WHILE admitting that their communication skills could be improved, the Aire-Wharfe League have offered a robust defence of their actions regarding the league’s special council meeting on March 8 at Otley RUFC.

That meeting was initiated by Pool, whose second XI were relegated from Division Four despite finishing ninth out of 12 teams.

Three members of the league’s management committee – press and publicity officer Mark Sugden, Mark Dearden and Steve Phillips – subsequently quit.

The complication regarding Pool came about because two new clubs – Bingley Congs and Rodley – were voted in at the league’s annual meeting in November.

The special council meeting vote to not relegate any team that finished outside a relegation position (i.e. the bottom two) was 17 in favour of Pool’s motion and 13 against, but the six abstentions in essence counted against Pool, meaning that they lost the vote 19-17.

How abstentions are counted caused controversy on the night and afterwards, but the league’s statement says: “With regards to the vote taken at the special meeting, the correct procedures for rule changes were followed.

“Since the removal of the two-thirds majority requirement some time ago, a rule change must have the support of 50 per cent of clubs plus one (which includes abstentions) to be carried.

“This meant 19 votes were needed to pass a rule change. A check of AGM minutes going back over several years confirms this to be the case.

“Pool CC are bitterly disappointed with the outcome, and we have a great deal of sympathy for their position. They were entitled to lobby for the decision to be reversed and have used the league’s procedures to do so.

“Given the circumstances, any other member club in that situation would have probably have done the same.”

The league then admitted that they had spent many hours over the winter, both internally and with Pool, trying to find a resolution to the situation, considering six scenarios.

Paramount for the league was keeping 12 teams in each division, which ruled out having a 13-team division and therefore extra Sunday league fixtures and free dates.

Putting first teams into Division Five was also ruled out as they could have overseas players and there would therefore be vastly different skill levels in opposition, while putting one new club into Division Four and one into Division Five was understandably ruled out due to a lack of information about which new club should be given priority over the other.

Denying clubs promotion when they had finished in the top two was also considered unfair.

The statement continues: “The LMC have taken no pleasure at all in making this decision. We have acted in what we believe are the best interests of the majority of clubs in the league and in ensuring that the cricket played in 2023 is the best standard it can be.”

They have admitted, however, that this information (statement) should have been given to clubs much earlier but that it was delayed by potential legal action by Pool.

The statement concluded by saying: “We recognise that we need to provide greater transparency to clubs in order to regain your confidence and rebuild a sound working relationship within the league.

“Going forward we will be publishing minutes from LMC meetings on the league website, although certain disciplinary and financial matters will have to be redacted.”

What the statement doesn’t address is answering the accusations about the league management committee contacted clubs before the vote to try and make them change their mind and whether the league were right to say on the night that if the vote went against them some of the management committee would resign.

Sugden admitted: “I didn’t sleep a wink the night of the meeting and resigned the following day at 8am.

“We had talked as a committee beforehand about what we would say on the night and agreed that if that question came up about ‘would we resign if the vote went against us?’ we would treat it with a straight bat.

“And then on the night we didn’t do that. My personal belief is that we should not contact clubs individually prior to the vote so that we didn’t affect the vote.

“A league statement much like the one that was read out on the night should have been put on the website and sent out to clubs explaining this situation weeks ago in my opinion.”

Pool believed that they had 27 clubs prepared to vote in favour of the motion but that reduced to 17 on the night, with Pool reckoning that the difference was down to “coercive behaviour” or even “bullying” by some members of the management committee in persuading clubs to toe the party line and vote against the motion.

Meanwhile, Pool have not taken the failure of their motion at the special council meeting (also known as an EGM) lying down and have put in a formal complaint against the Aire-Wharfe League’s management committee to the Yorkshire Cricket Board.

David Murphy has penned the email, which states: “We ultimately feel that we cannot overlook the coercive behaviour that affected a recent EGM vote, and therefore wish to pursue a formal complaint.

“Our complaint centres upon what we believe to be coercive and bullying behaviour to influence the voting of member clubs both before and during the EGM.

“After our initial EGM application was submitted, Mark Shaw, league secretary, publicised thereafter that ‘while performing due diligence of the request it has come to light that one club have confirmed that they had not officially confirmed their support as stated on the letter and some clubs who originally supported the request have since withdrawn their support. As such the request failed to have sufficient support for the request to be successful’.

“In addition to the obvious coercive behaviour to influence a democratic process – and causing much hardship to Pool CC by having to raise a second EGM application – it is very much worth noting that this interference had a major effect on the EGM’s ultimate outcome.

“This being that the vote fell two votes short of reaching the 19 votes supposedly required for our rule amendment to be passed.

“In relation to the EGM held on March 8, the theme of mass resignation leaving the league without administration continued. This was not a specific item on the agenda and our complaint also encompasses this coercive tactic being used during the meeting to distract from what clubs should have been voting upon (the rule amendment) and again to unduly influence a democratic process.

“In summary, we have been appalled by the actions of a league committee – and in particular the league president David Bell – throughout this process.

“While a further grievance is subjective, we are also very unhappy about the lack of clarity upon abstentions within the voting numbers.

“While Pool CC’s proposal received more votes in favour (17-13), the LMC did not advise clubs beforehand that an abstention (of which there were six) would effectively mean a ‘no’ vote.

“It has become apparent that most of those who abstained did so in the belief that that their vote would be counted neither as a yes vote nor as no vote.”