When is a majority not a majority?
That was the question that exercised minds after the Aire-Wharfe League’s special general meeting last Wednesday at Otley RUFC.
Pool, unhappy at their second team being relegated when they finished ninth in a 12-team division, forced the meeting at the second attempt by garnering the support of the requisite 10 other clubs.
Their proposal to amend rule 2.4 (ii) read: “At the end of each season the top two teams in each division (except Division One) will be promoted and the bottom two teams in each division (except the lowest division) will be relegated.
“No additional existing member club(s) will be repositioned to a lower division to accommodate any new club(s) elected at the AGM or due to the withdrawal or non re-election of an existing member club; effective as of the final league positions for season 2022.”
Maybe the last bit of that sentence should have been expunged (otherwise there would be a vote on it every year with the season changed), but all 36 member clubs were present at the meeting, which was feisty at times, and 17 were in favour of the motion and 13 against, with six abstentions.
Because Aire-Wharfe League rules state that a majority is achieved by the total of all of the votes cast, Pool’s motion failed (by 17 to 19).
If abstentions had been discounted, of course, then the motion would have been carried.
So, was there skullduggery by the Aire-Wharfe League to ensure that the motion failed? No. The plain truth is that whether abstentions count is part of any league’s constitution. The Aire-Wharfe League consider them to be part of the vote and therefore should be counted.
Maybe some club will put forward a proposal to November’s league annual meeting stating that abstentions should not be part of the overall count.
Separate divisions for first and second XIs?
Another knocking bet is that this controversy will spell the end of the linear six-division system and that the league will revert to separate divisions for first and second XIs.
A further intangible is whether the current Aire-Wharfe League’s management committee will all still be in place come the start of the season or whether some will decide to fall on their sword.
Currently second teams from Collingham & Linton, North Leeds and Ilkley are participating in Division Three against first XIs.
Conversely newcomers Bingley Congs and Rodley are among first XIs in Division Four, alongside Old Leodiensians, competing against second XIs.
Pool’s second team were relegated from Division Four in 2022 despite finishing ninth of the 12 clubs (the league couldn’t relegate 10th-placed St Chads Broomfield as they were not re-elected), and since the autumn they have been trying to overturn that decision.
The meeting began with prepared statements being read out by both Pool and the Aire-Wharfe League’s management committee.
Pool’s statement, led by David Murphy and signed off by club chairman Charlie Bell, began by saying how unfortunate it was that Rodley and Bingley Congs’ first exposure to the league was this SGM.
They then said that they had been relegated a month after the season finished and want to prevent this set of circumstances happening to any other club.
Pool also said that they felt victimised by the league and humbled by the support of clubs, and there was much sympathy for them on the evening.
League secretary Mark Shaw pointed out that the rule under debate had been there since 2018 and that there were over 25 different permutations as to the make-up of the league for 2023 regarding who is promoted, who is relegated and what division the two new clubs would be slotted into.
He also pointed out that no Aire-Wharfe first team had ever been in Division Five.
One option was to make Division Four 13 teams instead of 12 (i.e. not relegate Pool), but that would mean more league cricket on Sundays, which is not popular.
Shaw, whose committee have spent hours working on the fixtures and potential solutions, also said that if the proposal went through it would be seen as a vote of no confidence in the league management committee, with the implication being that some of the leading league officials would have no option but to resign.
Whether that point should have been made before the vote took place is a moot point as some clubs might have seen it as the equivalent of holding a gun to their heads, but they were asked a direct question as to the consequences of the vote going in favour of Pool.
The league’s Umpires’ Association pointed out that this debate was more appropriate before an AGM and that the league’s management committee should have the power to manage.
Pool pointed out that they voted for Rodley and Bingley Congs to join the league but that they would never have done so had they realised that it would result in their relegation.
There was even a comment that the two new clubs should have been split, with one going into Division Four and the other in Division Five.
But how would you decide which of the two newcomers would start where when it is guesswork as to which is the stronger?
It would probably make the fixture secretary’s job easier if second teams just played second teams and first teams just played first teams, but even then there would have been 13 teams in first teams’ Division Three (with Rodley and Bingley Congs coming in and St Chad’s Broomfield dropping out), and the second XIs would have had a similar problem.
Personally speaking, I like the idea of second XIs competing against first XIs if they are good enough (as happens in grassroots leagues) but I fear that I am an increasingly isolated voice and I would be amazed if that was still the case in the Aire-Wharfe League come December.