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Doncaster Rovers Belles have failed in their bid to have their position in the top flight of the FA WSL retained after having their appeal heard this week.
It had been announced that the Belles had been relegated to the second tier next season with Manchester City taking their place, a decision which had created much controversy inside and outside of the women's game. This will bring an end to the Belles' unbroken run of 22 consecutive years at the top of the English game.
The FA have released the following statement:
"Following a hearing this week in front of an Independent Appeals Panel, the FA can confirm that Doncaster Rovers Belles FC has been unsuccessful in its appeal to retain its place in FA WSL1 following a decision not to offer the club a licence to compete in the top domestic women's league from the 2014 season onwards.
The FA would also like to confirm that the licence offer to compete in the FA WSL2 next season is still open to the club, subject to licence criteria that still needs to be met.
The decision by the Selection Panel not to offer the club an FA WSL1 licence was due primarily to them being unable to satisfactorily meet minimum facility requirements, alongside further concerns on their commercial and marketing strategies.
We look forward to continue working with Doncaster Rovers Belles FC and all our FA WSL clubs, who play a vital role alongside us in our commitment to continue to develop and build the women's game in England.
The FA will now take time to fully consider the written reasons for the outcome, as outlined today by the Appeals Panel, before commenting any further."
Speaking after hearing that the club's appeal had been unsuccessful, Alan Smart, Vice-Chairman of Doncaster Rovers Belles LFC, who gave evidence personally at the hearing, said: "It's an unfortunate period in this proud club's history, a very emotional time for all. Football shouldn't be about administrative decisions; no one has a divine right to play at the highest level for ever but the beautiful game should be about the meritocratic winning or losing of promotion or relegation after a season full of highs and lows.
"The whole club are naturally gutted, but we remain committed to our core values. We shall continue to fight to uphold our belief in a sporting competition where results are determined on the field of play and to plan for the future as a club that supports its local community and respects its responsibilities to the game as a whole - after all, those here now are mere custodians of what is and will continue to be a true ICON of the women's game.
"We still believe that the game can support more than eight quality first division teams."
Smart added that the club was already consulting as to whether further legal action should be pursued and will meet with the FA again next week. "I cannot praise our legal team too highly - Liz Ellen of Mishcon De Reya, an eminent sports lawyer, and Jane Mulcahy of Blackstone's Chambers who represented the club at both hearings, both ably supported by Carl Lygo, CEO of BPP Holdings and Principal of BPP University College of Professional Studies. The whole team weren't Premier not even Super League class they were out of this world - in a class of their own. Brilliant.
"The national and international support for the club has been very, very humbling; those that know me, know I'm not often stumped for words, but the whole public, media and sports related journalists shouting for justice for Doncaster Rovers Belles has been phenomenal. There have been banners, appeals, protests and MP's lobbying; Dermot O'Leary, Louis Tomlinson, Danny Baker, Ian Wright, Jeff Stelling and Robbie Savage have all had a view on the situation as it unfolded.
"The club also received support from the other current WSL clubs with their representative, Mr Vic Akers, the founder of Arsenal Ladies (the current and only WSL Champions and FA WSL cup holders), coming out in the national press to express his personal support and that of the other WSL clubs.
"Thank you one and all, but a special mention for Glen Wilson of Viva Rovers, the men's club's 'Popular Stand' fanzine, who brought the injustice of it all to the attention of the world and started the online petition signed by nearly 9,000 supporters, and to the 'Noisy Belles' supporters club who would not and will never let the momentum drop.
"A heartfelt thank you to the entire supporter's network, new and not so new; please continue to show your support on behalf of not just the Belles but for all those other clubs - less fashionable, less affluent or simply not good on paper or at interview - who nevertheless have put their heart and soul into promoting the women's game in England for decades. RESPECT in bucketfuls for those unsung heroes. We shall continue to fight their corner, both on and off the field."
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