twitter @WillyTee1