Alberta Soccer Association in disarray due to internal squabbling

DEREK VAN DIEST, Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 5:34 PM ET

EDMONTON - A ruling has been made, but the battle seems to be far from over.

November's decision by Justice W.A. Tilleman restoring the original board of directors of the Alberta Soccer Association should have put an end to the ugly and embarrassing power struggle at the top of the sport's provincial governing body.

Unfortunately, that seems unlikely.

Chris Billings, the suspended president of the board, who is now barred from all soccer activity in the country, doesn't appear ready to just take his ball and go home, setting the stage for more bickering, infighting and litigation.

"I can't simply just walk away from the people who have supported me," Billings said. "Someone made a comment that I created all this by fighting the board in my removal.

"The fact is that it was a coup. Somebody comes to you and says you either resign or we're going to publicly deface you, I'm not the kind of individual that bows down to that kind of thing. I said I was going to stand up and one thing has led to another."

Billings undoubtedly feels his actions were warranted, after all only one of the 11 elected ASA board members signed a resolution in March of last year to have him suspended for, among other things, alleged misappropriation of funds and verbal abuse towards his staff.

His calling of a special general meeting in April -- where he was elected president of an entirely new board -- split the association into two warring factions, both claiming to be the rightful party in charge.

"He's had three separate opportunities to defend himself, but refused to show up were voted in at the annual general meeting in January, 2010, and the other six were serving the final year of their terms.

The sport's national governing body reiterated its position following the court ruling in November that should have restored order.

The ASA flies under the CSA umbrella, which in turn answers to FIFA.

Under each level's bylaws, there are protocols to be followed in for his hearings," said Mario Charpentier, the first vice-president of the ASA board of directors. "Unfortunately now, by not following the process, we've been forced to spend thousands of dollars defending ourselves in court, which has all been very detrimental to soccer in the province."

The Canadian Soccer Association made its position clear from the onset, recognizing the original board -- five of its 11 members order to resolve disputes. If they're not followed, then sanctions are implied, which is where Billings and a number of his supporters find themselves now.

Yet an examination of the many legal documents and countless correspondence between the sides indicates this doesn't seem to be just about the suspended president. It's about the districts that fought to put him on the board in the first place wanting to maintain a foothold in the organization. However, because due process wasn't followed and the association bylaws were circumvented, Billings has become a sacrificial lamb.

He didn't help his cause by trying to get into the CSA annual general meeting in May, despite the fact the national governing body said it recognized the original board elected in January and not the one hastily put together at the April SGM.

But common sense hasn't prevailed through this entire fiasco and it's unlikely to prevail now, as the legally appointed board continues to be inundated with threats of court action.

The association's annual general meeting, which should have taken place this month with the election of five new board members, will now be delayed,

and a special general meeting will take place instead where the board will be forced to defend itself against a special resolution to have all the members on it dismissed.

"Because we were unable to operate for three months, we couldn't get the financial statements prepared in time," said Charpentier, who is not up for re-election this year. "That's why we asked the judge if we could delay the annual general meeting, because with everything that's gone on, we want to have everything in order."

All of this has essentially paralyzed the association as it was forced to switch its focus to pending litigation.

It also begs the question as to where the thousands of dollars the districts have poured in to bring a lawsuit against the board are coming from.

The ASA board of directors, which has been subjected to an ugly smear campaign and portrayed as villains for supposedly withholding medals at provincial championships -- something Charpentier claims was simply a shipping error -- has kept quiet in all of this, waiting for the matter to resolve itself in the courts.

It should be allowed to do its job and try to restore some semblance of order to the association.

As for Billings, his legacy as president will forever be tarnished, even if he does one day get a chance to answer the allegations against him.

"At the moment, it's tough to see if I have a future in soccer," he said. "We'll just have to wait and see how things play out over the next few months, and kind of take it from there."

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/DerekVanDiest


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