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Gents headed to arbitration

Tim Mutrie

The lawsuit that derailed the USA Rugby Super League playoffs is going to binding arbitration Thursday morning, meaning the national championship semifinals and finals will be played this weekend in Newport, R.I. – with or without the Gentlemen of Aspen.If the arbiter, who is typically a former judge or attorney, sides with Aspen tomorrow in Boulder, the Gents will be playing in the final four.If not, the Gents are finished for the season.In order to restore a postseason that was suspended indefinitely last weekend because of the lawsuit, the parties – Karaan “Rata” Going and the Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Football Club vs. USA Rugby and the USA Rugby Super League (RSL) – have agreed to settle swiftly.The agreement was struck Tuesday evening, about the same time the Gents began their regular practice in Aspen.And while officials declined last night, citing a gag order, to discuss the particulars of what will be on the table at the hearing, spokesmen from both sides expressed relief to be moving forward.Said Gents president Andrew “Salty” Saltonstall: “I’m happy with it. If it had gone farther than this, regardless of who would’ve prevailed in court, neither side would’ve won because irreparable harm would have already been done.”By having this hearing, everybody is going to win. Especially if we win,” Saltonstall added.”Both sides are conceding things,” said Keith Engelbrecht, chairman of the RSL, “but we’ve come to this agreement realizing that, in those immortal words, ‘The games must go on.'”It’s a huge weight that’s been lifted. We’re thrilled about that.”USA Rugby CEO Doug Arnot could not be reached for comment.Three RSL teams are assured spots in the final four: the undefeated San Francisco Golden Gate club, the New York Athletic Club and Belmont Shore of California. Aspen or the Potomac Athletic Club of Washington, D.C., will fill the fourth spot, pending the outcome of Thursday’s ruling.Aspen filed the lawsuit in Boulder County District Court last Wednesday. On Friday a judge sided with Aspen, issuing a temporary restraining order against a May 20 USA Rugby ruling that effectively disqualified Aspen from the playoffs. The matter was then set for a follow-up hearing on June 14 – two days after the national champion is scheduled to be crowned on the East Coast.”It’s a deal we worked out so that the playoffs would continue,” said Aspen’s Saltonstall. “If we were going to have to go to court, the playoffs would have to be suspended another week.”The arbitration hearing centers on veteran Aspen backline player Rata Going, the son of Aspen’s longtime former coach, Brian “Beige” Going, and the complex rules governing the use of foreign-born players in the RSL.USA Rugby, as the sanctioning body of rugby in the United States, had certified the 29-year-old Going, a native New Zealander, as a “three-year resident player” because he has played with Aspen for three or more years.Going first donned the Aspen red-and-black in 1994 at age 19, and he’s been a Gents fixture since 1998; now he lives and works in Aspen and is raising a family here. His resident status enabled the Gents to use Going like an American-born player and not as one of four players with “foreign” status permitted on RSL team rosters for any given game.But during the regular season, USA Rugby received a challenge concerning Going’s status – that he played in one too many games for another club in New Zealand in 2003. USA Rugby rules permit RSL players to participate in two matches abroad a year.On May 20, a USA Rugby eligibility committee ruled against Going and revoked his resident status, a ruling upheld a week later by another panel of USA Rugby officials. That led the RSL, which defers to USA Rugby on player eligibility matters, to forfeit six matches that Going played in for Aspen, knocking the 7-0 team to 1-6 and well out of the postseason.The Gents say Going was denied his right to due process to respond to the charges, a violation of USA Rugby’s own rules. Furthermore, Going only played in two matches abroad, Gents officials contend.Judge Morris Sandstead agreed with the Gents in Friday’s emergency hearing. The ruling restored Aspen’s claim to the playoffs, by law.Finally, last night’s agreement enabled the RSL’s Engelbrecht to begin planning for the final four in Newport, R.I. – despite Aspen. It’s a considerable logistical feat.”The fact that we have agreed on this allows us to move forward with crowning a national champion,” said Engelbrecht. “Just to get to this point is a testament that an enormous amount of hard work has been put in by the Gentlemen of Aspen, by USA Rugby and by the Super League, notwithstanding the three, or four, other inconvenienced clubs.”Now we can move on.”A binding arbitration hearing includes testimony, evidence and sometimes witnesses, if agreed upon. “The arbiter decides the case,” said a lawyer contacted last night, “and both sides are bound by the arbiter’s determination.”The Gents’ last game was more than a month ago in the regular-season finale on May 8 at Rio Grande Park. One week removed from the Boston match, when Gents rookie Pat Culley was paralyzed from the chest down, the Gents rolled by the Old Mission Beach Athletic Club of San Diego 56-23 to finish out at 7-0.Contacted Wednesday night, Gents coach Mick Melrose didn’t have time to talk. “We’re in training, mate. Getting ready.”


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